2010 has been a Sparkhouse year. Sparkhouse is an imprint of Augsburg Fortress, and this past year they have published some stellar resources, including my personal favorite, re:form, a confirmation curriculum (they also published a great VBS we used this summer, re:new, and a book on Church in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt). I actually think the re:form confirmation curriculum is the best confirmation curriculum I've seen, ever!
When I learned they were also working on a new resource for worship planning (Clayfire), I was thrilled, and immediately ordered the book that I think is launching the series, Mark Pierson's The Art of Curating Worship.
All of this is by way of saying that I was predisposed to be sympathetic to the book, and open to the ideas in it. I'm honestly a fan of resources published by Augsburg Fortress, and a supporter of the innovative directions Sparkhouse is taking as a publishing arm of our church.
So then I actually started reading the book. Here's where I started hitting some major speed-bumps. I am still excited about Pierson's re-thinking worship leadership as worship curation, because it bring greater focus to the environment and space in which worship takes place than other traditional titles such as cantor, preacher, presider, or worship leader. Cantors focus more on the music, preachers on the word, presiders on space but focused on the meal, and worship leaders also typically focus on the content of prayers and music.
The term curator is preferable for a variety of reasons, itemized well in Pierson's book, but I especially like the term because it draws attention to the overall environment, and also has analogies with how curation is done in museums, etc, where the goal is to bring to life that which has gone before.
All of this being said, I realized that as soon as I read two things in the book that really caused me to struggle, I wouldn't be able to read the book with an open heart and mind. Pierson shares in the second chapter of his book that one worship event he curated included communion, but he chose to use water instead of wine for the communion. Is it too finicky of me, or too legalistic, to argue that you simply don't do this, period, anywhere. Communion is bread and wine. To depart from bread and wine is simply not acceptable.
This pointed me back to something he had said earlier that I initially thought was a bit of hyperbole, but now I think it wasn't. Page 25, he says, "Anything goes." Of course, he precedes this by arguing that once we get our definition of church and worship clear, then how we actually design worship, embedded in those answers, can be "anything goes," but it is simply not clear to me how that works.
Here's my concern. T'his book is the first book on worship from a new publishing arm of the Lutheran church, and one of the first if only comments in the book on the sacraments suggests that wine may be replaced with water in the meal.
Now I know that Pierson is a Baptist from New Zealand. We probably have very different approaches to the meal. I also see from what he is up to that he is very creative and experimental in his worship leadership. He creates events, art installations, etc. They seem amazing, and I'd like to see such a worship event in action.
That being said, I just don't see how the book will ultimately be helpful for our worship leaders. This is more than simply thinking outside the box. It's like having left the room and apartment building altogether.
I'm going to continue reading the book, and will post a second reflection upon finishing it, but it does occur to me that we need someone to write a book on worship curation who also reads and adheres to the Lutheran confessions and the Use of the Means of Grace document, among other guiding texts of our tradition.
Realizing at the end of this blog that this is my second post of the week that might be construed as grumpy. I don't intend it as such. They say all press is good press, so I hope you'll go out and buy the book and read it. Even if I strongly disagree with parts of it, and disagree even more strongly with the decision that Sparkhouse should be the one to publish it, I do intend to always be in dialogue perhaps especially with those with whom I disagree. The true way to stay immature is to live in an echo-chamber of your own creation.