Confessions of a High Church Millennial – 10 Ways I am grounded by Ritual, Liturgy and Tradition

I haven’t confessed this to you in a while, but I am still a High Church Millennial. Just because I often wear jeans on office days, have tattoos and an apple music subscription on my iPhone… doesn’t mean I don’t love old things. And not looms, vinyl played by a gramophone and artisanal vegetables as the caricature of a millennial hipster goes.  I love ancients things like ritual, liturgy and the traditions of Christianity.

So recently, as I went about my normal perusal of social media, I came across the post of a pastor friend. The Rev. Steven Sabin serves in San Francisco, and he thoughtfully wrote the post pictured below:

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I love the way Pastor Sabin describes his experience of a high church faith. I can see my own experience in his post. And as many churches search for ways to get “the young people back” with the newest and flashiest toys, gadgets, fads and entertainment…. let me tell the story of why this millennial would rather have the old things and the deeper meaning.

*Note: I skipped a few of Pastor Sabin’s points.

1 Tradition was taught to me as a loving mentor, not as a censorious schoolmarm.

I grew up in a world where tradition was shunned and Lutheran liturgy was like eating vegetables… you did it but no one liked it. Our worship was often treated as if it was a list chores to do every Sunday morning. And then our church hired some musicians to help plan our liturgy and music. And for the most part, the congregation continued to feel the same way about liturgy. But as a teenager, I noticed that suddenly worship became a more cohesive experience. The list of chores transformed into the script and stage directions of a beautiful play. There was movement, there was purpose to our worship, the music connected to the prayers, the prayers connected to scripture, the biblical texts connected to the eucharist and so on and so on.

When I went to seminary, I was finally taught the finer and detailed points of the ritual I had been enraptured by. Liturgy for me now is not a burdensome set of rules to follow and chores to do, but a ground to stand on in worship, guiding the assembly into deeper meaning and a deeper experience of the divine… proclaiming the gospel and inviting us into the body of Christ in a way that no other worship form can do.

2 Hallmark makes a fortune because we don’t always know how to say it.

One of the things I cling to as a preacher and presider is that when the words of my sermon fail, then the words of the liturgy say what needs to be said. And knowing that Christians around the world and through the centuries have used these same words gives them a sense holiness and authority that spontaneous and unprepared words lack.

3 I’m usually more moved by a poem than by a tweet.

There are such things as twitter poets, yet even they recognize the limitations of the medium.

A tweet is an ephemeral abstract thing. Most tweets rarely have a long life, they come at us quickly and in high volume. Great for breaking news, but lacking the deliberately slow and considered words of a good poem. Poetry is intentional and reflective. Poetry is an economy of words not because there are only 140 (or 280) characters, but because every word matters. The same goes for the liturgy.

4 It’s easier to learn a new dance step when I already know how to dance.

I recently moved from leading worship in 1 congregation to 5. While each congregation has its own particularities, it is the commonality of the liturgy that makes it possible smoothly step in to preach and preside each week. The order, the movement, the rhythm is all familiar, even if a few steps are different.

6 Technology changes rapidly; people, not so much.

There are a lot of things that are rapidly changing in my millennial world. Social media flies by rapidly each day. The way people communicate with me has changed dramatically over the years. 65 year olds used to phone my landline but now text me when planning a funeral for the parents, 30 something colleagues let me know about job opportunities in facebook groups, even my 96 year old grandmother talks to my kids on FaceTime now and then.

But worship, the familiar words, patterns, seasons, texts and emphasis is one of the grounding forces of my life. I more easily associate significant memories with the liturgical season they occurred in rather than with date and month. Each week, I find my grounding and footing again in the familiar and stabilizing experience of the liturgy in the assembly.

7 I probably didn’t get the Faith right last week, so there’s no harm (or shame) in giving it another go this week.

I am coming on 9 years of ordained ministry. I probably surpassed 500 times presiding in worship recently, and I still feel like I am just starting to scratch the surface or the depth of the faith. Maybe 40 more years and I will feel like I got it right… but I doubt it.

10 Boring liturgy is like boring Shakespeare, the adjective is probably misplaced.

Being bored is usually a sign of not understanding what is going on. I grant that the church and pastors have not always been very good a teaching the liturgy and tradition of the church. But the best way to learn is to experience. We live in a world that says we are all experts before we begin… or should be. The liturgy is rich and deep and complex and beautiful. And it can be confusing if it is unfamiliar. But what form of unfamiliar worship wouldn’t be confusing? The best way to learn is through repetition. Try worshipping in a liturgical church every week for a year, and then how liturgy feels. If you find yourself bored, perhaps it is because there is learning that needs to happen. Talk to your pastor, they might be able to help.

Now, make no mistake Liturgy, ritual and tradition are not the newest (or oldest) gimmicks to get millennials back to church. Rather they are just servants of the gospel, the vehicles through which we regularly encounter God as people of faith. And it is meeting and following Jesus that is the most important thing – the most important thing that we do, and that worship helps us to do, as people of faith.

So as I said, I am still a High Church millennial. And it is these ancient things of liturgy, ritual and tradition – and how they so clearly proclaim Christ crucified and risen – that are the reasons I am still in the church.


*Thanks again to The Rev. Steven Sabin for allowing me to annotate his great post.

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