April 18, 2001(?)
"Faith: New Generation Is Looking Back"
by Uwe Siemon-Netto
WASHINGTON, April 18 (UPI) -- A new generation of worshipers is confounding pastors and church musicians alike.
No sooner had they got used to sometimes nerve-wrecking new forms of worship smacking of trivial entertainment, than a youthful thirst for tradition seems to be the liturgical aroma of the day.
Meet the Millennials who are succeeding the Baby Boomers and the GenExers. The Millennials are young people born between 1981 and 2000.
"They are called that way because they will presumably live most of their lives in the new millennium," explained Robert Olsavicky, an organist and graduate student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Olsavicky has become a specialist of the roller-coaster changes in worship preferences, changes that parallel developments in society at large. According to Olsavicky, today's young Christians often desire the exact opposite of what the Rev. Rick Warren, a Californian church growth promoter, preaches. Warren shouts at fellow pastors, "Why are you still using that pipe organ people hate?"
"What is happening in the religion of teenagers is nothing short of astounding," wrote Robert Webber in the current issue of Reformed Worship, a theological journal. "They want to return to a more stable time, a
period of tradition. Not the tradition of the fifties, but of a much earlier time, the tradition of the old, very old times." Webber is director of the Institute of Worship Studies at Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, Ill. He sees in the "tradition emerging among the Millennials, Generation X and some Boomers a tradition of classical Christianity filtered through the grid of postmodern, post-Christian, neo-pagan society."
Olsavicky, who is also the musical director of First United Methodist Church in Butler, Pa., concurred: "They are looking back to the Reformation era."
In his article, Webber quoted a youth director: "What appeals to this new generation is the cathedral and the stained-glass window. Take the pews out, let them sit on the floor, burn incense, have Scripture readings, lots of music, chants even, and have communion, and they say 'Wow, this is me.'" Webber reminded his readers that sociologist Francis Fukuyama called the period between 1960 and 1990 "the great disruption," a shift from modernity to postmodernity. Webber added, "The Millennials appear to be the first generation of people coming out on the other side of the crisis."
This is not to say that the post-sixties onslaught against tradition is over. "There is church growth promoter Jeffrey Patton who tells congregations, 'If you do not introduce contemporary service your church will be vacant, with an organ for sale,'" said Olsavicky. "And Rick Warren laughs at references to kings, crowns and diadems in our old hymns. Yet the Promise Keepers sing them. Rick laughs at their antiquated lyrics. But just try to replace 'How great thou art' with 'How great you are,' and you destroy the poetry."
Of course, the Millennials sing, "How great thou art." And they would not dream of attending communion services administering potato chips and soda pop, as happened in some "progressive" churches in recent American history. They receive hosts and wine instead.
Conflicting field reports emerge from America's worship war, however. In the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, for example, the church growth movement is still throwing overboard this orthodox denomination's liturgical tradition.
At the same time, this correspondent has encountered in the Washington area young and energetic LCMS members passionately promoting a return to old, high forms of liturgy and the Lutheran confessions.
True, the LCMS church growth faction is busy planting new congregations, but so is the young liturgical and confessional wing. Wherever you look, you find divergent trends literally side by side, in the Church as in society at large. In fact, worship trends often mirror society.
The shortage of organists is a case in point. "Sometimes we wonder if there will be enough organists to fill the demand," said Prof. John Ferguson of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. But this seems to be chiefly a problem of secular schools training concert organists, for whom there are not too many jobs. At the same time, though, Ferguson's organ class of 20 undergraduate students is full.
Ann Labounsky, who chairs the church music department at Duquesne University, reports the same about her school. But then both schools are church-related; St. Olaf is Lutheran, Duquesne, Catholic. They prepare students for music ministry in congregational life -- in other words, for paying jobs, something secular schools cannot do.
And these are increasingly well-paying jobs, according to Ferguson. "One of our problems in the past was that churches used to treat organists very badly. They underpaid them. In the hinterland most organists were women, who got married and had children. The assumption was that didn't need much money. "But then women entered the workforce. They stopped becoming organists because better-paid jobs became available."
As society changed, so did this profession. "Churches were finding it more and more difficult to hire good organists, so the salaries went up. Two churches in Minneapolis pay their organists more than $100,000 per year. Said Ferguson: "One of my former students, who only has a bachelor's degree, was offered $38,000 plus a house in Indiana. An entry-level instructor with a Ph.D. at St. Olaf does not earn that much." And now guess who attends Ferguson's classes? "Two third of my students are men. It used to be exactly the other way around," he told United Press International Wednesday.
It is one of the most impressive aspects of worship in America that, with the anti-historical follies of the post-sixties era still present, is seems to be straightening itself out. To be sure, organs still get ripped out, but there is an Organ Clearing House in Lexington, Mass., that rescues, stores and offers these instruments to other churches.
Many churches consider replacing their old pipe organs with electronic ones. But there is Richard G. Pelland of Derry, N.H., shouting at them via the Internet: "Don't do it! Don't replace the King of the instruments with an appliance! I'll repair it for you. It will=20 probably cost you less than a new electronic machine, which won't last you longer than 20 years. A pipe organ can live for centuries."
True, like other movements in the society, developments in church are never clear-cut. Even in Robert Olsavickys First United Methodist Church in Butler there are some services with contemporary bands, and the pastor is using skits, drama, video clips, charts and pointers to make a homiletic point.
Professor Paul Westermeyer, who teaches organ and church music at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., takes a sanguine view as he ponders the circuitous ways of worship in America: "Over the long haul, the human race has enough sense to right itself," he said. Perhaps the tradition- loving Millennials will ultimately prove him right.
Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto is a religion correspondent for UPI.