Sunday, July 13, 2008

Episcopal Nightclub

Given its commitment to liturgical innovation, its encouragement of alternate lifestyles, and its financial need to bring in more funds and rich parishoners, perhaps PEcUSA should consider the following...

New York
April 21, 2008

Tourists who stepped into eastside Manhattan's Holy Trinity Church last Saturday night may have thought, for a moment, that they'd accidentally entered a nightclub. What they had, in fact, found was the Episcopal church's latest liturgical outreach effort being spearheaded by its visionary liturgical Officer, the Rev. Clayton Morris, in a new program called "Episcopal Nights".

"The Episcopal church is always looking for fresh and exciting ways to make itself relevant to today's custome... er, parishoners," explained Morris. "Here in Manhattan we have a lot of potential members who have never been interested in coming to church because it's so boring, and it usually requires getting up before noon on a Sunday morning. We recognize that our funder... er, members have other pressing personal and social needs in their lives and so we are striving to re-image our message and method to fit that new, 21st century reality."

This first-of-its kind new worship service at Trinity, which began this past weekend after several months of planning, attempts to make Episcopalians feel more comfortable in church by mimicking the social environments to which they are already accustomed. Trinity's pastor, Johanna-Karen Johannson, described the service: "We keep the lights low and have a small jazz band playing in one corner. We've adopted a free-form Rite III liturgy and encourage our audienc... er, congregation to move from place to place around the auditor... er, sanctuary, participating only in those parts of the 'official' service they feel comfortable with, and pursuing their other interests or activities - alone or with partners - the rest of the time. There's no pressure."

Despite these liturgical innovations, the central focus of the evening remains the traditional community meal, known as the "Holy Eucharist" or "communion" in other denominations. "Here in the Episcopal church, we've moved past the out-of-date repressive first century model," explained Morris, "burdened as it was with notions of sacrifice, blood-guilt, and redemption. Communion isn't really about any of that -- it's all about reconciliation, about feeding and being fed... and, quite frankly, a little sip of cheap wine and a stale piece of flatbread just doesn't communicate that message to today's sophisticated Manhatannites."

Instead, Trinity's new service provides a choice of top-shelf martinis and several buffet tables of varied hors d'oeuvres. "It's a much more attractive spread," enthused Johannson, "and has already attracted several potential new members, who stopped in for the free food and drinks on their way to local bars, restaurants, and gentlemen's clubs. We hoping that, once our program is better known, we'll be able to provide coupons for several such local businesses -- to encourage even more people to make Trinity church their first stop in a fun-filled Saturday night out on the town."

"It's great" said Cecil Hendrickson, a long-time parishoner and on-and-off participant in its AA program. "It really gives a whole new feel to the worship experience, and the less strict liturgical format lets me walk the labyrinth and listen to the jazz music without being distracted by some dumb prayers or sermon all the time. It's especially convenient" he added "as it starts right after the Saturday night AA program finishes, so I can just go right up the stairs from the undercroft. And they don't water down the vodka, either!"

Some more conservative members of the Episcopal church have expressed concern over Morris' latest liturgical brain-child. "Christianity is supposed to be about transforming people," said Rev. K. Harmon, a well-known conservative Episcopalian from South Carolina, "not about conforming its forms and message to become indistinguishable from the surrounding culture." Mr. Christopher Johnson, a conservative Episcopal internet blogger, added "I'm no theologian or priest (though I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but even I know that the Eucharist is supposed to be about prayerfully encountering God... not about guzzling Stoli and snarfing paté while trying to pick up cute guys in tight pants."

Asked about these concerns, Morris responded "Oh, puh-LEASE! Those sorts of concerns are so typical of the repressive sexist homophobic vindictive reactionary barely-past-animism minority fringe of our organization who simply have no understanding of Jesus' central message of love, acceptance, inclusion and safety. But don't worry... we'll be getting rid of them at next year's General Convention, assuming we haven't managed to litigate them all into bankruptcy or drive them into nervous breakdowns before then.

"No, you simply can't expect to attract new members with yesterday's message of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and salvation. That's just not what people want today. You need to do what Jesus did -- go where the people are. And where they are, here in Manhattan -- or, at least, where the sorts of people we want are -- is in classy nightclubs. And so that was the inspiration for our new 'Episcopal Nights' program."

These new services are scheduled to be held at Trinity ever-other Saturday night through the rest of the year, and if the pilot program proves successful, many other urban Episcopal churches around the country are expected to implement their own "Episcopal Nights" services, starting as early as this fall.

First posted on the MCJ blog.