"Worship: High, Holy, and Under an Hour." – Anon.
I believe many of us remember hearing this phrase uttered by friends or family. This phrase seems to be heard most often during football season as we cannot let too many things get ahead of our beloved Packers (or Bears, if you must).
The idea of a "streamlined" worship service is not a new thought. There is evidence that a call for shorter worship services was abundant as much as 300 years ago. It seems that Benjamin Franklin (one of my many heroes) authored a revised liturgical structure for the Anglican Church's Book of Common Prayer. Ben was approached by Sir Francis Dashwood, Baron Le Despenser to develop a concise, modern and updated Book of Common Prayer. Being a pragmatic person, Ben forged ahead and presented his version to the Church of England.
Arguing for his revised version of the Book of Common Prayer, Franklin said, "It has often been observed and complained of, that the morning and evening services, as practiced in England and elsewhere, are so long, and filled with so many repetitions, that the continued attention suitable to so serious a duty becomes impracticable, the mind wanders, and the fervency of devotion is slackened." He also said, "Many pious and devout persons, whose age or infirmities will not suffer them to remain for hours in a cold church, especially in the winter season, are obliged to forgo the comfort and edification they would receive by their attendance at divine service." And he said that young people "would probably more frequently, as well as cheerfully, attend divine service if they were not detained so long at any one time." (Alf J. Mapp, Jr. "The Faiths of Our Fathers." pp. 114-116, Rowman & Littlefield)
Franklin reduced the Apostle's Creed by more than half, presenting it as: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his son, our Lord. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting." He condensed many Psalms, and discarded some, to eliminate repetition. He also excised other portions "which, relating to the ancestors of the Jews, were more interesting to them than to us." ibid.
After completing his revision of the Book of Common Prayer, Franklin revised the Lord's Prayer to read: "Heavenly Father, may all revere thee, and become thy dutiful children and faithful subjects. May thy laws be obeyed on earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven. Provide for us this day as Thou has daily done. Forgive us our trespasses and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us. Keep us out of temptation, and deliver us from evil." ibid.
He said that he substituted "Heavenly Father" for "Our Father which art in Heaven" because his version was "more concise, equally expressive, and better modern English." He substituted "May all revere thy name" for "Hallowed be thy name" because he attributed the earlier version to the influence of the ancient Jewish taboo against pronouncing "the proper or peculiar name of God." "The word hallowed," he asserted, "is almost obsolete." op.cit. Hallowed (set apart) is as hallowed does, and Ben's efforts at shortening the liturgy were courteously "set apart" from the church.
It is true that church services (depending on the denomination) in our nation's early years were quite long. There are many stories of people falling asleep during the service regardless of the preaching style. I had to chuckle at Ben's assertion that young people might more frequently and cheerfully attend shorter services. I remember the reactions from my two teen-aged daughters about attending church; I sometimes needed the help of mules to pull them into the building.
Worshipping God takes place in many forms and we (Episcopalians) have a structure (form) that guides us on a path for communal worship. The outward signs (processions, kneeling, standing) are there for a purpose. Perhaps we need to look within ourselves to understand and internalize why we "do what we do" and learn the meanings to our traditions and rituals.
The time we share together in worshipping God on any given Sunday is minimal (60-75 minutes) and is significantly different from our colonial ancestors' Sunday worship. Perhaps in making an effort to learn the "why, what, and how" of our established liturgies, we can take the phrase "High, Holy and Under an Hour" to a new level of understanding.