Pastor Receives One Year in Prison for Starting New Church

Posted on November 10, 2011

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10 varieties of pastries at The Journey Church trumps All Saints Church's 2 plates of cookies.

Last Sunday I visited two completely different worship services in the same town.  The first was All Saints Episcopal Church in Worcester and the second was The Journey Community Church.  You can read reviews of each by clicking on the name.  All Saints has been around Worcester since the mid 1800’s.  You could say All Saints has been around since the time of Henry VII in 1534 and the formation of the Church of England and the Anglican Church.

On the other hand The Journey Community Church has been around Worcester for just over a year.  Or you could say The Journey has been around since the time of 1660 when at least 2,000 Anglican Christian Priests experimented with new liturgy, deviating from the Book of Common Prayer.  According to the British Act of Uniformity, any pastor tinkering with liturgy could lose a year’s pay for the infraction.  A second infraction brought a year in prison and termination of the ministry position–and a black-listing whereby the cleric was considered by companions as “dead”.  A third infraction brought life in prison.

After visiting these two polar-opposite churches Sunday I understand the desire for common standards.  One group meets in an ornate cathedral conceived by the same architect who designed the massive National Cathedral in Washington D.C.  Thick arches.  Thick doors.  Thick, eight-page liturgy.  Thick theology.   The Rector (Latin word for “Ruler”), decked-out in a shiny Chasuble (a fancy $900 poncho worn over an alb or robe) pontificates from a high, carved-wood pulpit.  The other church meets in the auditorium of a local High School.  There is no liturgy but rather the new church formula of four projected-lyric praise songs (including the astonishingly sentimental “I Am a Friend of God”), a generous prayer seeking a generous offering, a fort-five minute session of life-coaching and then two more songs.   What the two churches seemed to share was “rulership” by one sacred dude and…coffee.

I am intrigued by these new church starts and the methods they employ to put butts in the seat and I think old-line churches can learn much from the market-research approach used by new churches.  But I have found people, in all three new church starts I visited,  who were not attracted to these churches from a place of un-belief but rather were “poached” from mainline church membership lists.  Every person I spoke with from these churches seemed marginally invested in their trendy,new church and sounded as though they were keeping the door open to other churches down the road.

Maybe the early Anglicans knew such poaching and restlessness might take place.  In free-market ministry, the long-time cathedral community competes against a nimble group across town that serves better pastries (and they WERE very good at The Journey this week!) and has videos.   Ironically, my own tradition of Methodism did exactly what The Journey and The Woo and LifeSong churches here in Worcester have done to All Saints Episcopal, Trinity Lutheran and yes, Epworth United Methodist churches.  I suspect that neither manifestation will last as consumers ultimately find less quirky delivery of the spiritual food they seek.

So perhaps it is best to lock-up pastors who start new churches, stealing congregants away from established churches.  Better still, we could recognize that both kinds of Christianity are too quirky to be helpful these days and choose to lock-up all of our methodologies for one year.  The chasubles, the projectors, the djembe drums and pipe organs, the clergy/laity dichotomy, the buildings all go into one big closet for a year.  Would some Common Prayer emerge in that vacuum?

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