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CB064044Disturbing news comes via the Episcopal/Anglican site Stand Firm, which recently explored the discrimination against Christians in the Middle East, specifically, their exclusion from refugee programmes.

A S Haley, who wrote the Stand Firm article, refers us to Philo’s Project which documents the State Department’s refusal to help Christians (emphases mine):

According to a March 26, 2015 article in Newsweek, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in their ancestral home of Iraq prior to 2003. Now the number of Christians is estimated at anywhere from 260,000 to 350,000, with near half of that number displaced within the country. Newsweek explained that Iraq’s remaining Christians have mostly fled north to safer areas under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. “But now ISIS is threatening them there, too.”

[The Rt. Rev. Julian M. Dobbs, bishop of the Diocese of CANA East (Convocation of Anglicans in North America)], accompanied to the State Department by humanitarian Sir Charles Hoare, 9th Baronet Hoare of Annabella, County Cork, informed State Department officials of a plan by one well-known Christian international aid agency to provide safer housing for Iraqi Christians. Christians are trying to survive in unfinished concrete buildings – such as shopping malls – in the Christian enclave of Ankawa rather than in the UNHCR camp with the other refugees, because they are even threatened by some of the Muslim refugees.

The organization purchased used military tents from British troops in Afghanistan to set up on land that had been provided by the local authorities.

These military tents have sanitary facilities. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. However, there is the problem of transporting them from Afghanistan to Iraq. Neither the British nor the US government intends on doing that, even though it involves only one military aircraft to transport the tents:

So instead, the group is working to raise some $778,000 to transport the tents to Iraq by land. Dobbs revealed that the State Department advised him against setting up emergency housing for Christians in the region, saying it was “totally inappropriate.”

Even worse:

Also inappropriate, it seems, is the resettling of the most vulnerable Assyrian Christians in the United States. Donors in the private sector have offered complete funding for the airfare and the resettlement in the United States of these Iraqi Christians that are sleeping in public buildings, on school floors, or worse. But the State Department – while admitting 4,425 Somalis to the United States in just the first six months of FY2015, and possibly even accepting members of ISIS through the Syrian and Iraqi refugee program, all paid for by tax dollars, told Dobbs that they “would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States.”

The United States government has made it clear that there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation, even though it is exactly that – their religious affiliation – that makes them candidates for asylum based on a credible fear of persecution from ISIS. The State Department, the wider administration, some in Congress and much of the media and other liberal elites insist that Christians cannot be given preferential treatment. Even within the churches, some Christians are so afraid of appearing to give preferential treatment to their fellow Christians that they are reluctant to plead the case of their Iraqi and Syrian brothers and sisters.

Meanwhile, Americans are paying for some very interesting things where refugees are concerned (H/T: Stand Firm):

17.   Welfare use is staggering among refugees. Welfare usage is never counted by officials as part of the cost of the program. Yet, when it is included, the total cost of the refugee program soars to at least 10-20 billion a year.

As some Americans are pushed off of time-limited welfare programs many refugees are going on to life-time cash assistance programs. For instance, 12.7% of refugees are on SSI – a lifetime entitlement to a monthly check / Medicaid for elderly or disabled. This rate of usage is at least 4 times higher than the rate of usage for SSI among the native-born population and is reportedly rising from these already very high levels.

Permanent and intergenerational welfare dependence has been allowed to take hold to a significant degree in some refugee groups.

Find latest welfare usage among refugees here (latest data available is from 2009): https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/orr/fy_2009_annual_report_to_congress.pdf

Find table TABLE II-14: Public Assistance Utilization Among refugees who arrived during the 5 years previous to the survey 57.7% are on government medical assistance such as Medicaid, about 25% have no health insurance at all, 70.2% are receiving food stamps, 31.6% are in public housing (an additional percentage is on a public housing waiting list), and 38.3 % are getting cash assistance such as TANF or SSI.

The figure of 57.7% dependent upon government medical assistance is actually an undercount since it excludes children under 16.

18.   Medium size towns, such as Bowling Green, KY, Nashville, TN, Ft. Wayne, IN, Boise, ID and Manchester, NH, are serving as the main reception centers for the refugee program.

19. Refugees are not tested for many diseases, such as HIV.  Refugees are a major contributing factor to TB rates among the foreign-born. TB among the foreign-born now accounts for about half of the TB in America.

20. The money the U.S. spends bringing one refugee to the U.S. could have helped 500 individuals overseas in countries where they currently reside.

21. It has never been reported in the U.S. that 47% of loans made to refugees for transportation to the U.S. are unpaid leaving an unpaid balance of $450 million. This amount – slightly out of date, does not include interest or an unknown amount that has been written off. We will announce the new balance as soon as it is available.

Surely, all this could be better organised and managed? I imagine something similar is going on in the UK.

To cap it all off, Stand Firm‘s A S Haley tells us that church agencies are making money by working with the US government in receiving refugees:

Refugees designated to migrate to the United States are advanced travel money by an arm of the U.S. State Department. They land here, and are placed in the hands of (among other agencies) Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), which helps them relocate into specific communities, find jobs, and settle in. Then EMM sees that they repay their travel advances to the Government, and pockets one-quarter of its debt collection proceeds for its trouble.

It’s a nifty racket, and ensures that annually over $300,000 comes into the Episcopal Church’s coffers, to help with its bottom line.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Government reimburses EMM for all of its other refugee relocation expenses, to the tune of some $14 million annually

It turns out that a good portion of the refugees EMM is assisting are not just any refugees, but are Muslims from some of the countries to which America has sent troops, bombs or both: Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and (soon) Syria.

… EMM is one of nine major Government contractors engaged in making money to bring in refugees from these war-torn countries, in which the United States has militarily intervened. Five others, along with EMM, operate under the aegis of major American religious denominations: the Church World Service (an umbrella organization), the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the evangelically connected World Relief Corporation.

This is much worse than I could have ever imagined. Meanwhile, our Christian brothers and sisters are left to languish under the very real pain of death.

Until a few days ago, I’d never really thought much about the piano.

My maternal grandparents had an upright, which my late mother and aunt learned how to play. My late paternal aunt owned and played a Yamaha baby grand. I could read music and play a bit myself.

However, lifting the lid off the piano reveals a world of science and nature many of us haven’t contemplated.

The French newsweekly Marianne recently reported on the intricacies of the piano, from sound to brand dominance (‘Un Steinway, sinon rien?’ [‘A Steinway or nothing?’] by Emmanuel Tresmontant, 24 – 30 April 2015, pp. 80-83).

Hundreds of manufacturers, now gone

There was a time when every Western nation — even a US state — had its own piano manufacturer. Wikipedia has a nearly complete list here. (My grandparents had a Gulbransen, not included.)

Very few of them are still in business. A handful of survivors have moved production to the Far East.

The French manufacturer Pleyel was the most recent to stop production. That was in 2013.

Interestingly, around the time Pleyel was winding down, a new company in England, Cavendish Pianos, launched. Named after the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Cavendish being their family name — and partly financed by them — the company makes five models from uprights to grands. They are located at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire and use the county’s finest expertise, wood and wool in manufacture.

However, most of us know only the Steinway and Yamaha brands. And there’s a reason for that. More in a moment.

What classical composers used

The Marianne article tells us that in the 19th century, Paris had over 100 piano manufacturers (p. 81).

The pianos were made in various shapes depending on the sound desired: pear, pyramid, cube and even a giraffe! Some pianos were able to indefinitely carry the sound of one note played until the person playing lifted his finger. If you try this today, you’ll be disappointed. The sound fades out even with your finger on the key.

Pleyel pianos were developed by the classical composer Ignaz Pleyel. He introduced the upright model to France in 1815. This piano was developed from models popular in Britain at the time. By 1834, Pleyel et Cie employed 250 workers who constructed 1,000 pianos each year.

Chopin composed and played on a Pleyel, said to have a singing sound quality. Liszt used a piano made by rival Erard, thought to have been even better in tonality. Pleyel bought Erard and another pianomaker Gaveau in the 1980s.

Today, only a few models made by these companies and others around the world exist. The classical pieces we hear today from other pianos lose some of the earlier subtleties in the original compositions.

Steinway’s world dominance

These days, most concert pianists play a Steinway, the leading brand of piano.

French music critic Alain Lompech explained Steinway’s evolution, which began in the 1800s (p. 81):

The genius of Steinway & Sons, founded in New York in 1853 by Heinrich Steinweg, a German, was to take the best innovations of the other manufacturers and integrate them in a harmonious unit. At the first Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, Steinway took three gold medals from Pleyel and Erard. The most unbelievable bit is that Steinway pianos are made the same as they were in 1880! Nothing has changed since the patents were granted. It’s an absolute miracle.

Philippe Copin, arguably one of Europe’s best piano technicians, told Marianne why Steinway dominates the market (p. 82):

Steinways distinguish themselves by their capacity for resonance. They can project sound in concert halls with 3,000 seats, which had never been done before. Steinway also knew how to accommodate from the start the demands of composers such as Liszt, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov who needed more percussive pianos: a fortissimo from Prokofiev does not have the same impact as one from Mozart or Beethoven.

Copin adds that few professional pianists know how to get the best from a Steinway:

They don’t know how it’s made and how this affects its timbre. Most often, they all ask for the same thing: that their piano be adaptable and allow them to play all repertoires … In order to respond to all these demands, it has been observed that only one brand can meet them: Steinway! Add to that that a grand piano for concerts costs €140,000 whatever the marque. You then understand why there is so little diversity.

Marianne points out that other manufacturers ended up trying to imitate Steinway to meet the demands of pianists. For example, the sound from the Austrian make Bösendorfer started out as ’round and soft, deep’ (p. 82). Not so long ago, concert pianists complained that Bösendorfer wasn’t powerful enough, so the maker altered its hammers in response, resulting in a ‘hard and metallic’ sound.

Incidentally, Yamaha bought Bösendorfer in 2007.

Musicologiest Ziad Kreidy told Marianne that he is sorry the original sounds which distinguished one piano manufacturer from another are history (pp. 82, 83):

… to satisfy demand on a global scale, piano manufacture has become extremely automated and standardised.

Modern pianos have such heavy, sonorous and rich basses that it’s impossible to respect the pedals played, for example, by Chopin in some of his Nocturnes.

This also holds true for Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3:

On a modern Steinway Beethoven’s instrumentation is impossible to achieve. A too-insistent resonance ruins the sound and the interplay becomes cacophony. On an old Pleyel, by contrast, you had only to respect the pedal indications for the melody to unfold naturally.

He went on to say (p. 83) that, previously, each manufacturer had their own notion of tonal

warmth, clarity and the natural which made the reputations of Pleyel and Erard, handmade by passionate artisans, depositors of a savoir-faire completely lost now …

With these instruments, as rare as they are fragile, we enter into another poetic universe. The sound is natural, round and golden, as if it were amber.

Concert virtuoso Alain Planès was fortunate enough to play a 1836 Pleyel which he said sounded

totally authentic … exactly as Chopin intended.

He was also able to record Debussy’s Préludes on an 1897 Bechstein which left his heart pounding with excitement.

Yamaha, the only real rival

Marianne noted that, whilst the Italian manufacturer Fazioli and the German Bluthner still make ‘excellent’ pianos, Steinway’s only real rival is Yamaha, especially with their newest model, the CFX (p. 82).

Only time will tell.

Hammers and wool

Modern Steinways have much harder hammers than the old, beloved makes of piano (p. 83). This affects the sound quality, making it bold, percussive and heavy.

Another factor contributing to sound is the sheep’s wool felt used on the hammers. Alain Planès said that the late, great pianist Rudolf Serkin who died in 1991, surmised that modern felt is considerably different to that of the old days:

He thought that today’s sheep are badly nourished, that their wool no longer has the same quality as their ancestors’ and that this, naturally, has a direct influence on the sound coming from the piano.

An interesting theory, one which might be true.

It is interesting to note that the earliest covering on piano hammers was leather. Felt replaced leather. The first piano felt manufacturer was JD Weickert, based in Leipzig:

In 1847 the first felt for piano hammer was made in Germany by the Weickert factory. This felt was successful[ly] tested and used by the piano factory J.G. Irmler. Piano Felt Factory J.D. Weickert was the new name of the company.

The existing and newly founded Piano factories at that time caused an increasing demand for Piano Felt. Even today well-known companies as Steinway, Blüthner, Bösendorfer , Ibach, Bechstein or Rönisch were already customers of the Felt factory. The factory had to increase the capacity and had to add on new facilities. The number of staff increased by 50 in year 1860 to 350 employees at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the late 19th century, The Guardian tells us:

more people were employed making pianos in London than in any other manufacturing business.

Highly technical

None of us doubts that manufacturing a piano is an involved process.

So is being a piano technician. Philippe Copin spent ten years training at Yamaha’s factory in Japan. It can take a highly trained technician up to two days to properly tune and adjust a piano before a major concert (pp. 81, 82).

This video describes some of what is involved in adjusting individual key’s temperaments:

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on Boston’s Timothy Gilbert and his piano patents from the 19th century, which were very technical and highly successful.

The technology and mathematical calculations behind piano hammers is discussed here, complete with illustrations.

Today, at Cavendish Pianos, owner and founder Adam Cox told The Guardian that:

With each piano made up of as many as 20,000 parts, the suppliers include hardwood sawmills, feltmakers and a hand-spinner of piano strings, all within easy reach of the ex-cowsheds.

“China and the far east have many advantages but we can beat them,” says Cox, whose favourite statistic is a reminder of the glory days of British piano sales.

Whilst many reading this will say, ‘Keyboards get the job done, too,’ Cox says:

Keyboards and the like had a novelty but people are realising their limitations compared with a real piano.

When it comes to music, nothing’s grander than a grand — or even a standard upright piano! Expensive, yes, but well worth it. And now we know what’s under the lid.

Interviewers sometimes ask jobseekers questions which are beyond the pale.

Graduates and others looking for a new employer would do well to research what cannot be asked at a job interview.

An article dated April 29, 2015, revealed questions that British graduates have been asked, among them:

Can you flirt with customers to make them stay longer?

Do you get PMT?

Can you wear more makeup next time?

Are you planning on having children soon?

In the 1990s, it was still acceptable to ask about prospective children. I’m of two minds about it, because, whilst it is intrusive, I knew a woman who started a job only to become pregnant within a year, then return to work after maternity leave and, shortly thereafter, announce she was expecting another child. There was nothing the employer could do. After all, one cannot fire a woman for having children. Nevertheless, other employees began to write her out of the everyday work picture and resented her for ‘playing the system’.

As for the others — and there are more in the article — instead of getting angry, the applicant should discern that these types of questions reveal more about the employer than illegality or inappropriateness. Working in such companies is bound to be stressful and unpleasant.

The UK Government has a site which briefly explains what employers can and cannot ask when interviewing. However, women should be as honest as possible with regard to children and childminding arrangements. An employer generally will expect — at least silently — that a newly-wed woman of childbearing age would stay at least a year before becoming pregnant.

An American site, PayScale, has a helpful list of what is disallowed in interviews along with constructive ways for the applicant to respond. Citizenship is one example. Whilst it is illegal for employers to ask if an applicant has US citizenship:

If the intent is to find out if you are authorized to work here in the US, then that is the question you need to answer — that you do or do not have a work permit.

Their article states that questions with regard to arrests and/or convictions are legal in certain states. Those applying for a security-sensitive job should be aware of this and explain their own circumstances, if applicable.

In short — instead of getting defensive or testy — the applicant should evaluate why certain questions are being asked. Often, the employer has a reason. Be polite and, where possible, give a considered response:

as the interviewee, it is up to you to gauge the intent behind the questions and answer accordingly. You could also choose not to answer.

Anything offensive, such as the British questions, should be ignored or gently laughed off. One would be within one’s rights to terminate the interview politely. Tell them they’ve just lost an excellent prospective employee.

On April 24, 2015, the Telegraph published a list of 10 towns that have changed their names for various reasons.

Readers who like offbeat history will find the article interesting. (Telegraph commenters added names of European towns which attract attention.)

Here are but a few:

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, was originally called Hot Springs. When Ralph Edwards, the then-host of television game show Truth or Consequences, said an episode would be filmed in the first town to rename itself after the programme, Hot Springs applied in 1950. Edwards returned to the town annually to appear at its fiesta until his death.

Kitchener, Ontario, was called Berlin until the Great War. As the war generated much understandable anti-German sentiment, the townspeople were able to vote on a selection of new names. In 1916, the town was renamed after Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War.

Sleepy Hollow, New York, was originally North Tarrytown. Traditionally, the area was known by that name, which Washington Irving popularised in his eponymous legend. The town’s name changed in 1996. The film with Johnny Depp appeared three years later.

Controversially, one town has not changed its name, despite requests to do so during the Second World War:

Swastika, Ontario, chose to maintain the status quo, pointing out that the Sanskrit symbol signifies good luck, despite its having been hijacked by Nazis many millenia later.

My sincere thanks to reader John J Flanagan, who has kindly taken the time to discuss his experiences in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).

His guest post follows. Please feel free to comment or ask him questions to which he can respond directly.

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What are the differences between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS)?

I freely admit I am not an expert and certainly not a theologian, but I would refer interested parties to read for themselves the websites and Q&A sections on this topic posted at both the OPC and the LCMS websites.

I was a member of an OPC church for a few years, and eventually returned to the LCMS. Prior to that I was on a spiritual journey after 40 years as a Catholic, looking for the truth of God and His word first in the Bible, than checking out various denominations, like Baptists, non-denominational, Reformed, and OPC and PCA. I had been a member of an LCMS congregation as well, but I felt so confused by the varying interpretations each denomination had that I could not be sure in which church I belonged.

The OPC is a solid and faithful church, in my view, but I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught. First, the positives: Sola Scriptura, noting as the Bible declares that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone, apart from any works. The OPC believes in infant Baptism, as do Lutherans. End times: Lutherans are amillennial, however, while most OPC ministers are amillennial, some are Post Millennial. The OPC tends to regard communion as a memorial or symbol but Christ is present by His spirit, while Lutherans believe Christ is bodily present at the sacrament. The OPC and LCMS also views Baptism differently, in the sense that Lutherans believe one is regenerated or born again, while God does not necessarily regenerate a person being Baptized, although it is within His sovereignty to do so.
The OPC views Law and Grace differently than Lutherans. The Reformed view is that the Law is designed to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, whereas, the Lutheran view is that the Law leads us to Christ and repentance.

This is a thumbnail sketch. I have often been struggling with varying interpretations that sincere and God loving Christians apply to the same scriptural verses. It can be confusing, but I have found that Lutheranism explains scripture better, in my view, and the OPC and Reformed lean heavily on the Westminster Confessions. In any case, I suppose Our Lord will determine which church reflects the most accurate interpretation of these things.

Those of you interested in understanding the various denominational teachings should read further materials, but the first and primary way to do that is to keep your hand on the Bible as you read, and pray for wisdom.

I must add that the OPC is, of course, Calvinistic. It follows the five points of Calvinism, also believing in double predestination, which Luther rejected. Other differences, like the Presbyterian form of government, the simplicity of the worship service, rejection of icons, set it apart from Lutheran traditions. The OPC has about 300 churches and about 30,000 members. On the plus side, they rejected post modernism long ago, and split from the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), as later did the group which formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). But having looked at this as closely as I am able, in my humble opinion, the LCMS is where I shall remain, and I pray that we remain faithful in the years to come.

Britain’s television and wireless listings magazine, Radio Times, often has nuggets of surprising information.

In the 11-17 2015 issue (p. 160), a viewer wrote in to discuss a contestant’s answer about children’s classics on the quiz show Pointless. From his letter I discovered that the following are no longer on the UK’s Book Trust list: Alice in Wonderland, The Wind and the Willows and Treasure Island, to name but a few. Book Trust considers only the past 100 years of children’s books. That means that the century will be shifting every year, depriving many youngsters of real literary classics.

To many of us, the word ‘classic’ implies a work has withstood the test of time. Furthermore, unless it is exceptionally good, it is probably an old story.

This is the list that Book Trust recommends for young people between the ages of 12 and 14. There is a lot in the fantasy genre. I haven’t heard of most of the titles, not surprisingly. And there are a few that jumped out at me for being quite possibly inappropriate. One is Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging [‘kissing’] by Louise Rennison, which Book Trust describes as:

Welcome to the world of Georgia Nicolson – an angst-ridden teenage girl who keeps a diary to record the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences she faces every day.

Really? When I was that age, nationally recommended book lists included works by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.

I started feeling old until I saw a thread on Mumsnet about children’s reading material. Mumsnet member Theas18 wrote (punctuation edited, emphases mine below):

Fence sitting here.

Me and mine certainly had read the classics at primaryAnne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, etc. Not to mention all the Narnia books. They give you so much in terms of vocabulary and language use that modern classics like Harry Potter and Hunger Games don’t do. We also had many on audiobook for the car- including Frankenstein ! … Gave DD2 a real head start at secondary.

Certainly I’d rather these (yes, even Frankenstein, at 11 she realised it wasn’t a horror story really) than the seriously scary (to me) Jaqueline Wilson dealing with broken families, abuse and real heartbreak happening to kids like them… but maybe that[‘s] my form of cotton wool?

I fully agree.

A true children’s classic will teach a child or adolescent moral lessons about good and evil. The subject matter or genre might be adventure (Treasure Island), suspense (Saki’s short stories), courtship (Pride and Prejudice) or family relationships (Little Women). It’s also fascinating to enter another century and discover how people lived then and what conflicts they resolved.

Fortunately, some young British readers are turning towards true classics. A young person writing for the Guardian under the pseud of TheFanaticalReader recently wrote:

When many people think of classics, they think of leather-bound books the size of bricks covered in a thick layer of dust from the attic where your great-great grandma’s book collection is stored. This is not true. Now, it may be a clichéd subject, but when I told a few people in my class that I’m reading Mansfield Park they gawped at me like I was a rare and exotic fish from the deepest depths of the South American jungle rivers (when in fact it was they who looked like fish – gawping is not a good look!). I feel, therefore, that we need to revisit the fact that not enough teens/tweens are reading classics – may I be so bold to suggest that this applies to boys even more so?

TheFanaticalReader includes advice for boys who, not surprisingly, shy away from the Victorian novel. His article is well written and amusing. Here’s a taster (emphasis in the original):

3. “But it’s just a load of soppy romance!”

Have you heard of Louise Rennison anybody? Maybe, I don’t know, John Green? Or The Hunger Games? Twilight? Even Harry Potter? Divergent? Most, if not all, YA fiction includes romance, so a bit of Jane Austen classic romance shouldn’t hurt, should it?

Mansfield Park is too old to appear on the Book Trust list. And, every year, that list will include more and more modern novels which might not be that good or suitable for ‘recommended reading’.

Who are Book Trust to say, anyway? In 2012, Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, wrote a scathing article for the Daily Mail about the organisation which bills itself as a charity yet receives £6 million from the government — taxpayers’ money!

Book Trust relies mainly on government funding — and less on public donations.

Stephen Pollard’s article for the Mail explains how this developed (emphases mine):

Formed as a charity in 1992 with the laudable aim of encouraging children to read, Booktrust’s funding was taken over by the Department for Education in 2004 and it effectively became a subsidiary of Whitehall.

It was first embroiled in a funding spat two years ago, when the Department for Education wrote to the charity to inform it that it was to lose its grant for England.

The reaction to the announcement typified the hyperbole that is now par for the course when a public spending cut is announced. You would have thought that the Government had said it was banning children from reading, rather than simply stopping a contribution to a charity.

Newspaper columns denounced the decision as a philistine outrage. Authors – whose interest in Booktrust’s continued tax funding is about as vested as it is possible to be – invented new heights of exaggeration. Philip Pullman, for instance, described the cut as ‘sheer stupid vandalism’. Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, also joined the fight.

Booktrust is a typical chattering class charity …

Booktrust has ended up subsidising those very people who ought to be, instead, its main donors. My daughter was very grateful for her copy of Happy Dog Sad Dog. But what possible justification could there be for the rest of you to spend £3.99 buying it for her – or, rather, for me.

Charities aside, the vandalism of children’s and adolescents’ book lists is going on in the United States, too.

The New York Public Library’s 2014 Summer Reading Challenge included one of my favourites, Aesop’s Fables, but little else of import. Missing were Peter Pan, Charlotte’s Web and Treasure Island, among others.

Naomi Schaeffer Riley took the library to task in the New York Post:

did we need the NYPL to recommend “Nerd Girls: The Rise of Dorkasaurus,” whose description reads “Down with middle-school mean girls!”? Or “Perfect Chemistry,” a story of how “sparks fly when a cheerleading It girl is paired with a gangbanger bad boy in a chemistry lab”?

Not much of what L.M. Montgomery, author of “Anne of Green Gables,” calls “scope for the imagination” here.

I spent some time trying to find true classic reading lists. The following were the best I could find in the hour spent. Not all of these are what I would define as classics and not all are suitable for every age group, but parents will find some timeless gems:

‘The Best Books Of The 21st Century?’ includes Watership Down and The Jungle Book;

‘Classic Books for Kids’ recommends Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Pollyanna, Mary Poppins and more;

Goodreads has an excellent list for secondary school students which includes Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Tale of Two Cities and many more;

Don’stuff has a page of recommended classics, among them The Call of the Wild, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Diary of a Young Girl and Frankenstein;

Wikipedia has a good list of children’s classics for various age groups, including Tales of Mother Goose, Arabian Nights, The Swiss Family Robinson, Ivanhoe, Oliver Twist, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and dozens of others.

Some parents have found that mixing genres from book to book helps to maintain a child’s interest. Boys will be more interested in adventures or suspense than romance. Whilst that’s pointing out the obvious, some mothers are puzzled as to why their sons do not respond well to certain recommendations.

Where reading is an issue because of learning problems, parents say that audiobooks often do the trick in imparting a classic to a child.

It is amazing that the UK has a charity receiving millions of pounds to draw up booklists for children. It is also sad that the New York Public Library shies away from tried and true classics.

It’s fine for children to read recent novels, generally speaking, but adults would be remiss if they did not recommend older books that have been famous the world over for centuries.

British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter':

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg':

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

Not so long ago, most Reformed (Calvinist, including Presbyterian) churches had Communion — Supper — services once a month.

Today, that tradition is changing, with more churches embracing a weekly Supper.

Those churches which have not yet done so say that the frequency of the Supper might diminish its significance to the congregation. Along with this is the rationale that, during the service, congregants will choose to reflect on either the preaching or the Supper but not both. Others say that their church’s tradition has always been for a quarterly or monthly Communion service. All of these are reasonable.

However, there is also a poor excuse, which is that the distribution of the Supper takes too much time! This lady, commenting on a Gospel Coalition post exploring the subject, supports frequent Communion. She rightly takes issue with the ‘not enough time’ excuse, pointing out:

this is the one thing the Lord commanded we do to remember Him and what He did. If you don’t have the time, please feel free to cut out the collection of money, the silly dramas [some Reformed churches feature short plays during their services], the endless singing about how great God makes you feel (not Glory to God in most contemporary Christian music), the light show, the “howdy” (greeting…where everyone walks around talking about anything but Jesus). You can’t spare 10 minutes out of the weekly hour to remember what Jesus did for you? SHAME!

However, there are deeply rooted historical reasons why Communion has been infrequent in Reformed churches.

Calvin, Zwingli and Knox

John Calvin believed in weekly Communion:

the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.

However, he was unable to persuade the Geneva City Council of this principle. At this time in history, large European cities often legislated on matters spiritual as well as temporal. The Council approved monthly Communion.

In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli took the view that the Sacrament was but a mere memorial of the Last Supper and offered no means of grace. Appalled, Martin Luther took strong exception to this and told Zwingli that ‘another spirit’ moved through him.

Nonetheless, Zwingli set a quarterly Communion observance for his followers: one Sunday in the autumn, followed by Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

John Knox promoted the Geneva pattern of Communion in his Order of Geneva (1556). Six years later, the First Book of Discipline adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1562) was issued. It called for a Zwinglian quarterly observance in Scottish cities and twice a year in countryside churches.

Communion Seasons

By the 18th century, Presbyterians in Scotland received the Sacrament rarely. Many only received it annually for the following reasons: suspicion of clergymen, lack of ordained ministers and a shortage of bread because of widespread poverty.

Scottish Presbyterian Communion tokenThese annual commemorations of the Supper turned into what were called Communion Seasons. The faithful began by fasting on a Thursday, attending a church service on Saturday where they received their Communion tokens, receiving the Sacrament the following day and a thanksgiving service on Monday.

If these remind us of revivals, that is indeed how they turned out. The same weekend format was adapted for American revivals, with a certain amount of religious enthusiasm.

Presbyterianism in Colonial America

By the end of the 18th century, Presbyterians in the American colonies held opposing views with regard to the frequency of Communion.

Whilst the 1787 Directory of Worship for American Presbyterianism stipulated the annual Communion Season, a Scottish-educated minister in New York City disagreed. In his 1797 book, Letters on Frequent Communion, John Mitchell Mason argued that the showmanship of the revivalist approach detracted from traditional Presbyterian piety. He advocated weekly Communion as a consistent means of grace.

Reformed Communion historically

There was one issue with frequent Communion, not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in the Reformed congregations.

Those wishing to receive the Sacrament were required to attend preparatory classes at their church in the days before each Communion Sunday. Ministers and elders gave tokens to those whom they had deemed worthy. The recipients were then required to present the token at the service.

These circumstances made frequent Communion services impractical.

Today’s experience

Although Communion tokens have long been history, Reformed clergy and congregations still struggle with the frequency of Communion services.

The Revd P Aasman of the Canadian Reformed Church in Grand Valley, Ontario, explains that his denomination’s Book of Praise contained a lengthy Communion liturgy and now has a shorter form. However, he writes, even then, congregations are reluctant to participate more often:

Both of these things (the length of the form and the manner of celebration) support infrequent communion and, therefore, need to be adjusted before positive change can be made.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is concerned that their congregations might have a Zwinglian view of the Sacrament as a memorial with little to no means of grace. OPC elders D. G. Hart and John Muether posit that increased frequency of Communion services are not guaranteed to alter those perceptions where they exist. Whilst they conclude that these services should ideally be weekly, they also warn:

weekly communion might tempt partakers toward a deadening familiarity with the sacrament …

Personally, as a former Catholic, now Anglican, I would agree that frequent reception of Communion, sadly, does become overly familiar and loses its significance. That is a terrible admission to make, however, it is true. I have also seen it in other Catholics during my time. When I first became an Episcopalian, my church had monthly Communion services. (That said, the 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were always for Holy Communion as were Wednesday evening services.) I felt better prepared spiritually for less frequent Communion. I could also concentrate more on the readings and sermons during Morning Prayer Sundays. My weakness, but no doubt others’, too.

I spent quite a bit of time seeing how often Presbyterian churches have a Communion service. Here are but three examples in the PCA: one has it quarterly (the Supper elements have been prepared by the same family line for 150 years!), another has it monthly and a third has one weekly.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings in this regard.

luther-roseOlder Lutherans who wonder how and why their liturgy has changed so much since their childhood might find Frank Senn’s 2011 paper ‘Ninety-five Theses on the State of Liturgical Renewal in the Lutheran Churches of North America’ a helpful resource.

A brief summary follows with page citations from the PDF.

Lutheran liturgy began to change bit by bit in the 1950s, although its ‘renewal’ did not begin in earnest until the 1970s.

The Catholics were the first to begin tinkering with liturgy and tradition in the 1960s. Unfortunately, Anglicans also followed them into the same trend, which has left all three denominations confused. It is no wonder that most of us cannot recognise the churches of our childhood.

Early days of settlement

Senn divides his paper into items of historical and current interest. His first seven points on pages 2 and 3 cover the early Lutheran Church in North America.

We discover that German Lutherans were the first colonial settlers to celebrate Christmas with gusto. However, in regular worship, Senn tells us that Lutherans were either pietists or rationalists. (Pietists rejected the established — state — churches of Germany and Scandinavia for more homespun practices. Rationalists, probably the middle and upper middle classes, adhered to established liturgy and theology.)

In the mid-19th century, Senn writes, immigrants brought more confessionally Lutheran styles of theology and worship (item 10, page 3). Those who were translating prayerbooks into English found these useful resources. A more uniform pattern of worship began to develop which culminated in 1888 with the Common Service (item 12). It was so named because it was liturgy which all Lutherans could appreciate and use.

By the early 20th century, what pastors wore at Sunday services had changed. Black robes were gradually replaced by an alb and stole with the addition of a chasuble for Holy Communion services (item 15).

1950s and beyond

In the late 1950s, the Lutheran Churches of North America embarked on a programme of ‘liturgical restoration’. A new worship book, The Service Book and Hymnal, was introduced in 1958. The Joint Commission on the Liturgy and the Hymnal had gone beyond Lutheranism to embrace certain prayers and hymns from the broader Western Church (item 17, pp 3, 4).

However, it was not long before the new worship book’s critics complained that its language was too archaic. After all, they said, American culture was changing rapidly. So, eight years later — 1966 — an Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship convened to discuss how church services could be made more relevant to contemporary society (points 18, 19).

The Commission was in place through the 1970s. Although certain synod-specific rubrics were created, the Commission encouraged them all:

1/ The LCMS Worship Supplement (1969) to the Lutheran Hymnal (1941). This new volume had not only newer hymns but also alternative orders of service (item 20).

2/ The 1970 Service of Holy Communion (item 21) was an modern one in line with the spirit of unity and ecumenism of the day. Not only that, it established Holy Communion as the principal Sunday service (item 22). As with the post-Vatican II Catholic Missal, Lutheran liturgy moved towards being more man-oriented to the perceived ‘needs’ of the congregation.

3/ Throughout the 1970s, new booklets appeared with more particularised and alternative worship services and hymns (item 23). The Commission’s summer conferences introduced them — and no doubt proliferated them year on year.

4/ The Commission adopted a version of the three-year Roman Catholic Lectionary for public worship (items 24, 32). Although North American Lutherans began using the Lectionary, most European Lutherans did not (item 25).

5/ It could be said that the Commission’s work culminated with the 1979 Lutheran Book of Worship, approved by the church groups involved except for the LCMS (page 5). That said, many LCMS congregations began buying copies for their churches. The LBW was informed by ecumenism, reiterated the importance of Holy Communion as the main Sunday service and borrowed texts (e.g. the Psalter) from the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer. A broad campaign of workshops in churches across North America ensured its acceptance.

6/ Altars have been rearranged or built to be free-standing to allow everyone to stand around them (item 41, page 6).

Resulting present day problems

Senn hints that so much alternative liturgies and hymns might have made the Lutheran churches in North America come full circle, approaching the tension of pietism versus rationalism in the colonial days. Some Lutheran churches are more traditional whilst others embrace new practices and language. This is because of:

1/ Gender-inclusive liturgical language (item 42) which has led to a deliberate omission of the Creeds with their male-oriented references to the Holy Trinity (item 44). The 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship book is gender-neutral whilst the LCMS Lutheran Service Book, also published in 2006, retains traditional language (item 45).

2/ Inter-Lutheran co-operation on worship has consequently become polarised (item 46).

3/ Worship has come to be seen, erroneously, as a form of evangelism and, as such, services have been modified to become seeker-friendly (items 68-71, page 8).

4/ Congregations and clergy now think that prayer books and hymnals are too complicated for the unchurched to use (items 73 and 74, page 9), so service sheets and big screens are being used instead.

5/ Congregations are omitting a confession of sin and the Creed (item 77), no doubt in order not to offend.

Senn makes excellent points near the end of his paper (item 84 on page 10 and items 91, 94 and 95 on page 11). Emphases mine:

84. Lutheran laypeople used to be able to recognize Lutheran worship when they visited other congregations in the days when the Common Service was included in the hymnals of various church bodies, or when the SBH and then the LBW were in widespread use. Common Lutheran worship can no longer be presumed.

91. The question needs to be raised as to whether a common order is sufficient if common content is lacking. Historically Lutherans have been concerned about the relationship between the lex orandi (rule of prayer) and the lex credendi (rule of belief). In the nineteenth century, liturgical and confessional restoration went together. Lutherans have understood that practices influence theology.

94. Lutheran worship has always been trinitarian and Christological.
Worship is addressed to God the Holy Trinity and the content of many songs
is Christ ‘‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’’ This orthodoxy is challenged today by secular ideologies such as feminism and Pentecostal praise and worship songs that focus on Jesus and me.

95. In many congregations we have returned full circle to a situation in which the liturgy must be retrieved and restored before it can be renewed. In many other congregations, however, the seeds of liturgical renewal, planted forty years ago, are producing rich fruit.

I suspect that the Lutherans are experiencing a long-term decline in worship just as other Protestants and Catholics are. Our churches and liturgies are no longer what they were.

As I have written before (here and here), we are no longer hearing the voice of the Shepherd through our clergy and lay leaders but that of the stranger, the hired hand and the thief.

j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

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