By Frances Stebbins
For many who were attending churches that follow a “liturgical year,” the decades of the 1970s and 1980s were times of transition in worship. New hymnals and worship books were introduced, and though they were welcomed among some groups, in others the change caused strong objection.
A few new congregations came into being in order to keep the old styles, even when this meant separating from the denomination’s national policies. The changes affected especially Roman Catholics, but for different reasons also Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists had to make adjustments.
Roman Catholic services were changed drastically following Vatican Council II which occurred in the 1960s. It’s well-known now that Pope John XXIII declared that it was high time the church “windows were opened” to let in some air from a world vastly different from the one that had seen the Protestant Reformation more than 400 years before.
Around 1970 the changes brought about by the worldwide meeting began to be felt in the Roanoke Valley. I recall priests assigned by the Bishop of Richmond to the several parishes in this area; they were permitted to join with non-Catholic faith communities in clergy groups and various ecumenical projects.
These massive changes were unrelated to those going on in Anglican-Episcopal and many Lutheran congregations, but in those too, revised worship books appeared featuring contemporary English and sometimes containing new services.
Looking back now more than 50 years later, I perceive that my “little white book” referenced in last week’s column, an Episcopal Book of Common Prayer issued in 1928, seems outdated. When the Episcopal Church made the change to an updated worship book more than 50 years ago, my late husband Charlie and I were active in the small, progressive St. James Episcopal Church that served mainly the Williamson Road and Hollins areas of the valley. Our daughter in her early teens could not receive Holy Communion because under the old 1928 BCP rules, this was not permitted until the child had affirmed her Baptism with the Rite of Confirmation.
Our church at that time was one of the leading faith communities nearby in embracing cultural changes which were happening swiftly during the Vietnam War years, the breakdown of racial segregation, the moving of foreign-born persons to the area and the gay rights movement. We grew accustomed to unfamiliar people becoming active in the parish so that when the new Prayer Book was introduced around 1975 it was accepted as a matter of course. Now even young children could taste the holy Bread and Wine.
But the update was not accepted by everyone. Several couples left the parish–they also opposed the ordination of women, which was occurring widely in the same period. In time a small congregation, St. Thomas of Canterbury, was established nearby. When we moved to Salem and its Episcopal church a few years later, we discovered the revised service book was viewed with skepticism by many in the more traditionalist parish where the people inclusion was less evident.
Lutherans, an influential group in Salem with the denominational Roanoke College a major influence for more than a century, also were affected by the liturgical changes. It coincided for them with a consolidation of some of the several national groups that proliferated in the United States as the nation moved from east to west.
In churches such as College Lutheran, which takes a moderately liberal view of the current culture, changes eventually resulted in a new parish, St. John in the southwest county suburbs. Likewise, the more conservative Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit came into being in the same area.
Not only updating of worship materials but also issues such as ordaining women and later people of different sexual identities played their part in these groups which, interestingly, often appealed to younger adults. Basically, objections to change, whether in worship materials or acceptance of “different” persons, brought about the formation of these newer congregations.
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