Troy D. Perry - One of God's Original Saints

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 9 November 2005 0 Comments
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The one area where I would welcome more thought and
discussion concerns the too rapid "doing away" with all the
old forms, rituals, hymns, etc. which reflect a theological
perspective to which we cannot subscribe. We accomplish
little if we drive people away rather than get them to move.
And some of the old forms can, I think, be used in new ways
while being respected as part of our history - a part that is
no longer logical or relevant but is part of our transition.
It's like the singing of hymns such as "In the Garden" - the
theology is lousy but the tune evokes positive feelings.
Perhaps such "dinosaurs" can be utilized as tools, by which
to share new directions and interpretations that make more


You are correct at least in part that people cannot deal
with the too rapid loss of their sacred symbols. They have
invested too much of their emotional security in those

On the other hand, if a religious institution clings too
long to concepts that no longer are believable, it will die
of irrelevance. Once, human beings worshipped the sun. Then
we learned that the sun is a ball of burning gas and matter
and no longer would our minds allow us to worship that
object. The heart will never worship what the mind rejects.

I discover that people feel good about hymns so long as
the tunes remain familiar. They pay little attention to
words. People are comfortable with liturgy when they know
what is coming next. They are not upset with word changes so
long as the changes do not make them feel lost or stupid for
not knowing what comes next. The problem has been that
churches fall in love with their own liturgies and preserve
them beyond the point that they are preservable.

I am still drawn to Gothic space, stained glass, great
organs and beautifully done liturgy. I am not drawn to
pre-modern concepts, an invasive supernatural deity who lives
above the sky. the concept of original sin, blood sacrifice
as the means of salvation, etc. The last prayer book
revision in my church (1979) was out of date before the ink
on its pages was dry. Consciousness in regard to liturgy is
a slow developing process. However, it does develop as one
can clearly see if you go back and read the prayer books of
my church in their 1549 and 1662 versions.

Most pastors have to balance the tension between emotional
ties to the past and new learning. However, some pastors
must articulate the new learning because that is the only way
that people can grow. The church will always carry those
pastors who are closed to any change. I hope you will
continue both to grow and to be sensitive to the truth and
the feelings of your people.

My best,

— John Shelby Spong

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