02 February 2006

Just because I said so...

Dispensation: (1) The exceptional relaxation of a church law or penalty by the canonical authority owing to the needs of a special case or occasion. The dispensation must be for good cause. The church law remains valid despite the dispensation, but it is not applied to the case of situation specified by the dispensation. Members of the church not included in the dispensation continue to be bound by the church law as they were before the dispensation. The church can only dispense its own laws, not natural or divine law. Dispensations have often concerned the church's requirements concerning ordination, marriage, religious vows, and disciplines such as fasting. (2) The term "dispensation" may also refer to systems or periods of time that are relevant for salvation. The New and Old Covenant may be referred to as the New and Old Dispensations. Dispensationalism refers to a system of biblical interpreations which identifies seven periods or eras of Go'd relationship with humanity. These dispensations extend from the time of Innocence in the Garden of Eden to the coming of the Kingdom, the time when God's promises are fulfilled with Christ as King. The term "dispensation" may also refer general to the divine ordering of worldly affairs or a divinely religious system or code of commands.

In other words, dispensation gives Church authorities more authority beyond what they already have.

I've been granted a few dispensations in my own day. I've been allowed to wiggle through different requirements in order to make my own set timeline. What should my response to these allowances be? To whom do I owe gratitude? Most importantly, who is not being granted dispensations and why?

In church history, I see that I am, as a receptor of dispensations, a part of a sticky group of the rich whose privelege got them out of penance, punishment, and made them outside the system to which everyone else was (sometimes unmercifully) bound.

My primary question, though, is liturgical (for I'm a good Episcopalian). Who has the authority to grant dispensation in worship? I'm asking for the official answer, as I'm usually happy to take or grant any dispensation in worship that's suggested. Still, though, who can say? We have that chunky Book of Common Prayer with all its rules and regulations, doctrinal and liturgical and temporal -- but we often grant dispensations from the text. Sometimes here in seminary, these dispensations are nauseatingly exciting for some (giggles, and nods, and grins about omitting the Creed), and then there are other times when it is clearly inappropriate to deviate from the norm. These times are marked by the exchange of knowing glares and frowns and the embarrassment of others. The environment itself is the only authority i can distinguish at these times, though. Is it traceable to one person? to a group of people? To a past precedent?

When I'm out there, calling the worship shots, upon whom and what will I draw to make a case for dispensation in liturgy and worship? I'm no slave to the BCP, but the reality is many out there keep their rituals so tight as though it ensured the divinity of Jesus Christ. How to facilitate this conversation, if no similar conversation is taking place here?


Blogger mikey said...

interesting...i'm too tired to think. however, did you notice that all three of us have an entry for today? fabulous!

5:45 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

It will depend on your bishop and what she or he allows and whether the congregation will "rat" you out.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Marshall said...

Okay, I've been using the book for a long time. I was in seminary when it was approved. I have a couple of thoughts.

First, read the rubrics carefully. Many of them are permissive instead of prescriptive - I imagine you've heard that by now - so think carefully how to use that difference.

Second, and in the same vein, note that the Book of Common Prayer is approved by General Convention in two readings because it's part of the Consitution of the Church. On the other hand, the Hymnal is approved in only one reading: so, you're not bound to it in the same way.

You can be creative. Marion Hatchett, who taught me Liturgics, had some principles for creative liturgy. First, know the congregation and their situation. Second, draw from the whole tradition of the whole church (how well do you know the prayers and liturgy of the Ancient Oriental Orthodox churches?). Apply creatively from the broad and deep tradition of the church what is needed for your current congregation in their current situation.

Also, don't disparage stability in worship. The principle that liturgy shapes us, forms us, has meaning. Think of it as a spiritual application of the principle that an idea needs to be heard 30 times to get seated in deep memory. That sounds like a good reason to repeat often enough Prayer B: "You have made us worthy to stand before you."

7:02 PM  
Blogger Zinnhead said...

thanks for this comment; it's helpful. I think I'm working through the mixed message I'm getting in seminary that "creativity and innovation are good...use the book as a resource, not a rule book" and then the environment of the community, which discourages just those innovations unless they are completely sectioned off from real worship by being called "experimental liturgies." I'm also aware of the dynamic of the teaching community and worshipping community, where chapel is a lab. Knowing chapel is a lab, though, leads to me think we need to learn more about how to stretch the rubrics, not follow the letter of the law.

1:37 PM  
Blogger King of Peace said...

As a church planter, I have had more free reign during this past 6 years of starting King of Peace, Kingsland than most Episcopal priests get in planning liturgy. One glimpse at that flexibility can be seen in the panoramic views of our worship space seen here: http://www.kingofpeace.org/180-degreeview.htm

I remain faithful to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and find a great deal of room for creativity. We vary the Eucharistic Prayers seasonally and the Prayers of the People weekly. We also make the most of Holy Week with daily worship including the Easter Vigil done right. All of this makes for a good bit of change, while the overall ethos of our prayer book liturgy remains one of stability.

As to your more direct question, I contact my Bishop when I need added flexibility. I have found him to be not only willing to give permission for appropriate changes for a given liturgy, but also an excellent partner in talking through liturgy. We've had some great phone calls over the past few years that have resulted in some meaningful liturgies for events in our congregational life like moving out of the house we were worshipping in to a new building during the liturgy itself.

Creative liturgy matters and then this must be balanced by not changing things on people all the time. The congregation needs to have a sense of what is happening and will happen, while also coming to worship with a sense of expectation.


1:17 PM  

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