Lewis on churchgoing


C. S. Lewis offers some insights in "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer" that are more pertinent than ever in our own time, as we try to figure out how to keep our churches from hemorrhaging members. Though he's writing specifically about liturgical services, I think that to some extent, these words may be of interest to churches of all kinds. 

It looks as if [clergymen] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain -- many give up churchgoing altogether -- merely endure. . . . 

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best . . . when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. . . . 

Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.




Comments:

Interestingly, I sometimes think I am High Church in temperment and Low Church in upbringing. While I wouldn't want cathedrals and vestments(because an aristocratic church sends the wrong message), there are a lot of things I would prefer.
I've gone back and forth on liturgy. While there's something to be said for familiarity, consistency, sharing forms with centuries of the "cloud of witnesses," it's also true that what's repeated continuously can become rote and mindless. I'm not sure that "you don't have to think about it" is as good a situation as Lewis suggests. It seems to me that's where Sunday Christianity (i.e., worship divorced from one's daily life) comes from.
Honestly? A number of the people I meet at Church are NOT the one's I wish to meet socially.
I am just reading Letters to Malcolm to my husband now! It's not Lewis's best writing (I believe he died before final editing -- and it shows) but it is superb teaching.

I find the "liturgical fidget" a trial for faithful churchgoers. However, I wonder how many people who have fallen away have really fallen away because of it.

I don't think the social atmosphere in many services helps (why add one more social event to your week?) But I think I can imagine a genuinely unique and prayerful service that nevertheless wasn't all that regular nor conducive to a sort of continuous internal worship.




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