Parson's Handbook: standards of manners can be liberating

Table of Content

I've made it to page 43 -- but still in the Introduction -- in The Parson's Handbook, with much of the intervening text more concerning with period controversy about the licit use of ancient ceremonial which, however interesting and useful it might be to Anglican liturgists, is of limited utility here.

Then Dearmer writes about how ancient ornaments should be claimed by those who want to restore their use with moderation and tolerance, and without aping the customs of foreign (read Roman, particularly of southern Europe) churches. There is enough unwritten ceremonial that is distinctly English after all, but these practices must be learned.

Then he writes this unprofound but easily overlooked maxim, applicable to ministers of any church or sect:

One has not to go far to notice how many of the clergy and other Church officials do as a matter of face stand in very great need of a few elementary lessons in deportment. Such lessons are needed in all civilized society, not to make one stiff or ceremonious, but to prevent one from being still, to make one natural and unaffected.

I think it is natural to any emerging clergymember -- or emerging religious movement -- to make itself known by exagerating those habits thought most philosophically desirable at the expense of custom (which belongs to the church in general) or desirable outcomes.  In short, the new dogma trumps folk wisdom or good production values. The result is the innovator -- a person or cadre -- comes across as ostentatious or lawless and thence untrustworthy.

This can only be remedied if customs are discussed openly and openly shared. Why?  Because it has been my experience that the two main forces for rejecting customs are (1) those who possess an intimate knowledge of the custom -- the insiders -- who depecate their worth because the custom is too near to be appreciated and (2) those who -- because of their social or other position -- don't have access to learning the custom, yet are penalized for not knowing them. In Unitarian Universalist parlance, we call the later groups marginalized (and there are many). The preferred action seems to be to destroy the normal custom rather than inviting the second group to have access. And so Unitarian Universalist becomes more and more peculiar.

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