When I first came to Minnesota from Australia in January of 1994, I found myself impressed by the diversity of the local Catholic community. This diversity was most evident in the range of worship styles within the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.
From the traditionalist practices of the Church of St. Agnes to the “liberal” practices of parishes such as St. Joan of Arc, there seemed to be a place for everyone. Such a spectrum suggested that the Catholic Church was like a great sheltering tent - broad and welcoming of all. I thought at the time, and continue to think so now, that this “big tent” understanding and expression of Catholicism is a sign of spiritual health and vitality.
Yet now the tent seems to be shrinking.
Rubrics versus Spirit
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the parish I attend was recently ordered by the archdiocese to conform its various liturgies to the rubrics of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
As I noted in my previous post, I’m sure that for many Catholic parishes, these rubrics serve well to express and reflect their faith and community life. Yet for the past 40 years, the Catholic parish that I consider my spiritual home, St. Stephen’s in South Minneapolis, has developed its liturgy in ways that reflect the presence of the Spirit as discerned in the unique gifts and needs of its members and in our shared life together.
This development has been a very intentional and faith-filled embodiment of the Second Vatican Council’s call for “full and active participation” of the laity in “liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963). Yet many now feel that, in one fell swoop, this embodiment – along with the Spirit that nurtured and inspired it – has been discounted by the chancery’s demand that it be abandoned for the rubrics of GIRM.
I can’t help but think that in this situation, the “form,” which Jesus said “profits nothing,” has been elevated above the “Spirit,” which gives life.
Many within the community of St. Stephen’s – especially those who attend the 9:00 a.m. liturgy – have decided that they cannot abandon the style of worship that has been prayerfully developed over the past 40 years. Although some suggested that the 9:00 a.m. community simply ignore the archdiocese’s directive and continue worshiping as usual at St. Stephen’s, the overall sense of the community was that the 9:00 a.m. liturgy be conducted “off-campus.”
Accordingly, a new worshiping space has been secured a few blocks away at Park House (2120 Park Ave.). It should be noted that those attending future 9:00 a.m. liturgies at this new location will continue to identify as parishioners of St. Stephen’s. We’ll continue contributing to the parish, serving on various committees, and volunteering with the various programs of St. Stephen’s Human Services.
In light of all of this, close to 200 people walked this morning from St. Stephen’s to Park House. Most of those who made the trek are now committed to worshiping at Park House. I’ll be worshiping with them.
Columnist Nick Coleman wrote about the community of St. Stephen’s plight in today’s Star Tribune. Following is Coleman’s column in its entirety, along with photos that I took this morning at St. Stephen’s.
The Push for Conformity Shoves Away Parishioners
March 2, 2008
March 2, 2008
For 40 years, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis has been a font of Christian compassion, service to the suffering and help to the poor.
Those good works will continue. But many of the good people who contributed their time, talents and resources to the $3 million-a-year social outreach of a historic, 119-year-old inner-city parish will not.
They will be without their worship home at St. Stephen’s.
Exiles in their own parish, 100 or more members of the St. Stephen’s community plan to march this morning from the church to a new home five blocks away, where they hope to continue the informal and spiritually arousing service that drew them to St. Stephen’s in the first place.
You know the kind of service: with guitars, lay people giving homilies, dancing in the aisles with people who have mental and physical disabilities, gay couples openly participating in worship, along with ex-priests, ex-nuns and sundry other spiritual wanderers.
It’s all so 1960s. The new church is more like the 1860s.
The 9 a.m. English-language prayer service, believed to have begun in 1968, has been shut down by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which has moved in recent years to bring all of its 219 parishes into conformity.
“They all have to play with the same playbook,” says Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese. “They’ve had plenty of warnings to get their act together.”
The “playbook” is the GIRM – “General Instructions of the Roman Missal” – which spells out the rubrics for worship services. After the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the orthodoxies loosened and churches, especially ones in needy neighborhoods like St. Stephen’s, put more emphasis on carrying out the message of the Gospels than following the rubrics.
The 9 a.m. service in the school gym (there’s also a 9 a.m. Spanish-language mass in the church sanctuary) became a place where all were welcomed, the wording of prayers was changed to make them inclusive (“Our Father and Mother, Who Art in Heaven,” for example), women had leadership roles in services, and simple ceramics were used instead of chalices of precious metal, as called for in the rubrics.
The parish is getting a new pastor next month (it has had only part-time clergy), and McGrath says the archdiocese wanted to get things “straightened out” before the Rev. Joseph Williams arrives.
But similar changes are taking place across the archdiocese, which is getting new, conservative leadership from Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt, who will shortly succeed Archbishop Harry Flynn.
The changes have caused pain in St. Stephen’s, at 2211 Clinton Av. S. in the Whittier neighborhood, near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
“How can it have been OK for 40 years – even been encouraged because of the work we do – and not be OK anymore?” asks Eileen Smith, a parishioner from St. Louis Park, who has been active in fundraising for St. Stephen’s and thinks of the prayer service as her spiritual home. “They should hold us up as a model of service. Instead, they are giving us the boot.”
“It’s incredibly sad,” says Mary Condon Peters of Golden Valley, who has belonged to St. Stephen’s for 16 years and served on its parish council. “All these years, there was room in the big old Catholic tent for all of us. And now there isn’t. And they gave us three weeks’ notice.”
It was on Feb. 5 that Flynn met with parish representatives and instructed them that the 9 a.m. prayer service must end. McGrath says that “nothing of substance” will change, and that the parish outreach to the poor, the homeless and the Hispanic community will go on.
So will support of those ministries by the St. Stephen’s members who will march to a new prayer home today.
The last service was held last Sunday. About 200 people attended, many crying throughout the service, which ended with a tear-stained but joyful singing of “We Are Marching in the Light of God.”
Today, they will march again. This time, to Park Avenue.
After gathering at the usual time at the school gym, many parishioners who considered the 9 a.m. prayer service the center of a rich faith experience will say a last prayer on the steps and then head five blocks east, exiles in the desert, to 2120 Park Av., where they plan to continue the Sunday prayer meetings that brought them together.
“We are supposed to learn how to ‘pray right’ or go away,” Peters says. “Well, we are going to pray the way we think is right. And we are going to go away. With great sadness. But we will still pray.”
The Community of St. Stephen’s
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Above and below: At 8:45 a.m., members of the community gathered in the gym for a “leave-taking” ritual.
Above and below: At the conclusion of this ritual, most of the 9:00 a.m. community members and their supporters made their way to Park House - their new worshiping space.
Above: About 50 community members remained in the gym in “holy resistance” and participated in a Eucharistic celebration.
3/6/08 Update: The following letters appear in today’s edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Can’t pick and choose
I commend the archdiocese of Minnesota [sic] for finally bringing St. Stephen’s Catholic Church into conformity with the standards set out in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (“The push for conformity shoves away parishioners,” March 2). People go to church to pray, not to party. Part of the way in which Catholics act to carry out “the message of the Gospels” is by following the “rubrics.” Otherwise they are merely social workers.
It has never been “OK” for Catholics to refer to God as “Our Father and Mother.” Nor has it been acceptable to dance in the church aisles like a bunch of swingin’ Maenads. Rubrics are formulated very precisely and put in place because they express the fundamentals of Catholic theology. One calls to mind the longstanding principle of Catholic worship, “lex orandi, lex credendi”: Let the law of prayer be governed by the law of belief. Catholics worship in accordance with what they believe.
St. Stephen’s and its band of merry rebels are free to pray the way they “think is right.” They are also free to join another religion.
Back to the Dark Ages
Nick Coleman’s March 2 column reveals the troubling tightening of the archdiocesan belt in the Twin Cities.
Catholics must choose to either adhere to every letter of the law (rubrics), with no exception, or go elsewhere. It does not matter if it takes the life out of the liturgy. At least it conforms, and that's what counts, according to spokespeople at the chancery.
On a global scale, Vatican II’s “involvement of the people” has unilaterally been thrown out by current hierarchy. Catholic faithful are told to not speak in public, nor in church. Every male pronoun is now back in the liturgy. Every layperson is now back in the pews. Priests will make every decision – not parish councils – and everyone must do as they are told.
As a member of St. Stephen’s for the past 20 years, I am saddened and must choose. But my choice will be to follow God, not an archbishop.
St. Stephen’s has been a place where one is challenged 24/7 to live the Gospel. It is a tough place. The people there must accept their personal relationship with God and the call to be followers of Christ in daily living. Much of this challenge has come from lay preachers. Silencing those voices will adversely affect the poor, the underprivileged, the oppressed, the homeless, the abused.
Ann Marie McIntire
Vice-chair, St. Stephen’s Parish Council
February/March 2009 Updates: A Catholic “Crisis and Opportunity” in South Minneapolis and Alive and Well . . . and Flourishing!
Images: Michael Bayly.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What it Means to Be Catholic
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Choosing to Stay
The “Underground Church”
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
Note: To read the homily I delivered to the community of St. Stephen’s on the Feast of the Epiphany in the year 2000, click here.