I’ve previously discussed Dear Theo submissions without using actual quote or identifying authors. Today, I’m excusing myself from said ad hoc ethics policy because a faculty member has written in, and her piece may shed some light on what I was discussing in the previous post. I think it’s fair to treat this material as an official publication of YDS, written by a faculty member in their capacity as Dean of Chapel. So, with student names removed…

Dear Theo,

I would like to respond to the two recent letters about the daily ecumenical worship program in Marquand Chapel, with gratitude to [names redacted] not just for their courageous remarks but also for their regular participation in chapel, their personal witness to its significance in their spiritual lives and their commitment to the project of ecumenical worship.

During BTFO each year, Patrick and I meet the incoming class to talk through the balancing act that is ecumenical worship in Marquand. A large part of this time is spent emphasizing that we rely on individuals and groups in this community to come to us with ideas for services. Chapel does not provide a program of services; it is an ensemble of services created and led by many, many people, reliant on the good will of leaders and congregants alike.

We also emphasize that we need to hear from members of the community about their reactions to worship. We have a roundtable discussion twice a semester. We give everyone a copy of the Guidelines for Worship in Marquand it is also printed in the handbook for incoming students) and in this document we emphasize that we need to hear your reactions to chapel. We do the same in the weekly Marquand Reader, and if the number of emails and meetings we have each week is any barometer, then most people here feel able to approach us with both ideas and criticisms.

While we wish to cultivate such reflection on chapel and what we learn there, we cannot do this work via Dear Theo. If you were a member of a parish and you had a concern about worship, your first line of conversation wouldn’t be the parish newsletter. If you were in a class and wished the syllabus included additional subjects, you wouldn’t write to Yale Daily News before talking with the teacher. Chapel is like both a congregation and a class, and so Dear Theo is not the best venue for this conversation. However, I think it is important to write on this occasion because there are people who read Dear Theo who may not have realized the other existing points of access for remarking about chapel. Or who might mistakenly think that the “implicit assumption” behind what goes on in chapel is in fact as described in previous correspondence.

There is an explicit statement that chapel strives to be as safe and welcoming a place as possible for all members of campus who would wish to be part of this worshipping community. It has to be safe space in a context in which so much of church life and campus life is not safe space. It has to be safe for people whose history is not told here as a matter of course, who are always in a minority here (such as racial and ethnic minorities); it has to be safe for people who may have been told they don’t belong in church (such as openly LBGT people); it has to be safe for people who have been told their leadership is not valued in church (such as women in some denominations). It has to be safe for these people because YDS admits large numbers of them and affirms their theological education and their desire for ministerial work.

However, given that default, most of our time is spent making sure that the chapel is “safe” as Christian worship — theologically, ethically, pastorally, and most of all liturgically — for as many people as possible in this particular community. A good example is the 23rd psalm to which [Name redacted] refers. We chose this setting because it is the work of a contemporary African American man that contributes to the current theme in sung morning prayer, exploring how the theology of music informs our understanding of favourite old texts of the church. Bobby McFerrin chose to set this Psalm in an Anglican-chant style, with feminine nouns and pronouns for the shepherd supplementing the opening naming of “Lord”. In the context of a service in which we also name God many times as Lord, King, and Father, Bobby McFerrin’s setting offers his own naming of God – Marquand leaders made only one variant from McFerrin’s setting, and it is in the Gloria.

McFerrin’s original is “Mother, Daughter and to the holy of holies”, and after much conversation we changed “Daughter” to “Redeemer” because we knew it would just be too great a stretch for too many people in this community to sing of the second person of the Trinity as Daughter. Given that God was addressed or referred to as Father 11 times, and Lord 45 times, and King 3 times in that week, and only as Mother and “she” on this one occasion, I think the more conservative among us have at least equal access to the debate. I also do not think it is for us who are from traditions that claim apostolic authority to tell Bobby McFerrin and others that their words, based in their communities’ interpretation of tradition, are less faithful.

The most expanded-language version of The Lord’s Prayer that we sing in Marquand is the setting by Mark Miller, our Gospel Choir Director, and a widely published composer, church musician, and faculty member here and at the Drew Theological School. Contrary to popular myth, he did not use non-gendered language in this setting for Marquand, but because he knows there are many churches and faith communities seeking expanded-language versions of The Lord’s Prayer. It is one of the three main versions of The Lord’s Prayer we have sung this year (the other two have completely traditional language), and it is the version in which most students have hands raised, eyes closed, and fervent prayer engaged. It would seem in this circumstance that many evangelical students are praying very authentically using evolving language.

I do not claim to use “inclusive language” in Marquand. Not in the Guidelines, not in the Reader, not in conversation. The phrase connotes such different things to different people. The subject of naming God in worship is extremely complex, we treat it in numerous varied ways, and if the community would like it, we can lead a community conversation, as we have in three of the last four years, about it. The basic guide we use is described in the Guidelines (see Marquand on the ISM website) and our goal is to generate a palette of ways of naming God and referring to God that is both faithful to tradition and responsive to the evolving needs and experiences of the churches.

Five principles direct our worship planning and are implicit in all the above: hospitality, diversity, inclusivity, participation and ecumenism. Each is too complex in both its theological and practical characteristics too go into in a Dear Theo, but I would be happy to talk more about them, make them less implicit and more explicit. We could, for example, print more explanations of why we made the choices we did at the end of the bulletin to help with this.

What happens in Marquand is Christian worship. There is a big debate as to what constitutes Christian worship in an ever-evolving church. We draw the line in what for others would be a fairly conservative way — we make sure that every day we pray in the name of Christ, that every day God is worshipped with Trinitarian words and images, that scripture is used every day (and only exceptionally and with good reason is it not the NRSV) and that only ordained/authorized people celebrate communion. So far so good, if you’re anywhere on the spectrum from moderate to conservative; but if you are Unitarian (the Trinitarian rule) or feminist (the NRSV rule) or alienated from ordination by virtue of your sexuality or gender (the presiding rule), then you have to make a lot of compromises to even come through the door. To characterize worship as “liberal” without acknowledging those many, many liberal people on campus who cannot attend, or who attend at great personal cost, is to miss a big part of the work of Marquand.

It is important to note that, unlike many worshipping communities, in Marquand, we have no expectation that everyone will assent to or be willing to participate in everything that happens on any given day. I’m there on the front row: nearly every single day there is something I cannot sing or say or assent to. You will see me with my mouth closed if I can’t own the theology in a line of a hymn; you might see me sit when others stand if I can’t assent to what’s going on; and several times I have decided not to receive communion. None of this is “protest”. Many other folks negotiate what they can and can’t bring themselves to: I see a student praying with her eyes tight closed, feeling every word as she sings; another student reach out her whole arm to wave her hands as the prayer or the song lets her give praise, even if she’s the only one doing so; someone standing for the Eucharistic Prayer when all around are sitting; someone else making the sign of the cross during a Trinitarian greeting when everyone else is stock-still from the neck-down; yet another bows to the cross as she comes in and finds her seat when few other people even noticed the cross, etc., etc. And occasionally I see folks walk out, the service just having asked too much of them or having offended them too deeply. This is the main thing we emphasize during our orientation session each year: we are in the space together, and when there are things we cannot assent to, we sit in prayer knowing that words that one cannot say or sing are deeply moving and prayerful to another whom we want to be able to pray authentically. This is the only way we can be both an ecumenical community and faithful to our own individual traditions.

There is concern that worship in Marquand doesn’t suit the needs of every member of the YDS community. Unfortunately, there’s no possible way it could, but many more people are worshipping daily in Marquand than at any other point in living memory. And Evangelicals and African Americans and Catholics and LGBT folks and Unitarians and all denominational backgrounds are there in ways they haven’t been before. We want to have as many people able to worship in Marquand as possible, but the tension in which we hold our unity in Christ and our individual traditions is fragile. It is important to have feedback, but is very important that daily worship not become a political football – if people feel they’re walking into a worship space that is charged with community conflict, they will simply stop coming – so please research your criticisms before making them and think hard about the forum you choose for offering comment.

And please be considerate of the chapel ministers. They are not “staff” but interns, just as other students intern in a church or a community organization. It is hard enough learning about the great range of worship traditions here and in the world; talking to faculty, students and staff about worship-planning for several hours a week; then learning how to host all the many and various people who lead in chapel as well as the congregation, without also having to field concerns about and advocate for the program with their peers. Please direct your concerns and ideas to Siobhán and Patrick, who are responsible for the directing the program.

I end with my most heartfelt point: people say that what happens in Marquand is “creative” and indeed it is. But it is also absolutely faithful, both in its meta (liturgical year) and micro (ordo of each service) ways. It is never free of a tradition, because no authentic Christian worship can be. If you can’t discern what traditional form we are drawing on on any particular day, just find me in coffee hour and I’ll tell you. You see the point is not to create new worship; the point is to learn how to do the old stuff in relevant ways, in ways that honor the contexts and diversity of peoples of faith. The point is to learn to do the old stuff with people who are not like you, with people who don’t understand you, who don’t necessarily like your ways of worshipping. With people who are on this journey with you for this time in this place.

We welcome the participation and leadership of all members of the YDS-ISM-BDS community. The doors to the chapel are open and you have a standing invitation to email us, phone us or talk to us in coffee hour. If you have specific ideas for a service, a hymn, a way of praying, of doing Eucharist, of liturgical action, of procession, or concerns or critiques of something that happened in Marquand,, please let us know. For those of you who read Dear Theo but rarely have a chance to make it to Marquand, I reiterate what we say at BTFO. You are very welcome here.

With all good wishes,
Siobhán Garrigan

There’s a lot to unpack there, so I’ll come back around and write about Siobhán’s implicit assumptions about community conversation and the role of Dear Theo, as well as some more remarks on cultural negotiation.