Wednesday, March 07, 2007

When You Think You're Alone in Disliking "Contemporary Worship"

I'm a sucker for journals and diaries. Not that I'm good for keeping them myself (I tend to lose steam) but I enjoy reading those that others write.

At the moment, I'm in the midst of James Boswell's journal of 1762-1763. Boswell later became famous by writing what many folks consider the best biography in English, his Life of Johnson. But in 1762, he was a kid (age 22 or thereabouts) just in from Scotland, enjoying big city life in London.

On Sunday, May 15, 1763, he wanted to hear a well-known preacher preach. This was his first mistake: don't go to church because of the preacher. That's not all we're there for, not that it's unimportant, but it shouldn't be our first consideration. But -- like most of us, and like me -- Boswell broke the rule, and went to hear Dr. Blair preach in what was known as a dissenting service: a parish that disagreed with the Anglican service.

Boswell was feeling particularly in need of church that day: he went to 3 services. (He wasn't always so faithful: many diary entries recount his searching for prostitutes. As Ecclesiastes reminds, there is indeed nothing new under the sun).

But here is his story for the day:

"SUNDAY, 15 May. I was in an excellent calm and serious mood. I attended divine service in Ludgate Church with patience and satisfaction, and was much edified. I then dined at honest Cochrane's, after which he and I and two other gentlemen went to Dr. Fordyce's meeting in Monkwell Street and heard Dr. Blair preach. I thought this would have done me good. But I found the reverse. Blair's New Kirk delivery and the Dissenters roaring out the Psalms sitting on their backsides [in other words, sitting while praying!], together with the extempore prayers [prayers made up as the pastor went along, not prayed from the prayer book], and in short the whole vulgar idea of the Presbyterian worship, made me very gloomy. I therefore hastened from this place to St. Paul's, where I heard the conclusion of service, and had my mind set right again."