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High Church for Asian Americans

liturgy2Those of you who know me well know that I have a love for liturgical worship. In the last few years, I’ve found myself drawn to Anglo-Catholic and Orthodox expressions of worship. The icons, rich artwork, incense, ritual, mystery, and a deep sense of beauty is what draws me nigh. Every ritual practiced in these liturgies has meaning and history. There’s a purpose for everything that is done. I also appreciate that in high church settings it is the Eucharist, not the sermon, that is the high point of worship. Thus, partaking in the Eucharist weekly is important to me. All these things I do not experience in a low-church, namely evangelical (even most mainline denominations), environment. However, one major issue I have with these high church expressions is the lack of whole body interaction with liturgy. For example, in the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the male priestly figures do all the ritualizing while the congregants sit/stand and observe or receive.

Lately, I have been asking myself, “What would a rich, deep liturgy for Asian Americans look like?”…

Wouldn’t it make sense for Asian American Christians to experiment with such a worship style? Our long cultural heritage points to religious practices deep with intention, deliberateness, meaning, and mysticism. Would recapturing that in a form of ritualistic liturgy, where there’s no spatial division between clergy and congregant, no 40-minute sermon, no front man for the band, be faithful to who we are as Jesus followers and as Asian Americans?

What would it look like where all are participating in rituals that is familiar, meaningful, and communal to all those who worship together?

What would the practices be that combine a deep sense of cultural re-imagination with the mystery and the beauty of the Gospel?

What would the worship space look like that can heighten the sense of awe in worship God together?

And can Asian Americans even begin to worship in this way?



12 responses to “High Church for Asian Americans

  1. DYdaktix

    Coming from Buddhist background and as one preparing to be a minister in a liturgical tradition which came to faith in a very nonliturgical tradition some thoughts:

    1) Liturgy makes sense to Asians with a religious backgroudn. When I invited my mom to my nonliturgical nondenominational church, it made no sense to her. When I invited her to my current church, it made sense to her, and she ENJOYed it.

    2) The more I understood the whys and the hows of liturgy, the more it became something I celebrated instead of merely tolerated. I don’t know if that has helped others, but it helped this pilgrim.

    3) It is but one way to worship God, and one way we are able to enter God’s presence. In a world where everything seems to constantly be spiraling to new and unfamiliar, regularity, familiarity, and tradition ministers to my Asian American soul.

  2. i think this would be fascinating to witness, and i wonder if it can be shaped within an evangelical tradition (i think emergent was trying to do precisely this). there has to be some way to “de-center” the authority of clergy, or at least offer everyone to lift up scripture with the clergy. liturgy can do that well, but we really need to create our own vocabulary of worship in order to do this well, so that we do not merely become borrowers of worship, but stakeholders.

  3. Daniel Im

    I agree with David that emergent was trying to do precisely this. I wonder if 3rd generation Asian Americans would be more inclined towards a liturgical type of Christianity. As most 2nd generations whose parents are Christians would probably rebel against such liturgy and traditionalism. With the increasing popularity of new age and “spirituality,” I wonder if a liturgical type of worship setting, where there is a decentralization of authority, would actually appeal to seekers.

  4. jeff ⋅

    Would asking these two questions be appropriate for this thread:

    Why would a 3rd generation APA church exist since language and culture would not be issues?

    Where in the New Testament, with the assumption that being Biblical is the tip priority, does Jesus ask us to worship within a “body of rites prescribed for public worship” and/or “a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances?”

  5. dydaktix ⋅

    Jeff: being a 3rd gen APA (albeit with 2nd Gen tendencies) I think that culture continues to be issue for many APAs. I think of how many of my 3rd 4th gen APA sisters and brothers do go to APA churches for that reason, and for me, I feel more comfortable in an 1st gen context than I do being the only APA in a congregation.

    Jesus doesn’t ask us to worship in a body of rites prescribed for public worship, but it seems to me that Jesus does get liturgical:

    1) when he reads from Isaiah in Luke 4, he’s all up in dis liturgical madness. Whether he was contextualizing or affirming (Jewish) liturgy, that’s another story.

    2) The apostles went to worship at the temple, even while gathering to fellowship with other Christians. The temple/synagogue were liturgical centers.

    3) The picture of the saints worshipping God in Rev seems very liturgical in practice to me, although I’m quick to admit that sometimes I see what I want to see.

    Maybe liturgy isn’t prescribed in the Bible, but it doesn’t seem to be prohibited either. For those who find liturgy comforting, (especially those coming from other religions that are liturgical such as many strains of Buddhism) I think that liturgy can be comfortable and familiar more than a less liturgical church.

  6. jadanzzy


    For your first question, are you APA? White?

    For your second question, liturgy is not prescribed in the Bible. But neither are the acts that you may engage in daily life (if you are a Christian). Jesus lived the way he lived for the context he was in. Liturgy is a way for finite beings to express and engage in a mystery that we cannot fully experience. Out of curiosity, you go to church every Sunday morning?

  7. Irenaeus ⋅

    I’d like to share my perspective on Orthodox worship from the standpoint of an Asian American Evangelical who converted to Orthodoxy 10 years ago.

    Greek Orthodox parishes tend to be more passive in their approach to worship. Orthodox parishes with converts, e.g., the Antiochian Orthodox churches and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), tend to be more active.

    But having said that, one can hardly expect to find Pentecostal calisthenics in Orthodox worship. The physicality of Orthodox worship is quite restrained. I would suggest that there are two reasons for this. One, Orthodox liturgy is rooted in the dignity of the royal court. Two, Orthodox worship is contemplative. Through an inner stillness that is shaped by the ancient prayers one is drawn into the mystery of the kingdom of God.

    But even then the physical element is there.It’s subtle but it’s there. I make the sign of the cross every time the Trinity is mentioned, which is about six or seven times in the Sunday worship. Orthodox Christians venerate icons by kissing them. We light candles and say a prayer. Full prostrations are done in the Saturday evening Vespers and early Sunday morning Matins services. Throughout the year I get blessed water, flowers, basil leaves. At the beginning of Lent we bow before each other and ask for each others forgiveness. All this I find much more deeply edifying than what I experienced as a charismatic or Evangelical.

    I would urge you to talk with an Orthodox priest and to continue visiting Orthodox services. There is so much beauty and truth in Orthodox worship that one visit is not enough.

  8. john lee

    If you are ever in NYC, check out Saint Thomas 5th avenue. It has a great liturgical worship. As a pastor serving in NY and a second gen. Korean American, I’d love to think about this even for the second generation.

  9. Dan Lee ⋅

    I am currently studying in an Anglican seminary in Wales, UK. High Church theology is rooted in Sacraments (i.e., sacramental theology) and hence, they are fairly strict on the way the liturgy is conducted.

    I doubt you would see much difference between the liturgy conducted in Wales, England, US, South America, Africa or Asia. They do leave some room for contextualization (e.g., adding saints and couple hymns from native churches), but the general shape or the liturgy would be same throughout the globe.

    Basically an Asian-American High Church is a misnomer in this context because High Churches claim universality; there can only be one, true, ecclesiastical culture as manifested in one, true, Sacrament (usually 7) and some canonical prayers and hymns. Whether that true culture is Latin Based, Syriac Based, Greek Based, Coptic Based, or English Based is another topic.

    Nevertheless, Asian-Americans would first have to assimilate into this universal culture, then hope to make minute changes from within (takes long time to make changes – Roman Catholic probably taking the longest).

  10. »Wouldn’t it make sense for Asian American Christians to experiment with such a worship style? Our long cultural heritage points to religious practices deep with intention, deliberateness, meaning, and mysticism.«

    Ditto to Dan Lee’s comment.

    Have you seen the Anglican Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau 1965 Order for Holy Communion (pdf; html version)? The language at least is incontestably (classical) Chinese. In terms of change, though, I should expect at most the pace of change that took place in the Church of England as it went to the patristic sources and the faith as practised in England to reform the liturgy organically.

    I suppose, to get at it simplistically, we imagine ourselves in the patristic era and substitute Greek with Chinese (or whatever the culture may be). . Right now, though, I really haven’t the foggiest notion of what happened in diasporic cultures inside the Church, and I wish I did know.

    My impression’s that High-tending worship’s significantly more common in Hong Kong (my dad was baptized in Hong Kong under the auspices of the Church of England), but mainland China (and perhaps Singapore) has seen a lot more charismatic worship. I suspect that a more homegrown organic growth of the liturgy won’t really happen until what once happened with Rome has happened with China. But man, I really want to see this liturgical thing happen in America too.

  11. Dan Lee ⋅

    Yes I agree, there would have to be another Great Schism between East & West in the most global sense of the word. And who knows what that would look like? I haven’t a clue.

    One thing I like about high church is that it is very post-modern (in the sense that it realizes those modern dichotomies between dominant culture and minority culture is inherently unstable). I recently watched a youtube of Prof. Rah talking about various multicultural models in low-church settings (e.g., melting-pot, salad bowl, etc.). The problems is that you will always have some type of “dominant” culture; it is inevitable (even Prof. Rah couldn’t specify that ideal multicultural model without self-contradicting his entire lecture). I don’t think his Jambalaya (?) metaphor works 🙂

    So the next question becomes, which type of church culture/ethos is ideal. Perhaps, like Prof. Rah, there is no criteria for us, contingent human beings; only the paradoxical, self-refuting, normative non-norm or model of no-model. The other option is to find the right model or ideal model.

    In light of recent developments in philosophical hermeneutics, semiotics, and philosophy of language, it seems the Sola Scriptura principle won’t suffice. I am vary of those who label their church as the most “biblical” (whatever that may mean). Thus, we end up back to apostolic succession and Sacraments which presupposes a realist ontology (i.e., the Church as embodied through the office of bishops & the Eucharist is where the incarnated Logos, Jesus Christ resides). However, even in a high church setting, it is not easy discerning which church culture is the truest one. History is very messy!

    However, on a political level, perhaps it would be most beneficial for Asians to join the Assyrian Church. Theologically, they have stopped formulating doctrines after the Nicene Creed (351/381); they are still waiting for full communion with Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic Church (also Anglican?). Plus, Asians do have a long history in this church tradition, especially China and India. Perhaps we can do something similar to the Anglican Church by studying up on the Assyrian Church (especially during the time they flourished in India and China) and incorporated these findings into the Assyrian Church ethos (and perhaps make it more Asian/Asian American).

    Or… we can always go for the paradoxical, radically-pluralist, multicultural model of no-model and rely on God’s sovereignty. Since, I am currently in a low-church (Methodist), I guess I’ll just have to let the Spirit take our 2.0 Gen Asian American (of Korean descent) church wherever it goes. However, I do think the Assyrian Church would be the best option for someone who doesn’t want a “model of no-model” in their ecclesiology. Personally, I don’t mind. So I have stopped researching in this area. I just focus on my students, and try to help them becoming more like Jesus as best as I know how. God help me! *shrug*

    • Dan Lee ⋅

      On a side note, Methodists do accept the doctrine of apostolic succession and Real Presence (in the Eucharist). So, minimally (we don’t have 7 sacraments, only two), I can be rest assured that Jesus is in this Body (if we grant that the true church must hold a realist ontology). 🙂

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