“Casual Worship” – Contradiction in Terms

From the State Journal of Madison:

In the Spirit: Church that pushed the envelope on ‘casual worship’ closes

A Waunakee church that pushed the concept of “casual worship” to new levels didn’t draw enough interest and has closed.
St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 5757 Emerald Grove Lane, sought to attract people put off by the rituals and trappings of traditional worship services. Parishioners ripped out the church’s pews, pulpit and communion rail four years ago and installed coffeehouse tables, easy chairs and a cappuccino machine.
Sunday attendance peaked at around 50 a couple of years ago and had been dropping. Services have ceased and the church building is for sale.
“I still think it’s a great idea, but this apparently was not the time or the place,” said the Rev. Randy Hunter, pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Middleton.


It can’t work.

No religion can survive the elimination of “sacred space” and “sacred time”.

Reason #74664 for Summorum Pontificum.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. VexillaRegis says:

    “When will they ever learn?”

  2. solemncharge says:

    Inside a church is never the “Time or the Place” for coffee and chit-chat. We have other places and times for that.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    But, we Catholics do not have sacred space, we have Sacred Presence.

    [Consecrated churches and chapels are sacramentals. They are sacred.]

  4. mysticalrose says:

    Let’s see . . . you can go to “church” and have coffee and listen to your oh-so-relevant pastor yapping at you, or you can just go the local coffee shop with your friends like a normal person and have a good time. This seems analogous to all of those apartment living sisters — you can join religious life, wear polyester, live alone and pray alone or . . . you can just be single. What are these people thinking?!

  5. wmeyer says:

    And yet, sadly, so many of our parishes are practicing a very casual worship. T-shirts, cut-offs, jeans, flip-flops, immodest clothing of all sorts, noisy chatter right up to the start of Mass, some who seem never able to arrive in time for Mass, and of course, those who excel at the post-Communion dash.

    My current parish, though hardly traditional, is free of some of those defects. And some of the priests do speak to the issues from time to time, unlike my previous parish.


  6. Cantuale says:

    I found a perfect quote from C.S. Lewis about this crazy attitude and frenzy for progress and change: “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer”.
    May be those Lutheran have understood they were on a wrong path, but many Catholics are not yet convinced.

  7. anilwang says:

    Technically, one *can* have casual worship as Brother Lawrence pointed out in “Practice of the Presence of God”….but it is by raising secular mundane activities to the sacred not by debasing the sacred as has been done here.

    What these naive hard headed modernists don’t understand is that we can’t out-gimmick the secular world. Christian rock tends to be poorer than secular rock. Christian fellowships tend to be less fun than secular social groups. Christian coffee shops can’t compete with secular coffee shops. Christian “life gurus” can’t compete with secular with secular “life gurus”. Why? Because secular groups give people what they want, not what they need. And Christianity stops being Christian and becomes secular if it doesn’t give people what they need even though it is the last thing they want.

    So the only thing we *can* compete with is what is unique to Catholicism since cannot be provided anywhere else, even if the secular world didn’t think it was a waste of time that was a threat to secular “values”.

  8. RichR says:

    “Casual familiarity versus Holy Intimacy”, as per Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand.

    I find that we try to drag Heaven down to our mundane world rather than let the Mass elevate us to Heaven. Big difference, and people of all stripes can tell the difference.

  9. Soler says:

    I wonder whether Bach’s Coffee Cantata was sung at the updated services…

  10. alexandra88 says:

    There are few things I drive me up the wall more than the whole ”fresh expressions” cafe church baloney that vicars get in their heads. We want litugy not lattes!

  11. acardnal says:

    Worship should take one out of the common place and ordinary and uplift into the extraordinary.

  12. CatholicCoffee says:

    “When will they ever learn?”
    And in the process they also wrecked a church…

  13. NBW says:

    acardnal, I agree with you.

    Too bad Rev. Hunter doesn’t get it. Who can find God in a coffee shop-like setting? And without a Barista?! Or was he going to do that?

  14. disco says:

    I don’t think comfort is something we should cultivate in the house of God. Familiarity breeds contempt or something to that effect, yes?

    I’d take fear and trembling with an authentic sense of mystery over the creature comforts of home any day of the week (especially Sunday)

  15. ATT says:

    Seems just stupid to me – stupid because it defies common sense. If I want to sit in my living room and drink coffee, I sit in my living room and drink coffee. Even if in the process I am talking about God, I don’t need to go to church to do so. We don’t commune with God in theological seminars, which this would appear to resemble; we commune with Him in prayer and worship.

    But, no matter. We shouldn’t bother ourselves about the new “innovations” in church-going that our Protestant brethren are coming up with. After all, that’s one of the hallmarks of “reformed” faiths. The only thing this can show us, for the billionth time, is that the world is thirsty for true worship. I tend to agree with Saint-Exupéry. “There is only one problem in the whole world: restoring spiritual sense in people.” And we’re certainly not going to be able to do this if we reduce church-going to the same thing as café-going.

  16. Jim says:

    In Scotland Randy Hunter means something specific.
    The Rev might have had more success with the ladies had he opened his venue here.

  17. Will D. says:

    This failed church experiment and this article from OSV made me think of President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University in 1962:

    But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

    We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

    I think this applies to our worship as well. Being Catholic is not for the faint of heart. We are fallen creatures, we need to be challenged to live out our faith. Sitting around drinking coffee and being complacent about how swell we are does not challenge us. We need the sacraments and we need discipline to cooperate with God’s will. If our goal is Heaven, we have to aim much higher than the moon.

  18. Glen M says:

    Notice they only just ripped out their altar rails four years ago?

  19. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you for the correction; I was not thinking of the actual building but of the “space” as in distance, volume and area.

  20. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

    And do not think there are not Catholic priests who think just the same as Mr Randy Hunter.

  21. Michelle F says:

    I read the full article on the Wisconsin State Journal website, and I think it supports my belief that the reason Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion is not what it offers in the way of an afterlife, but the fact that it places very high demands on believers in this life. Men and women are required to pray toward Mecca five times per day, to wear modest clothing, to use specific phrases such as “peace be upon him” when mentioning Mohammed, to attend the weekly mosque service, to abstain from alcohol, and so on. It is a complete way of living in this life.

    Most people sense that anything that deals with the real meaning of life and the universe will require something extraordinary from us, usually involving some change of lifestyle. If a religion does not require something extraordinary, it is not attractive.

    The Catholic Church used to offer the same type of complete lifestyle: praying the noon Angelus, wearing modest clothing, calling Jesus “The Lord” instead of always calling Him by His given name, attending Mass every Sunday and every holyday regardless of the day of the week, abstaining from flesh meat on Fridays, etc.

    If the Catholic Church wants to see her children increasing, then she will have to start requiring the extraordinary from her members. Only when people see the dedicated lifestyle of Catholics will they think that the Catholic Church has something to offer, something to say about the meaning of life and the universe.

  22. Mamma B says:

    Reminds me of the non-Catholic family member who came trooping into church for my daughter’s Byzantine Catholic wedding with a Starbucks latte in one hand and (I kid you not) a pink bakery box with a dozen donuts in the other! She seemed baffled when I made her take her snacks out and put them in the lobby, though the service was almost long enough to need some sustenance part way through.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    And speaking of food and drink, where did this weird habit of bringing bottles of water into the Church and drinking before and during the Mass when in the congregation creep in? I am astounded by this habit. If one is ill, perhaps, but very healthy looking youth and even boomers bring out the water bottles. I have seen it twice in one week-at daily Mass and at Sunday Mass. I have seen people doing this regularly in some parishes. Maybe churches need signs about such things.

    I do not understand this newish development. I have seen it more here than anywhere, and I have never seen it in the Midwest. We leave our water bottles in our knapsacks or in the car, etc.

  24. pmullane says:

    “I still think it’s a great idea, but this apparently was not the time or the place,”

    The catchphrase of the cultural relativist and the marxist. The reason my spiffy idea didnt work wasnt because it was a terrible idea, but because it was’nt the ‘time or place’. So we must try it time and again and fool ourselves with excuses as to why this wasnt the right ‘time or place’.

  25. JonPatrick says:

    @Glen M, most Episcopal/Anglican and Lutheran churches still have their altar rails, so you can reverently receive invalidly consecrated bread and wine kneeling, only in the Catholic Church are you required to stand in a supermarket checkout line to receive the actual body and blood of Christ (unless you go to the EF of course).

  26. Glen M says:

    JonPatrick, isn’t that a sad state of affairs? I know high-church converts who said the reason they wanted to cross the Tiber was realizing what they were kneeling for in their Protestant service wasn’t Christ’s Body as He directed us to do. They were amazed when attending their first Catholic Mass to see the irreverence displayed (except as you point out at an EF).

    How many priests and bishops around the world encourage the laity to receive Holy Communion as per the universal norm of the Church – in the only manner the pope uses?

  27. Ted says:

    But isn’t this the logical conclusion to considering the communion service as a mere meal? Did not Catholics have their hootenany Masses with guitars and a friendly casual pub like atmosphere right after Vatican II when the idea of the Mass as primarily a community meal gained popularity? It seems odd that more churches did not go this way of the cafe if the communion service is thought of only as a mere prayerful meal.

  28. Magash says:

    Luckily even in the depths of the silly season there were still Catholics smart enough to realize the foolishness of the prayerful meal paradigm. And of course there’s always the Holy Spirit who won’t let the Church go completely off the rails, though he has shown the inclination to let individual Catholics and even some Catholic institutions to willfully go to hell in a hand basket if they are bound and determined to do that. After all He is Lover not a Rapist, so if you are bound and determined to follow your own will rather than God’s He will let you, right up until the time you’re about to drag the whole Church off the rails. Then He rises up holy men and woman to oppose you.
    The Spirit has called a mystic and a theologian so far in this effort. Perhaps next he will call a canonist or a monastic to take the next step. We are moving in the right direction now, not fast enough for some, but in God’s time.

  29. LisaP. says:

    Could be a yuppie (or whatever it’s called now) trend.
    However, if you have Type 1 diabetes, high blood sugar can cause very bad thirst. My kid with low blood pressure also gets urgently thirsty under some circumstances. Both my kids look very healthy, if you don’t notice the pallor from the high bg or low bp.
    So I’m guessing there are health conditions that might trigger water drinking. Both my kids would survive without water for an hour at their worse, they would, however, feel really awful.
    Just you never know. . . .

  30. Northern Ox says:

    Everyone seems to be leaping to the conclusion that the St. Andrew Coffee House experiment failed because of the worship format, but perhaps there’s a more prosaic explanation — the quality of the coffee.

    If only they’d served Mystic Monk …!

  31. An American Mother says:

    Yes, it’s annoying, isn’t it? I don’t know of an Episcopal church that has ripped out its altar rails.
    Another point: there aren’t all these flocks of EMHC swanning around the altar in civilian clothes. One does receive invalidly consecrated bread AND wine (communion has been offered in both kinds for as long as I can remember), but there is ONE person (usually the deacon) following the priest with the chalice (which has never been called a “cup”). If it’s not the deacon, it’s an acolyte (what they call altar servers) properly vested. Sometimes a second acolyte holds the paten under ones chin.
    I had a very hard time getting used to the Catholic method of distribution of communion, it still strikes me as vaguely irreverent.
    And “speed” is no excuse. My husband was Senior Usher for the choral service (the big one) and he is quite sure that managing a group kneeling at the altar rail allows the ushers to move people through much more quickly than individuals standing in a long line and effectively going up one by one to receive.

  32. LisaP. says:

    Michelle F,
    I reverted to Catholicism after studying Islam. I was very interested by their fasting, I remember being a college student asking about following Jewish food laws when I suddenly had a vague memory that the Catholic Church did some food stuff, too. . . . I wholeheartedly feel that people want to do for others (and God) very badly, and that’s often the path to religious practice. Teens in particular don’t really — really — want a religion that caters to them. They like big, and they realize that is very small.

  33. LisaP. says:

    My dad told me years ago (don’t know if he was quoting), “Don’t confuse movement with progress.”

  34. jesusthroughmary says:

    ” it’s an acolyte (what they call altar servers)”

    That’s not their word. It’s ours.


  35. Late for heaven says:

    anilwang: I loved this:

    ” secular groups give people what they want, not what they need. And Christianity stops being Christian and becomes secular if it doesn’t give people what they need even though it is the last thing they want.”

  36. Nan says:

    @supertradmum, I see water bottles at my midwestern Cathedral parish. Most of the time in summer; we don’t have AC and it can get hot. It isn’t terribly widespread, but I assume there are medical reasons otherwise. I did once ask a guy who ate some caramel corn before receiving communion whether he had a medical condition and felt like a complete idiot when he showed me his medical alert bracelet.

  37. wmeyer says:

    nan, I have never heard of caramel corn as a medical treatment. As to water bottles, I saw them frequently in my former parish, usually in the hands of a priest. I don’t know about people in the pews — I try to sit well forward, in part to avoid such distractions.

  38. LisaP. says:

    We would use it as a medical treatment for a low brought on by injected insulin.

    You need fast carbs (no fat, so candy bars are out) that you can’t choke on if you lose consciousness (hard candy is bad) and that is portable ( you ever sit on your backpack accidentally and had your three juice boxes explode?`) and won’t go bad (cut grapes get very very expensive after awhile since they rot out of the fridge). Many people don’t like using candy like sweet tarts because you can train a kid to start “feeling low” when she’s not because this is when she gets candy, messes with her instincts.

    We use glucose tabs. But a lot of people consider them disgusting, and the last thing you want when you are going low and maybe going into a slightly confused state is to try to convince yourself you have to eat something you hate. Plus, they are stupid expensive.

    So, yeah. But for the record, Nan, it would never bother me if you asked why I was feeding my kid in Church, or checking my cell phone over and over (actually checking my kid’s medical device). I’ve often wished people would ask so I could explain, since I know it looks bad! :)

  39. Water bottles may sometimes be necessary for choristers. Reason no. 1,234,652 why musicians should always be at the back of the church (ideally, in a loft) and never up front.

  40. AnAmericanMother says:


    Yes, I know. They simply misapply it.
    The Anglicans had “minor orders” and maintained them in some of the Universities until fairly recently. They may even have kept them in some quarters after they were abolished/suppressed in the Catholic Church.
    But “acolytes” in the Episcopal church are not ordained (even assuming it was valid). Many parishes, however, still use subdeacons.

    What struck me as annoying was that the Episcopalians/Anglicans have kept the forms that we have abandoned. The glory has departed . . . but, still . . .

    It was a huge stumbling block for us, but where else shall we go from the Word of Life?

  41. Michelle F says:


    I’m glad to hear that you came back to the Church! Welcome!

    I converted to Catholicism from generic Protestantism in 1999. One of the things that attracted me to the Church on an emotional level were all of the images, both in art and in books, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the love of God.

    One thing I can recall off the top of my head was reading a story, probably one of the Arthurian legends, in which a knight kept an all-night vigil over his armor in a chapel. Granted the story was fiction, but the idea was rooted in reality, and I admired the kind of faith it depicted: staying awake and on one’s knees all night, alone in a chapel with no one but you, God, and the angels. I wanted that kind of faith for myself, the kind of faith in which doing such a difficult task is part of the normal course of living, just like breathing the air.

    Teenagers are right in rejecting churches that cater to them. They know that anything really worth having won’t be easy to get, and they want the heroic challenge. For proof of this, in case one has forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager, just look at the existence and popularity of “extreme sports.” Their parents don’t place demands on them, the Church doesn’t place demands on them, so they create their own – and if the parents are lucky their kids are simply doing “extreme sports,” and are not running drugs or doing similar challenging activities.

    So, yes, give teenagers (and adults) some decent challenges like keeping vigils, fasting, and the old “go and sin no more.”

  42. LisaP. says:

    Thanks, Michelle F, it was a while back.
    I think you’re right on target.

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