Wonderful Bishop M (I really do think of him like that: it’s kind of his official title in the GoodinParts household!) visited us last week for a teaching evening on the Eucharist.
Predictably, what he had to say was top quality, and he geared it beautifully to the needs of a congregation who are largely convinced that they, and they alone, know how to do things properly…but who might just be the teeniest bit deluded. He offered us good sound catholic liturgical practice (nothing too threatening there) and begged us to question why we do things as we do…and to discard them if the reasons don’t seem adequate,- music to the ears of vicar and curate alike. It’s extraordinary how you can say something week after week as parish clergy and be ignored but when the same message comes from a Bishop…well, I guess we all realised that, which is why he offered to come in the first place, bless the man!
What struck me most of all was his answer to a question about whether we ought really to be changing everything radically, in order to attract outsiders…
Leaving aside the question of whether this is a helpful approach anyway (do we want to drag outsiders in? do we? do we honestly think it will help them to encounter God if they get lost in the intricacies of a parish eucharist at St M’s?) he said with great confidence that what would actually make a difference to their urge to return was not desperate attempts to make our worship relevant…to minimise church-speak…to throw out the choristers (including those children who actually choose to be there)….
What would bring them back for a second look was, rather, the realisation that everyone present was totally caught up in and focussed on worship as a transformative experience. He then reiterated his words from his earlier visit, about part of the purpose of worship being to “play at heaven”…and I suddenly realised why this idea had chimed so powerfully with me when I read Ryan Bloger’s blog.
“The worship service is no longer an evangelistic service for outsiders but a space to practice heaven for a period of time, facilitating the offering of the community life to God in worship..”
That I can go with..heart and soul. But its horrifying how often it gets lost in the shuffle…Back again to the need for reflective practice,- and the anxiety that this may just be the sort of luxury that is possible (though not easy) as a curate, but an early casualty on the wheel of parish ministry as a vicar.
Perhaps there might be time to think while at Rydal…who knows?