Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Question of Priorities

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?


Mumcat said...

I think I would feel the same about your bishop you do. He makes sense.

I cringe when I hear the "we've got to make it relevant to the newcomers" kind of statement. Honestly, what brought me into the Episcopal/Anglican church was not that it was made relevant for me but that it was totally irrelevant -- it was a bit of heaven brought down to earth, something I didn't see at the movies or hear on the radio or read in the latest novel. It was a place apart, set apart by the kind of worship that didn't demand I return because I found it "relevant" but becuase I found something that made me want more of it. Forty years later I'm not sorry.

The funny thing is that people are still coming into our church for precisely the same reasons I did -- it wasn't "relevant", it wasn't what they saw and heard and read every day. It was an experience with God in a totally different way that raised us up, not left us where we were and came down to us. Sometimes I think there's too much of the church "coming down" to our level instead of raising us towards God's level. but that's just my .0149 (or less, depending on the price of gasoline these days).

Justin Lewis-Anthony said...

At the National Liturgical Conference in Oxford last month, the AB of C also spoke (eloquently, persuasively and prayerfully) against the temptation to make worship "relevant". He reminded his audience that worship is so odd, so catergorically odd, that there is no real difference, in the eyes of the world, between a pontifical High Mass and gathering around a group of mossy stones, listening to Bulgarian folk music, in someone's living room (These are my examples, not the ABofC's).

He did say that despite this, the whole point of the Church is to worship.

The New Testament assumes that the point of salvation is worship: not to be a "good" person, not to get to heaven, not to be assured of our eternal destination, but simply to worship God to offer blessings and praise to God as he should be blessed and praised. Furthermore, the NT assumes that the heart of the problem of human fallenness is our inability to worship properly. Sinfulness isn't manifested solely, exclusively, in abusive sexual, physical, economic or political relationships. Sin prevents us from worshipping God properly. But we are able to begin to worship God properly because of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is these, "saving actions" that finally allow us to be the body we are truly and properly called to be, the "festal assembly". Being in festal assembly means being in heaven, the nearer, unmediated presence of God, and being able to reflect back to him his outpouring of glory and beauty.

For the Archbishop, drawing people into this body, this festal assembly, is the prime reason for mission in the New Testament. People are told about Jesus Christ, and are baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of Holy Spirit so that the barriers between them and the worship of the festal assembly may be removed.

If you want to know more about what he said, ask Roger Morris. I'm sure his short hand is better than mine!

Caroline said...

Whilst I totally agree about the risks of trying to make our worship 'relevant'

there is the other side of the equation as well; we shouldn't be making it totally inaccessible.

and getting the balance between those two (almost) mutually exclusive statements is pretty difficult.

Just to add to the complications, is the matter of taste. I find robes, processing, choirs incredibly exclusive and elitist. I find these practices get in the way. I suspect that for you, Kathryn, these are enriching parts of the narrative. :-) how do we keep all happy?

I don't know of course, but I'll keep talking and listening ..

and whilst I won't hope to get it right, maybe I'll get it a little wiser