This passage from Revelation 7 has been floating around in my head all week, since Charlotte Methuen, the new Canon Theologian of Gloucester, used it as part of her inaugural lecture
"Each in our own language: reflections on the Church, Catholicity and Culture"...
It was a good lecture, though there were other things I'd have wanted to hear too, but I really appreciated her central anaglogy of the Pentecost experience of hearing the gospel "each in our own language" set against the universal vision of Revelation.
Unlikely though it may seem, it linked for me with yesterday's "Moving On" training, in which my cohort of curates was notionally prepared for the arcane mysteries of the appointments system of the C of E and introduced to the comforting presence of the Clergy Appointments adviser (who runs a sort of central clerical dating agency, introducing priests seeking parishes to parishes seeking priests).
The connection came when John was talking us through a terrifying entity known as the Common Application Form, which included questions about our preferred worship style, and suggested that if, for example, we preferred to preside in full Eucharistic vestments but were happy with mufti for other kinds of worship, this could be a helpful route to exploring with an interviewing panel the influences that have shaped us so far. It left me pondering that very thing, and reflecting on our worship at St M's (which resembles so much the church of my childhood) in contrast with the relative informality of the village churches where we were rooted in the years up to my ordination. I was still mulling when I came home to read this post of Michael's - (if you follow the link, have a look at the comments too, where Michael unpacks further...it's such good stuff) and the rather wonderful Worship Checklist from Dan Kimball's
1) Did we make Jesus the focus?
2) Did we have time in the scriptures?
3) Did we pray together? (including time of quiet in which God's spirit could be listened to)
4) Did we experience the fun / joy / encouragement of being with each other?
5) Do we take the Lord's supper regularly together?
6) Did we somehow remind each other of the mission of the church and why we exist?
7) Did we enable each other to contribute something as part of the body of Christ?
There's so much to challenge there - I'm not at all convinced that we're very good at numbers 6 & 7 in particular. I guess it depends on what contributions are envisaged. I've had a wonderful time recently putting together the liturgy for the Youth Group's birthday Eucharist later this month...a wildly collaborative effort that really will be thoroughly owned by the young people who will do any and everything we can possibly fit in...In contrast, on most Sundays we seem to gloss over the concept of liturgy as "work of the people" and the majority are pretty passive, beyond joining in the congregational prayers and singing a good few hymns.
If that is the degree to which our congregation prefers to contribute, well I guess that's fine, tom.though it increases the risk of clergy lapsing into performance mode, Sunday by Sunday.
Certainly we need to think a bit.
As for mission?...hmmmnnn....
But after such nuts and bolts considerations, the church today commemorates Evelyn Underhill whose vision of worship celebrates "disinterested delight" in God , and the priority of God.
FabBishop describes worship as "grasping the heel of heaven" - or how about this, from Underhill's "Worship"
"At one end worship is lost in God and is seen to be the substance of eternal life, so that all our attempts to penetrate its mystery must end in acknowledgement of defeat; at the other it broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man's responses to reality, his total Godward life, with its myriad graded forms of expression, some so crude and some so lovely, some so concrete and some so otherworldly but all so pathetic in their childishness. Here we obtain a clue to the real significance of those rituals and ceremonies...which express the deep human conviction that none of the serial events and experiences of human life are rightly met unless they are brought into a relationship with the Transcendent."
Isn't that fabulous?