Thursday, December 24, 2009

Seasons Greetings

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers!

This blog is going on holiday until the 3rd or 4th January.

I will post comments (as able) but not interact with them.

Best wishes

Monday, December 21, 2009

The power of music

Being present in our packed Cathedral last night for its Nine Lessons and Carols service was a powerful reminder of the power of music to draw people into the presence of God. It is not disrespectful to Scripture being the Word of God written to presume that if the Cathedral had advertised a service of "Nine Lessons (no music)" only the faithful few would have turn up. Even "Nine Lessons (with cracker sermon)" would not have drawn the crowd which came last night.

Music has the power to move us, to draw us from our homes to go to a concert or a party or a church service. The music in a church service (some minimal requirements of tunefulness and rhythm being met) has the power to move our souls into the presence of God, to help us feel that we are meeting with God. Why? I think it is the capacity of music to take us out of ourselves and lead us to the transcendent. There the God who is God meets with us: our restless hearts, as St Augustine knew, find their rest in him.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hold the Wise Men

Reading something by Doug Chaplin on preaching the Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke (worth a look here) reminds me of a point.

My point is this, the church has a calendar, and when followed the Wise Men (i.e. Matthew 2:1-12) should be centre of attention at Epiphany (6th January). Not before. No posters, banners, or other depictions of the Wise Men before 6th January please.

An exception might be a Christmas pageant service in mid-December as the wash up for the Sunday School's year in which a whole narrative of the birth of Jesus is told.

The great advantage of holding back the Wise Men for Epiphany is that the joys and glories of Christmas are extended for greater enjoyment.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Is there any reason why a service should not flow, go well, and enable people to be focused on the Lord because they are undistracted by mistakes, clangers, and black holes of time and space occurring in a service?

Of course not. There is no reason why a service should not go well.

But it will take preparation, planning, purposive production and, well, you get the picture!

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

Be perfect. It's okay to be perfect in worship leading. People will be grateful.

PS For clarity: preparation includes prayer!!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Making people feel comfortable in church

I went to a wedding on Saturday. It was superb, representative of the outstanding qualities the bride and groom brought to their marriage, and I could, but will not wax eloquent about the food at the reception, and the speeches which were, simply, outstanding.

Here I simply observe that the minister at the wedding, himself a relaxed leader of worship and minister of the Word, made the guests feel comfortable. He spoke to us twice before the service began. We received relevant directions (move to the front to allow for late arriving guests, where the toilets were), and up to date information (the bride was coming but was a little late). There was an element of humour in what he said - I think, in terms of making strangers feel at home in a church, we cannot underestimate humour as a means of drawing people together. But the humour was combined with clarity in his communication.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Portable Presentations

The use of Powerpoint and other forms of electronic illustrations of verbal communication is loathed by some, useful from time to time for some, and embraced totally by others.

For the most part internally prepared communications within parishes work okay - initial problems of inadequate or insufficient software or hardware to run presentations are sorted out and life proceeds smoothly until the day when, say, a new computer or projector is purchased, or one piece of software is upgraded. But new teething problems are sorted and life goes on!

A challenge I frequently come across is externally prepared communications which do not work. A visiting speaker comes with an embedded video or a slideshow or a Powerpoint with peculiarities and, oh dear, nothing happens when the button is pushed at the beginning of the address or sermon.

Obviously some practical solutions lie at hand in a category called 'rehearsal': visiting speakers telegraph ahead of time that what they want to present requires software X and hardware Y, or a practice run is scheduled for the Saturday night before the Sunday service. There is also the possibility that a visitor brings their own laptop (though that may incur other problems such as changing from one machine to another in the course of a service).

Nevertheless speakers on the move, with busy, compressed schedules may not be able to offer 'rehearsal', and their own laptop may not be a solution, more of a problem. What to do?

Here I admit that I am no expert on these matters and thus ask: what ways of presenting visual material are portable from one environment to another with 100% guarantee of success?

I look forward to your suggestions!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mixing genres

That is, do not mix genres in worship services.

Let me explain!

The flow of a service (the smoothness with which one part connects with another) is a key to a great service (that is, a service in which God is worshipped reverently, and worshippers feel connected with God).

Various things contribute to 'flow' (including, e.g., the words/silences used by a leader to link different parts of the service). One of those things is genres appropriate to each part of the service. ('Genres' refers to the kind of content of each part: prayers, notices, songs, sermon, confession, sharing the peace, etc).

It's not rocket science to work out that a 'Go out to the world in mission' song is not an appropriate genre for the opening song of a service, or to work out that the appropriate genre to follow the 'confession' is an 'absolution'.

But genres can get mixed up, and this we do well to avoid. Here is a current 'classic': a wide spread phenomenon in our church (in my experience) in these days of hygienic anxiety about how to receive wine at communion, and other concerns such as offering both wine and grape juice, is the issuing of instructions about reception of the elements at communion.

But where and how are these instructions to be offered? Again, in my experience, it is common practice to issue these instructions at the last possible moment before reception. I suggest this is an unfortunate 'mixing of genres'! What is the eucharistic prayer but a prayer of remembrance and thanksgiving and narrative intended to lead us to a joyful, yet solemn moment of fellowship with God. What are instructions? They are 'utilities' of the service, like domestic servants of a noble house. They should be seen and heard as little as possible, and certainly should not interrupt the important moments of a service. In this particular case their announcement (it is my personal conviction) is intrusive, disruptive, and detrimental to the flow of worship and to the experience of communion with God through reception of Christ's body and blood.

What to do? Here are two suggestions. (1) Print instructions which are not otherwise announced in the news bulletin or on a media screen (2) (Where (1) is not possible) Make announcements just before The Peace.

If this is not a problem in your local church, do not worry, there are other mixing of genres to avoid ... I may post on those another time!

Monday, November 9, 2009

John and Rodney illustration for sermons

Yesterday I had an idea for a sermon illustration involving our Prime Minister, John Key, and the leader of the ACT Party (and cabinet minister), Rodney Hide. This morning I can improve on the illustration due to a development in last night's news! In yesterday morning's sermon the initial illustration was used in a sermon on Hebrews 9:24-28 (Jesus dying once for all for our sins). Here goes ...

Our Prime Minister is definitely the most relaxed Prime Minister in our history. Nothing seems to trouble him, and he is very generous and accommodating when people make mistakes. Recently Rodney Hide, at a fund-raising breakfast for his party made some remarks about John Key which were unfair and untrue: that one year into his role, he had achieved nothing. The media got hold of these remarks and there was a bit of controversy about them. John Key himself responded by saying that Hide's remarks were no big deal, and Rodney Hide explained that they were jokey remarks not intended to be taken seriously.

I think many Kiwis are hoping God is like John Key, and our situation before God as sinners is like Rodney Hide's. On the one hand we are hoping that when we appear before God to account for our lives, God will say, 'Nothing you have done is a big deal!' On the other hand we would like to explain that nothing we have done to apparently offend God was intended to be serious.

The reality, of course, is that our sin - our rebellion against God, our behaviour to other people - is very serious and we need help ... Christ as our Saviour ... etc.

Later yesterday another twist in the tale offers an improvement and extension of the illustration, or, on second thoughts, perhaps a whole new illustration:

Rodney Hide has been involved in another media story in recent weeks, concerning claims that he inappropriately used taxpayer funds to fly his girlfriend overseas. This story has had a particular edge because Hide, when in opposition, was ruthless in exposing politician's misspending ways. Last night on national TV, Hide apologised to the nation for his actions, said he would repay the funds involved, and (I think I read this correctly) vowed never to spend taxpayer funds on overseas travel again.

In this situation New Zealand and its people are like God - the God who takes wrongdoing seriously and is intolerant of misbehaviour. Initially Hide was like a sinner who hopes God overlooks certain sins. But then the light of the Word (i.e. the media) confronted him with the reality of the need for atonement of his wrongdoing and a real repentance in which the direction of one's life is turned around with a resolve not to offend God again. In this case Hide was able to make atonement for his sin in a straightforward manner (by writing a cheque), but in our case as sinners before God, things are not so straightforward, and we need help - the help only Jesus our Saviour and High Priest can give ...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Liturgical flow

When we have not played golf or tennis for a while then our strokes may be a bit awkward at first, our rhythm unsettled, and the splayed shots will tell us and our playing companions that we have no 'flow' to our game. But flow in these sports can be achieved - through practice, working on technique and the like.

When leading services, 'flow' makes all the difference between the congregation leaving the church building feeling they have been at a 'something' or at a 'service of worship'.

One tip is to refer to God as we introduce each component part of the whole service.

Consider the difference between:

"Let's pray now. Judy is our intercessor this week. That's it Judy, come on up to the microphone."


"Let's continue in God's presence as we bring our intercessions and thanksgivings to God. As Judy comes forward let's sit or kneel to pray.'


'We have a worship bracket now. Come on everyone. Let's stand as the music group leads us in the first song. Is that song up on the screen? What? Yes? Oh, good.'


'What a wonderful God we serve. Let's worship God in song now by standing and singing, "Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing".'

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Family Service tips

I went to a well constructed family service today. Points which stand out are:

(1) Involving the whole congregation in acting out the gospel story: once Jesus, Bartimaeus, and Twelve Disciples were selected out, the rest of the congregation became the crowd.

(2) The 'message' came through the mix of reading and acting and modest additional comment.

(3) The intercessions also involved the whole congregation - divided into groups per major topic, and requested to come up with items for prayer. No one was asked to pray - the intercessor did the praying - so no embarrassing pressure on people.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Value in variance

Preached twice in one parish today with significant variation in the two liturgies. One by the book, three hymns, well led intercessions: lovely. One just a little by the book, quite a few songs, but good choices, lovely charismatic feel to the service, plus good informality around some community life (notices, catching up on a significant funeral which took place during the week past): lovely also!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Preaching from the lectionary

Lectionary preaching offers challenges, especially speaking from all the readings in the one sermon. But it is worth doing. One 'trick' I find useful is to major on one of the readings, but to use the other readings as minor contributors to the sermon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The basics matter

I guess I am like an annoying cracked record on this one ... but it needs stating (it seems to me): Pay attention to the basics in order to get worship services working well:

- sound: people like to hear - what does it take to enable people to hear each and every participant?

- song choices: some work better than others, some suit this occasion but not that occasion ... it takes time, prayer and reflection!

- position: it matters where things are delivered from - be as close to the centre as possible.

- flow: want your service to be a 'great' service? then attend to the flow from one part to another, from one participant to the next.

There are other basics - 'cause they are basics, they all need attending to. But, in my view, the effort is always worth it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What is the most satisfactory pew Bible?

This question is a little different to the question 'what is the best Bible translation?' or 'what is the least partisan Bible translation in publication today?' (see here and the comments on it on Anglican Down Under).

Some Bibles are better for reading aloud than others - even proponents of the English Standard Version, for example, have recognised (in my hearing) that it is not a great Bible for reading in church. Nevertheless, for some vicars and vestries, a determining factor will be the answer to the first two questions above: if people are going to follow the preacher, and preacher and people together are going to study the Bible, then the best ever or least partisan Bible is the way to go.

But the reality is that as one travels from church to church, and for whatever reasons it has happened, a variety of Bible translations sit in our pews. In my own circuits I have seen New Living Translation, Good News Bible, Contemporary English Version. I think Today's New International Version is in one church nearby.

So, I am open to comments on the specific matter of 'the most satisfactory pew Bible' in your estimation! (I would prefer not to host a discussion about the best Bible translation ever).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What kind of bishop do you have in your diocese? Rogue or prefect!

Mostly this blog concerns lay worship leaders, lay preachers, deacons and priests. But we might permit ourselves from time to time to reflect on the episcopacy!

At least by pointing to an interesting reflection by another person, in this case the retiring Bishop of Portsmouth - Kenneth Stevenson's final presidential address!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Clips on preaching

Recently in the Diocese of Nelson we have been running some training sessions on preaching. Included in the sessions have been some clips from YouTube, or as we call it, The Lord's Own Worldwide Preaching School :).

Below are a few of those links:





Sunday, September 6, 2009

Creating great collects rather than cringing parodies

What is a collect? How do we tell a good collect from a bad collect? What framework can we follow to write a great collect rather than something which is a cringing parody of the real thing?

I have no wisdom to offer other than this link to the master of collects @ Liturgy!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A new wave in Anglican worship?

Todd Hunter is hitting the Anglican media waves a bit because, well, what if you find out ... try "Todd Hunter ACNA" on Google!

But here he is, in a Christianity Today interview, just before ordination as an Anglican bishop making some intriguing claims about the future of religion in the West, and the role of Anglican liturgy in that future.

Three page version here.

One page version here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This could be the worst sermon ever preached

H/T to Clayboy

How to preach? Do not worry about the maths of the Bible and its verses (which are a human aid to reading the text). God's mathematics are embedded in the beauty of the cosmos and its myriads of atoms, not encoded into Scripture. Generally trust Bible publishers and translators. Understand that some parts of the published Bible, such as Mark 16:9-20, are worth reading even if we are not sure whether they are original to the hand of the author of Mark's Gospel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Some things money cannot buy

Mark Chamberlain and I have returned from a lovely trip to the West Coast, leading two training sessions on preaching (Greymouth one night, Westport the next). Some feedback suggests the sessions went well. Particularly appreciated was the fact that we did not do all the talking! Apart from some discussion, some input via some excellent YouTube clips researched by Mark, on each night we had several preachers give five minute excerpts from sermons (followed by some appreciative feedback).

It was a great privilege to hear these sermon excerpts. The range of preachers included those new to the task and those very experienced. Among many things we reflected on, one thing stands out for me: there is no substitute for experience. Money can buy training videos and books. It can pay for the travel costs and stipends of people such as Mark and me (thank you to various trusts). But money cannot buy experience when it comes to preaching. So ...

... vicars and priests-in-charge, please, appropriate to your parish, make as many opportunities available to your lay preachers as possible ... lay preachers, take up all the opportunities you are given!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The role of the Virgin Mary in devotion

By some standards I am a bit too Protestant when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. All Protestants including myself should honour and respect Mary in accordance with what Scripture teaches us about her, from being the one marked out by God to bear Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to the one who demonstrated in various ways before and after Jesus' birth that she was a singularly devoted servant of God. But this biblically grounded honour and respect is extended in the case of Mary (compared, say, to devoted servants of God such as Paul or Mary Magdalene) in some Christian traditions to a veneration of and a trust in a human person which, well, raises questions for me. The essential question being, is this extension supported by Scripture? In the communion of the saints in the days before Pentecost, for example, in the words of a great saint of my childhood and youth, the first Christians prayed with Mary and not to (or through) her (Acts 1)!

Well, be that as it may, I happily draw attention - a few days after Mary's feast, 15 August - to two reflections on Mary. One is by Bosco Peters, Anglican priest and Liturgy's presiding compiler, the other by Catherine Fox, ex-Baptist, clergyman's wife, and novelist.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The power of the read Word of God

Mark Thompson (Sydney) has blogged about a lecture given by Ashley Null (the world's foremost expert on Cranmer) in a series on repentance in classical Anglicanism. Mark writes (italics mine):

"I have always thought that Cranmer's emphasis on the unadorned reading of Scripture, the prominence of the lectionary in his liturgical reforms etc., was a product of his commitment to the clarity of Scripture (a commitment he held in common with the continental reformers, especially Luther). No doubt that is true but there is another stream that feeds this river.

In line with Fisher and Reuchlin, Cranmer apparently accepted an essentially neoplatonic understanding of Scripture. The Homily on Holy Scripture reveals his conviction that the Holy Spirit imparts saving grace through the administration of Scripture. God works supernaturally through Scripture to change lives. At one point he is even able to describe Scripture as 'the most holy relic remaining on earth' [This, in Cranmer's Preface to the Great Bible].

Hooker apparently held similar views. This reinforced the conviction that the centrepiece of Christian liturgy is the bare reading of Scripture. Scripture is read without comment or gloss, not only because it does not need them by virtue of its own clarity, but also because Scripture in and of itself is a means of grace. This stands somewhat in contrast to the 'Puritan' stress on the centrality of exposition and preaching."

Now, here is a question: how effective is Scripture as a means of grace when it is poorly read?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Two arguments for the use of the RCL, and an important suggestion

Bosco Peters is continuing an important series of posts on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the second posted here.

I endorse all he says there, but wish to draw attention here to three matters (especially to colleagues, lay and ordained, in the Diocese of Nelson): two arguments for the use of the RCL in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and a suggestion in respect of Bible teaching in parishes.

Two arguments

An obvious argument is that it is a matter of our church's canons that we use the lectionary. On page 409 of NZPB, for example, the rubric or liturgical instruction is "The appointed readings follow", which means that lectionary readings are to be used. By itself this rubric is not an argument for the use of the RCL because our church permits the use of a two year lectionary cycle as well as the three year RCL. But there are good arguments for the RCL being the better of the two lectionaries (e.g. because it offers a more comprehensive coverage of Scripture), so the combination of the rubric and the advantages of the RCL combine to be an argument for its use.

Bosco Peters introduces a very important second argument when he says,

"I think there is always a danger from some to turn liturgy into rubrical fundamentalism – always following the instructions of our liturgies to the letter solely because these instructions are there. I am far more interested in understanding the reasoning and principles underneath our rubrics (liturgical instructions). This post, hence, will look at some of the advantages of following the lectionary as well as examining some alternatives."

The importance of this introduction, of course, is that it explicitly proposes an argument with more depth and breadth of vision than a "these are the rules, keep them" argument (which the first argument above could be interpreted as being). Bosco goes on to make the argument that there is no better system than the RCL for systematically reading and preaching through as much of Scripture, as efficiently as possible, in the course of worship services.

His subsidiary argument is that some schemes for reading and preaching through Scripture, despite language and appearances to the contrary, are in reality inferior to the RCL. To give one example (following Bosco, but in my own words): a scheme for preaching through the Bible one chapter per week would take 1189 (chapters) divided by 52 weeks = 22.87 years. Even allowing for, say, avoidance of 305 chapters because they were repetitive, extremely boring, or pointless (e.g. all the chapters of Esther make just one point so one would not need to preach on each chapter), this scheme would still take 17 years!

Another argument of Bosco Peters is worth noting, but I do not think it is quite as compelling as the first two for evangelical Anglicans who, almost by nature, are not drawn to get excited about conformity with the larger community of Christians. This argument is that when we follow the RCL we join with the majority of the Christians of the world in reading the same passages on the same day. (Personally I like this argument very much: it is spiritually exciting to know that this particular 'unity-in-Scripture' is being shared around the world; and it is very Anglican to engage in as much 'common prayer' with other Christians as possible).

An important suggestion

It could be objected by some evangelical Anglicans that preaching according to the RCL exposes the congregation to a series of short passages of Scripture, as well as compelling the congregation to hear three passages of Scripture each week, when the better value for expository preaching might be to have one reading, and for it to be a whole chapter. Thus an adherence to RCL might mitigate against a form of deep and learned expository preaching at length in the course of Sunday worship.

Bosco Peters' suggestion is that we take up a bigger vision for the exposure of God's people to God's Word:

"The Sunday Eucharist ought not to be the only encounter that Christians have with the scriptures. Christians ought regularly to be encouraged to read a book as a whole, for example. Mark’s gospel, our focus this year for example, takes only little more than an hour to read. A Christian community can provide other opportunities for encountering the scriptures in a deeper way – not just individually or in small groups, but online. I am amazed when communities are not providing online resources and discussions to facilitate the deeper, ongoing, systematic, continual working through the scriptures to complement what is provided Sunday by Sunday in their common worship."

In other words, if the vicar wants to preach through Ezekiel chapter by chapter, other opportunities exist such as a Sunday night preaching service or a midweek lunchtime or evening Bible study meeting.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Can the RCL be improved to be a better vehicle for reflecting biblical scholarship?

I share this comment from Dave Clancey (to a post below about the lectionary) in the hope that further light may be shed on the mysteries of the RCL's choices:

"I share your beef about the 'continuous' nature of the RCL. And while I can appreciate Bosco's point about texts coming up in other places in the year, that argument appears to assume that texts can be picked up and moved around in the canon - that what is important is the simple fact that they are read - and where they are read is of less importance. But the Bible hasn’t been constructed like that – as so many have been so keen to point out, God has not given us a set of divine propositions – rather he has given us carefully crafted literature.

For example, I’m sure you, like me, are currently preaching through Mark’s gospel. Yet the RCL omitted the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, and thus omitted a clear piece of the evidence which Mark offers as to the authority held by Christ – over nature (4:35-41), disease (5:25-34), and even death (5:21-24; 35-43).

Similarly, the Markan sandwich of the sending out of 12 (6:7-13; 30) which is arranged around the account of Herod and John the Baptist was set out in the RCL over three weeks!

I note too that later in the year that account of the ‘partial’ healing in Mark 8:22-26 is omitted. I’m not sure how we’re to preach on Peter’s confession of Christ 8:29 and Jesus’ subsequent rebuke in the following verses without first dealing with Christ’s miracle in 8:22-26. So I share your beef – now all we need is to figure out what to do about it!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Power Point can be good

I will be a little lazy this week.

Here is a lovely post by Lisa Fox, describing a visit to a new church plant somewhere in the States - an Episcopal church plant, so "BCP" = the (American) Book of Common Prayer. Read it all here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Using the lectionary to evangelical advantage

With the help of Bosco Peters of Liturgy I am getting my head around some of the intricacies of the Revised Common Lectionary. For instance, one beef I have with RCL, indeed with any lectionary offering continuous readings through books of the Bible is that it will (apparently) miss a passage. But sometimes, as Bosco has pointed out to me, with due diligence, one can come across the passage elsewhere in the year. Thus Romans 13:1-7 might be missed out, only to pop up on a day with political significance such as July 4th. That, of course, means that lectionaries come from a context, and we in Aotearoa New Zealand might need to do some work on making appropriate contextual adjustments when we source our version of a lectionary such as the RCL from another country!

But the matter I wish to underline here re the RCL is that it's origins in the Roman Catholic church should not cloud its advantages for evangelical preachers. For (ideally) what do evangelical preachers want to do? We want to preach the Word of God - the whole Word of God written, and nothing but that Word. In reality few if any preachers follow the simple plan of starting in Genesis 1 and working through to Revelation 22. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible. If one preached a chapter each Sunday morning and a chapter each Sunday evening this simple plan would take 595 Sundays, or more than 11 years. Longer if only one sermon per Sunday; even longer if we felt that some parts of the Bible deserved more than one sermon per chapter! Most preachers of evangelical persuasion actually have a more modest aim: to preach through as much of the Bible as reasonable in a given cycle of years, reserving the right to begin with the richest material (Paul's epistles, for example), to spend less time in the Old Testament than the New (despite the former being longer than the latter), and to skip or skate through the thinnest chapters (has anyone ever preached through every chapter of Jeremiah, especially the last 15 or so?). In other words, few if any evangelical preachers simply start at the beginning of the Bible and soldier through to the end. Some scheme, according to some design is followed, in which preaching through the Bible is 'well-managed'.

Some of us will have experienced evangelical contexts in which there is no long-term scheme, a clue to which is given when one is invited to preach and told, 'just speak on whatever the Lord puts in your heart'!

Here is where the RCL comes in for evangelicals: it is a scheme for preaching through Scripture, it has a design, it is well thought out and reflects the wisdom of many minds, not just one. The added bonus is that when we preach to the RCL we enable our hearers to share in the common experience of millions of Christians around the world all listening to the same Scriptures being read. The sermon we offer will be different to the minister or priest's offering down the road and over in Rio de Janeiro, but it's foundation will be the same. Thus we might contribute to a true joining in prayer and praise with 'all the saints'!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I like this! Is your church's advertising this witty ...?


. . . where Jesus Christ is worshiped,
His word is taught,
and His disciples grow
in faith, grace, good works, truth, and love!

Want your Sunday mornings to be dry & boring,
filled with Blah, Blah, Blah?

"This is the thrilling romance of orthodoxy.
People have fallen into a foolish habit
of speaking of orthodoxy as something
heavy, humdrum, and safe.
There never was anything so perilous or so exciting
as orthodoxy."
(G. K. Chesterton)

See this church's website in technicolour detail here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Start preachers young

I think I was about 18 when I first preached a sermon. Spasmodically through the years that followed I was invited to preach - a particular hat-tip to three vicars through those years, Paul Hammonds, Derek Eaton, and John Meadowcroft, who made those opportunities available. Then I was ordained and opportunities came more frequently. If today I have any thing to offer through preaching it has been through experience, and reflective learning on it. I am very glad for an early start.

Yesterday I was at two different services and, as it happened, at each service a young person preached. Indeed for one of the young men it was his first sermon ever! Both preached well and both should be given many opportunities to preach again. The future of the church depends on many things - we rightly emphasise good leadership, great liturgy, prayer power, vision, training, ability to adapt to changing circumstances and the like. But it will not be a better future than the present if there is not good preaching - inspiring, generative, evangelistic, didactic preaching that brings the whole counsel of the Word of God written to God's church.

So, personally, but I hope for you also, it's a matter of great encouragement to hear people considerably younger than myself preach with present ability and future potential!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Especially for Kiwi Anglicans

Our church has released a new set of liturgical resources, providing collects, sentences and readings which line up with the three year RCL cycle.

Allegedly they "replace" certain pages in our Prayer Book, but I don't know about that as these pages have not been formally approved by General Synod and diocesan synods. (The argument that they simply reorganize resources already approved does not wash with me. Liturgical formularies are about the rubrics, the options (and, in this case of providing just one collect per Sunday, the non-options), as much as about the content of prayers).

Anyway, as a free offering to the life of our church, these resources which have been circulated by dioceses (some or all? not sure) are available online:

For Feast Days

For Sundays

For good collects for each Sunday of the year (as well as for feast days), I encourage you to visit Liturgy weekly.

If you have any comments to make by way of evaluation of the collects in the material I have posted to the above links, please let me know.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Admirer or follower?

Last Sunday I was privileged to hear my bishop, Richard Ellena, preach. His sermon is worth a note because it was not only very good but also because it provided a great example for all aspiring preachers. I won't go into detail because he may yet preach the sermon in your parish!

But the stand out modelling feature of the sermon was the simple, straightforward, memorable theme he preached to - a theme he kept coming back to, and which was repeated at the foot of every Power Point slide he showed.

His theme was a challenge to every person present, indeed a challenge to himself as preacher. It went to the heart of being a Christian, to what it means to live as a Christian. It was not an abstract, let alone abstruse lesson in doctrinal theology!

Admirer or Follower?

You can just about imagine the points he made! Many people admire Jesus, few actually follow him. In what category do we fall?

I will stop there. He had some great real life illustrations to reinforce the message.

A simple theme. A challenging question. From that a great sermon was constructed!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Best thing since sliced bread

There are quite a few candidates for the award for the best thing since sliced bread but my current nomination is Broadband+YouTube. Below I posted about a lovely video from a church in Peterborough, England. Here are a few more, all YouTube but found (save one) via a wonderful blog called BabyBlueOnline which is a mix of commentary/news on things Anglican and music videos, especially featuring Bob Dylan. I like a bit of Dylan myself, but BabyBlue shares my taste in inspiring contemporary Christian music, and, hey, Stravinsky's amazing too. I managed to source the Gregorian chant by myself :)

But why post these here? Three thoughts:
(i) how would church work with a laptop, projector and broadband connection? No need to fish round with those CDs, just YouTube up the next song! Whoops. Maybe we could replace the preacher also!

(ii) music has incredible power, especially when performed live and when performed to the highest standards. How do we ensure great music in each and every church?

(iii) music has amazing range: Stravinsky and Dylan, Hillsong and Gregorian chant are incredibly different and yet united in being music ... all speak to the heart, soul and mind - the body too as we instinctively tap our feet and clap our hands! The best of worship in a service will be a speaking to the heart, soul, mind and body. In what ways can music extend the range of diversity in our services while helping to unite us?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This is worth a watch

I guess my personal bugbear about great large musically dominated churches is not that they are great large musically dominated churches. At the top of their game they are fantastic and, surely, closer to the great worship amphitheatre of heaven than downbeat Anglicans mumbling into our prayer-books. No, it's that attempting to imitate such services in different contexts, can be, well, less than inspiring. (PS For those at worship with me on Sunday 14th June: both services I attended were lovely, inspiring, 'worth coming back to next week' services).

But it's good to be reminded of the real thing - the following YouTube is worth watching/listening to the service AND to Chris Moyles' commentary over the top of it: choice! (H/T to Re-vis.e Ref-form)

Liturgy and Dynamic Anglicanism

This week a bit more content than usual, if you go to this PDF form of a session in yesterday's Post Ordination Ministry Training:

I am calling it, Liturgy and Dynamic Anglicanism.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Turning the liturgical tide?

Over on Anglican Down Under I have posted a question about growing churches using the liturgy:

"do we have any parishes which are (a) growing numerically, and/or (b) decreasing the average age of Sunday worshippers present at services by faithfully following one of the main eucharistic services in our prayer book (while offering creativity in music, preaching, children's talks etc in the course of this faithful following of the rubrics and content of the liturgy)?"

So far no answers in the positive!

But here on this site it is worth thinking a little about using the liturgies from the Red Prayer Book (NZPB): if a parish were to use page 404 at its 10.00 am Sunday service and expect to see the service growing and/or lowering its average age of Sunday worshippers, how might this happen?

What answer would you give?

I suspect the answer might have to differ depending on the starting point. For example, from an existing but somewhat moribund page 404 10.00 am service, one could work on aspects of the service. As already hinted above, music and children's talks are key to transformation. Both tackle the culture of the service and therefore affect the climate of expectation about the service. One change could be quite simple, 'There's nothing in the service for my child' to 'Good, there is something for my child. She really looks forward to the children's talk each week.' There is a lot more which can be worked on: Sunday School, creche, fellowship before and after the service, the way the intercessions are led, the length, style, and content of the sermon, and so on.

With respect to the 'age profile' of the service I would especially work on the age profile of the upfront leaders and contributors to the service. From the front an expectation emerges about who is most welcome at the service. (Note that 'work on the age profile' does not mean making any one age group of contributors redundant; but it does mean pro-actively seeking out representatives from missing generations).

But what if the current service is somewhat liturgically removed from page 404? Would there be any point in changing such a service by conforming it to page 404? Well, it would be a hiding to nothing if the current service fills the church and the music in it lifts the rafters. But the possibility of change is manifesting itself in some parish churches where the church is far from full, the age profile is creeping upwards (again!), and the singing is somewhat desultory. But were change embarked on, it would require the best possible practice of the (so-called) change process. Slow evolution might be better than revolution. I would particularly work on the music, the children's talk, and the sermon.

And, in any situation, I would watch the length of the service like a hawke. Our generations, young and old, are busy (rightly or wrongly). We know when the service is meant to start. It is very helpful knowing when it is going to end!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If you read anything in 2009, please read this

The unity of the church is based solely on the common truth we share together. But what is the common truth we share (in particular, as Anglican Christians)? John Richardson has posted something extremely important (IMHO). This is it's beginning:

"Recently I spent an hour looking at (as it happens) the Ship of Fools discussion forums —but the same would be true of numerous Protestant blogs and websites —and I have come to the conclusion that what we see represented there is not Christianity, in the strict sense, at all. Rather, what Cardinal Newman said in the 19th century is undoubtedly true of many modern believers who think of themselves as Christian:

“Protestants, generally speaking, have not faith, in the primitive meaning of that word ...”

The problem is, we do not see ‘faith’ as trusting in a received tradition passed on to us through others, as it originally was. Instead, ‘faith’ has come to mean a completely individualistic, ‘pick and mix’, self-made religion. It is ‘my faith’, not ‘the Church’s faith’, around which I organize my life. Pretending to be disciples —learners —of Christ, we have enthroned ourselves as the final aribiters of what is true.

The result is chaos, at the individual and corporate level. The present-day struggles of Anglicanism are simply the logical outcome of allowing everyone, doctrinally, to do ‘what is right in his or her own eyes’."

Please read the whole post.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Expect the unexpected

I got caught out while giving a children's talk today. I thought I would follow standard procedure for a children's talk: have a prop. Today is Pentecost so I thought I would make a cake, put a candle on it, and talk about how Pentecost is the birthday of the church.

Into my stride in the talk I asked whose birthday it might be. "The Queen's" piped up an enterprising young lad. I was floored - momentarily - for indeed, this weekend is 'Queen's Birthday Weekend"*. The answer was 100% correct and 100% not the answer I was looking for! Well, somehow I worked around that (one good thing being, of course, that the adults thought this young boy's answer very funny, thus they were well engaged with the talk).

But it was a reminder about ministry - esp., perhaps, with children - that we must expect the unexpected and find ways to work with or around the unexpected!

*For overseas readers, Queen Elizabeth's real birthday is in April, but here in New Zealand we celebrate it with a public holiday on the first Monday in June.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roast Dinner or Sandwiches and Savouries?

Sometimes when out and about I am offered a lunch which consists of sandwiches, savouries, and (on a good day for taste but bad day for waist) cakes. Normally I munch my way through sufficient to feel full. But I have noticed I do not always feel satisfied. At least not in comparison to a roast dinner with trimmings and pudding to follow.

Sermons are like that too. Some are filled with bits and pieces: thoughts, observations, even occasional references to the text of the readings! Like a sandwiches and savouries lunch they fill up but do not satisfy. Others lead to satisfaction like a roast dinner. The secret? I suggest it is the preacher sticking to the text, digging deep into its meaning for today, and offering up the learnings from the deeper dig. Preferably this is not the regurgitation of an encyclopaedia article but allowing the text to speak for itself. People do not live by bread alone but by every word which comes out of the mouth of God.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reading the Bible in Church

I suspect that if you visited ten different churches over the next ten Sundays then you would find a variable quality to the Bible readings (probably a variable number in each service, too :) ).

Is there anything preventing a uniform high standard across all our churches?

Here are some rules or, if you do not like that word, recommendations:

1. The reader should announce the Bible reading first (and any page reference in pew Bibles only second).

2. The Bible reading should be announced in accordance with the manner prescribed in NZPB.

3. Normally no explanation of the reading, or chapter or section heading should be announced. (An exception would be where the preacher requested an explanation because this would assist hearers to make sense of a reading which, say, began mid-point during a long narrative).

4. The Bible reading should be read in a clear strong voice, with modulation of tone and volume appropriate to the reading.

5. The reading should conclude with the ending prescribed in NZPB and the congregation should respond with the appropriate response.

Oh, and then there is a 6th recommendation: if the shape of the service requires announcement that the reading or readings are now going to occur, then the service leader should say something suitable and honouring of the authority of Scripture by way of introduction:

Not, 'Now we will have the readings', but:

'Let's listen to God's Word being read to us'


' Please sit for the readings from Holy Scripture'.

If we believe Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and given to equip us for ministry, then hearing it read to us is a high point in the service.

Monday, May 11, 2009

St John the Evangelist

Occasionally some sermons of mine seem to go well. Here is one delivered last week in the College of St John the Evangelist on the feast day of the same:

The Feast of St John the Evangelist
1 John 1; John 21:19b-25

Three questions: Who was John? What is his gospel? What does this mean to us celebrating this Feast?

Who was John?
Is he John the Son of Zebedee?
He could be, for this gospel makes this leading character of the other canonical gospels into an almost anonymous figure, consistent with being the author who diminishes himself in order that Jesus might be glorified.
Is he another John, a Jerusalem based disciple who may be among those shadowy cast of figures in Jerusalem according to the other gospels who supply dining rooms and donkeys for Jesus?
We do not know. Either gives reason to think he was ‘the Beloved Disciple.’
But whoever this author was, he is rightly described in tradition as ‘the Evangelist’.
He writes in order that his readers may believe in Jesus Christ.
But if John’s purpose is clear, his content is puzzling.
Side by side with the Synoptic gospels, his gospel challenges us with its omission of the parables, inclusion of discourses and ‘I am’ sayings not found elsewhere. Then there is the question of its chronology:
how can the cleansing of the Temple be both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ ministry?
How can John’s Gospel be true when read alongside the Synoptic Gospels?
I suggest that the key lies in understanding the relationship of the Beloved Disciple to Jesus:
in 13:23, 25 and 21:20 this disciple is the one who reclines close to Jesus at the last supper.
13:23 employs the word kolpos (bosom, heart, side) in its description of this intimacy, the same word used in 1:18:
‘No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’
The Beloved Disciple
who we also know as John the Evangelist makes Jesus known to us with the insight that intimacy affords, just as Jesus the Son has made God the Father known to us.
Thus John is confident, like all evangelists, that his message is both true and important,
for it comes from the heart of God via the heart of Christ.

What was his gospel?
Miracle at Cana is our clue, backed by all the Johannine signs:
water to wine, illness to health, paralysis to movement, a few loaves become a feast, blindness to sight, death to resurrection …
John’s gospel is the transformation of life through union with Christ:
‘the signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:30-31)
This happens through union with Christ which begins with belief in Christ:
‘I am the vine, you are the branches, … apart from me you can do nothing’, 15:5.
So one important summary of John’s Gospel of transformation through union with Christ is John 10:10:
‘I have come that you may have life in abundance’.
Either the Evangelist or an associate writes the First letter of John:
his words provide an alternative summary of the Johannine gospel message:
‘our theme is the Word which gives life’ (1:1 REB).

Celebrating this Feast, in this College, what does this mean?
I note that a recent draft of the College’s strategic plan speaks about ‘preparing students to be sent out from the College confidently equipped to be transformative, healing and reconciling agents in the name of Christ’.
In terms of John’s Gospel we could say that this means that the College of St John the Evangelist is preparing students to be sent out as evangelists,
as agents of transformation of life through union with Christ.
That could also mean that St John the Evangelist leaves us with some questions today:
(1) Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
(2) Has your life been transformed by his life?
There is no ministry unless we are the branches joined to Jesus Christ the vine: ‘apart from me, you can do nothing’.
We cannot be agents of a transformation we have not experienced ourselves.

May you and I each encounter Jesus and be transformed by him so that we too may serve the gospel mission as evangelists in the mould of St. John.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Synaxis refers to the gathering for action at the beginning of a service; it is a name for the first part of the eucharistic service.

Here I want to suggest that the action of gathering at the very beginning of a service is worth some careful reflection. I have been in a few services lately where guests have been present. As the service has unfolded I have wondered whether the 'feel' of the service might have been improved if we had exchanged greetings at the beginning of a service. When this happens we are in fellowship through the service as friends rather than strangers.

Note that I have said 'exchange of greetings' rather than 'Exchange of (the) Peace'. The latter should always take place at its proper place between the Synaxis and the Eucharist proper. The former, I am suggesting, has a place in some situations, especially those where either the special character of the service or the special day in which the service takes place warrants it as guests are present.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

In praise of 8 am

Last Sunday my wife, son and I went to an 8 am Holy Communion service. We departed the church at 8.29 am. That the three of us doubled the congregation may give you the seed-germ of a significant part of the explanation as to why the service was not longer. (Another part is that there were no hymns).

I do not want to offer a view here as to whether an 8 am service should be as concise as the one above or longer, include or exclude hymns, be in the main body of the church or in a side chapel.

But I do want to praise 8 am services in the Anglican tradition, that is, communion services which are normally quiet, dignified, spartan, time-disciplined acts of worship.

I think it may be me growing older but I find myself with ever deepening yearnings toward quiet and dignified worship(what is happening for you?). The classic, traditional Anglican 8 am service fills this yearning. (Though it is not the only means - other services at other times of the day can do this, e.g. Evensong and Compline. An advantage of 8am on a Sunday over evening services is that one gets to church before the unexpected calls of the day intrude with their potential to prevent one from participating in evening worship).

I like 8 am Communion. I hardly ever get to this service. Last week was a treat!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Drifting away

I have an idea that a neglected area of church life is ministry to those who once were part of us but are no longer. Naturally we get caught up with the people who come to church. But there are quite a few 'once were worshippers' out and about. Did they leave vowing never to come again? Was their departure a deliberative act of unbelief? Possibly. But probably it was a combination of things, perhaps none of which was significant in itself, with all combining to cause 'drifting away'.

Here is a note from a larger article in connection with North America:

"More Americans have given up their faith or changed religions because of a gradual spiritual drift than switched because of a disillusionment over their churches' policies, according to a new study released today which illustrates how personal spiritual attitudes are taking precedence over denominational traditions.

The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is the first large-scale study of the reasons behind Americans switching their religious faith and found that more than half of people have done so at least once during their lifetime.

Almost three-quarters of Catholics and Protestants who are now unaffiliated with a religion said they had "just gradually drifted away" from their faith. And more than three-quarters of Catholics and half of Protestants currently not associated with a faith said that, over time, they stopped believing in their religion's teachings."

Hat-tip to Titus One Nine. The whole article in the Washington Post may be read here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paring down

Yesterday I preached on John 20:19-end, with Acts 4:32-35 - readings for Easter 1. Recently I have begun (again) to write my sermon notes on computer - after years of writing them on the back of envelopes. When I went to save yesterday's sermon into my Sermon folder I noticed some sermons saved there from 2002. I thought it would be interesting to see what I had to say for Easter 1 in that year.

It was. I was horrified to see how complicated my sermon was: main points and sub-points. More a lecture than a sermon.

I think yesterday's sermon was a vast improvement in 2002. The difference was in 'paring down': aiming for as simple and as straightforward a sermon as possible, both in terms of structure and of content.

In the course of preparing my sermon I think I improved it hugely from first draft to final draft. The key to this improvement was greater attention to stories from the world around me. In a word I think I managed to come up with a simple, relevant message which engaged with the two readings for the day, and did so with greater competency than in 2002.

Of course you would have to ask the hearers whether my improved message was a good message!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why is Easter today and not another day?

Bosco Peters has a superb explanation here of the date of Easter, including why it varies from year to year, why it varies between Eastern and Western churches, and why it is different to the Jewish Passover.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday Reflection on Holy Week and Easter Services

It's my intention when I return to parish ministry, to ensure that there are services every day of Holy Week. Not all Anglican parishes do this - and there is not necessarily a strong tradition of such in a 'low' diocese such as Nelson Diocese. (On hearsay, a few parishes have had daily services during this past week).

Incidentally, alarmingly, some parishes are not offering a Maundy Thursday commemoration of the last supper (in some form or another). The bare Anglican minimum for Holy Week is Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, then, of course, Easter Sunday services.

Why might one take on such extra services? One reason is that the gospels themselves devote a large portion of their accounts to the last week of Jesus' pre-resurrection life. All four gospels are alike in this regard. With daily services we can journey together with the aid of the gospels through this significant week.

I have a theory that such services need not be a huge amount of extra work.

Daily services, Monday - Wednesday, need not have a sermon. Even Thursday evening could be sermon free, though I would work on some manner of enabling good reflection time by the congregation (that is, Monday to Wednesday services, during the working week, might be short, say, 5.15 pm- 5.45 pm, or 7.00am or pm-7.30 am or pm; but Thursday evening offers the possibility of a longer format). If it comes to that Good Friday services (whether of the family friendly kind or of the quiet reflective type) do not require a sermon but could work with readings, prayers, and reflection sourced from a resource already published. A service on Holy Saturday could be a simple service of readings and prayers anticipating the great celebration the next morning rather than a 'full Vigil' (i.e. with many readings, fire, and eucharist).

It can be different, and I have experienced the difference! On two successive Maundy Thursday's, for instance, I took part in logistically demanding services. The first was a service full of candles, special music, etc, which involved a large amount of time and energy in preparation, and left the main organisers somewhat exhausted for the remainder of Easter. The next year a 'Passover Meal' approach was taken. (Very nice it was too). Wonderful as such events are, and worth doing when people resources are available, they should not put off a new commitment to daily services through Holy Week since a simple, bare programme of services is possible.

In my mind, also, in this day when few parishes offer evening services, I am reminded that the evening of Easter Day is also an important time in our calendar: Jesus celebrated his first Bible Study and Communion following his resurrection (Luke 24)!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What is the gospel?

I am not going to give an answer here!

But I think this question should be asked every time we prepare a sermon. Indeed, we should ask it every time we prepare a service.

The answer we give to the question may vary around a central core (see the way the four gospels are different yet similar, centred on Jesus) but it should guide our preparation in such a way that what we present through preaching and worship leading renews confidence in the gospel in each member of the congregation.

Have a fruitful Holy Week!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Try to make sermons non-boring

This is a challenge. An easy solution to the problem of boredom and sermons is to not preach ... tell jokes instead ... show a film. But that is no real solution!

A joke or two can help; and certainly telling an engaging story captures congregational attention. As someone once taught me, tell it in the middle and not at the beginning!!

But somewhere in the sermon we will want to give a bit of 'decent content' - some teaching, some doctrine, some theological meat on the bones of the structure. How to make this not boring?

Here are two thoughts:

(1) Language itself can engage attention so choose good words. A recent sermon, for instance, reminded me of the power of contrasting words. Compare these two descriptions:

"Jesus was tough and tender" and "Jesus was able to be assertive as well as to feel sympathy for people and the difficult situations they faced".

The first statement is short (so less likely to lose the attention of its hearers), engaging (the use of contrasting words tough/tender captures attention) and (bonus) memorable. The second statement is none of these things!

(2) Relate content to life this week. If, as is often observed, our congregations are "aging", even "elderly", then there is a good chance that most have already heard the theological content of what we have to say. Nothing much is new to older Christians! But what is new is what has been happening in the past seven days: the economic crisis (which is not, by the way, exactly the same as the Great Depression of the 1930s), debate over global warming, concern over ever younger criminals, the Bishop's Walk. Most of our hearers will not have made connections between 'the world of the past week' and 'the Word of God'. If we can make the connection then we will have something 'new' to say.

That might be the difference between attention and slumber during the sermon!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

McPartlanization of the Church (?!)

John Drane once wrote a provocative book about how the church in the late modernist, early post-modernist period was being constrained by the culture of mediocrity - the culture that leads to the churning out of formulaic products, consistently of the same quality everywhere, such as ultimately boring hamburgers was churning out analogous worship services. It was called the McDonaldization of the Church. Hence my playful title, but this has serious intent. Dr McPartlan is a top Catholic theologian who might just come from the 'nowhere' of congregational ignorance (though he is not unknown 'to those who matter') to be the next Archbishop of Westminster. Ruth Gledhill has posted an excerpt of a book he has written on the Eucharist which is worth re-posting here on a site devoted to things to do with corporate worship:

"'The Eucharist renews the very gift that makes us to be the Church, and it follows that the community dimension of the Eucharist is of the utmost importance.

It is really communities, and ultimately the Church as a whole, that receives the Eucharist, not just lots of individuals. We should always be conscious of those with whom we receive; the Eucharist renews our life as brothers and sisters, caring for one another and working together to bear witness to the communion life of the Kingdom of God.

Our life in Christ begins, of course, with baptism, and people sometimes think that an emphasis on the Eucharist as making the Church detracts from the importance of baptism in making the Church. We must avoid any such impression.

Baptism and Eucharist are both given to us by Christ and therefore there can never be any rivalry between them. Rather we must understand how they fit together.

What baptism begins in us, the Eucharist renews, strengthens and sustains. For instance, in every Eucharist we are washed by the blood of the Lamb, as it says in Revelation 7:14; it is a washing that renews the washing in water that we received in baptism. We must never forget that there is forgiveness in the Eucharist, particularly expressed when we receive under both kinds and drink from the cup of the Lord. In a sense, the Eucharist keeps the grace of our baptism fresh in us until the moment when it is consummated at our death."

The book is The Eucharist: The Body of Christ (though I note that he has also written The Eucharist Makes the Church). Both available from Amazon.

For what it is worth, I think Dr McPartlan is right. The eucharist makes the church for it both defines and nurtures our life as a community in Christ. When some of us worry about the future of the church, do we pay too much attention to statistics, 'future trends', blah, blah, and overlook the eucharist: how we lead it, promote it, honour it's role in the life of the church, attend to its good ordering (finding priests, baptising and confirming people), challenging ourselves to (re-)discover and then maintain the highest possible standards of Ministry of the Word and Ministry of the Sacrament?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Theology and History of our Liturgy (3)

From one of the longer serving members of the Prayer Book Commission which produced the 1989 prayer book of our church, I recently had pointed out to me the reason for the beautiful lines (from Colossians 3:15a, 16a), on p. 408:

"The peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
The word of Christ dwell in us richly."

They provide a fulcrum or hinge in which the service turns from its beginning which concludes with confession and absolution, making our peace with God, to the ministry of the Word through the reading of Scripture, preaching of the Word, and profession of our faith.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Liturgical Resource from NZ

Doing Liturgy in Season’ is a collation of liturgical resources, formed by a specific community (Anglican Parish of St John’s Campbells Bay, Aoteoroa/New Zealand), with the intention of being prophetic and pastoral; building relationships and responding positively to God and to one another.

It includes worship services written and designed for special seasons in the church calendar according to the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary); Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, and thus is relevant worldwide.

Buy this book as a creative resource in designing your own worship services, and for use in personal prayer.

Cost NZ$20.00, plus postage ($2NZ/$5 overseas).

All proceeds go towards parish fundraising.

To purchase a copy:

email Carole Hughes:

or send a request to ‘St John’s Anglican Church, Campbells Bay’,
PO Box 65-029, Mairangi Bay, North Shore, Aotearoa/New Zealand
with cash/cheque enclosed (written out to St John’s Church, Campbells Bay).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Theology and History behind Anglican liturgy (2)

We could say that behind the first phase of Anglican liturgy lies the life of the earliest Christian churches birthed in synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem and then, as Gentile converts were made, in the practices of Roman and Greek temples and shrines. From this background was a disposition to perform a formal act of corporate worship, to meet together for purposes of mutual benefit in the journey of faith, and to pray and to read and explain Scripture, with some singing of psalms and hymns thrown in.

Eventually, distilled so to speak from several streams of influence, two great Christian liturgical rivers emerged. One river was eucharistic worship, daily or weekly enactment of the Last Supper of Jesus, incorporating prayer and Scripture reading; the other river was (for want of a better term) non-eucharistic worship, services in which psalms were said, Scripture was read and prayers were said. Such services were held several times a day in monasteries, twice daily or daily or weekly in homes and in churches. Anglicanism, more I suggest than any other Christian church, has embraced both in its parochial and in its monastic expressions both rivers as core contributors to the water of liturgical life in the church.

Phase Two of Anglican liturgy involved a refining as well as a theological reforming of these two liturgical rivers. The complexities of the multiple daily office services of the medieval church were refined into just two services - Morning Prayer (Mattins) and Evening Prayer (Evensong). Phase Three has been both a refinding of the best parts of Phase One, acknowledging that the refining might have been too stringent, and a reformulating of liturgy, not only to re-incorporate ancient 'best practice', but also the good insights of the post-Reformation church, including the insights of Vatican II, that great conciliar reforming of the modern Roman Catholic church which included a liturgical revolution.

Interwoven into this necessarily summary version of liturgical history has been theological rationale, though at times this rationale has been obscured. In my next post I will attempt to say more about this rationale.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Theology and history behind the Anglican liturgy

"I am really interested in teaching myself and the parish more about the theology and history behind the Anglican liturgy. Over this year I want to explain all aspects of the Anglican service - from the initial greeting to the final blessing."

Where to begin with the task of assisting this exciting teaching project? I cannot think of a book which would do this with respect to the key word 'explain' ... can you? Let me know, please. (One book which is very helpful on the 'how' and 'why' of each aspect of the Anglican service is Bosco Peter's, Celebrating Eucharist, which is available electronically here).

Here are some thoughts and sharing of knowledge gleaned here and there over the years.

First, I find it helpful to think about three phases in the history of Anglican liturgy.

Phase One: between the establishment of Christianity in England (Roman [military], Celtic, and Saxon spreadings of the gospel) and the Reformation, liturgies develop which reflect developments in the wider world of Western and Eastern Christianity since the time of the apostles.

Phase Two: the English Reformation brings (a) one Book of Common Prayer (b) services in this book which are revisions of daily office services and of missals, generally simplifying a complex set of services available for use in Phase One. Of particular note is the Holy Communion service, largely Cranmer's doing, which not only revises wording, but also order of prayers, in order to undo centuries of Romanizing eucharistic practice and to cement in its place a new Protestant understanding. To give just one example: the Offering is taken up well before the eucharistic prayers themselves in order to dissociate any sense of the the people offering up a sacrifice to God (and, to reinforce the point, the prayer in which mention is made of a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is placed after the Lord's Prayer, after the distribution of Communion.) This phase begins with the 1549 and 1552 prayer books of Edward VI, is established almost permanently with the final revisions in 1662, and continues more or less till the 1960s (till 1966 in NZ), though the rumblings of change began with the 1928 (modest) revisions which the British Parliament did not accept, but which the Church of England hierarchy authorised for use.

Phase Three: in most Anglican churches liturgical revision has taken place through the twentieth century, especially since 1950. No one prayer book dominates the Anglican Communion like the Book of Common Prayer once did; and for most services in most prayer books there are alternative forms authorised for use. Too much variation some would say. But we should not be fooled into thinking that no commonality exists across these liturgical revisions. One common factor is a reversion to the 'shape of liturgy' before Cranmer's bold revision of the shape (or order of the liturgy). This reversion acknowledges the ancient liturgical traditions of the undivided church. Another common factor is the use of English texts for important prayers which are common to Anglican and other churches such as the Roman Catholic church. (This is part of the reason why Catholics visiting Anglican churches and vice versa come away saying, 'their service is just like ours'). In ACANZP our 'red prayer book' is a Phase Three prayer book.

That's enough for now. Another post soon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The sum of its parts

The other day a good question was raised about the eucharistic prayer: is it a bit repetitive? For example, in the NZPB, on p. 423, the paragraph beginning 'Therefore loving God' repeats (or appears to at first glance) much of pp. 421-422. The raising of that question is the background to a quick outline of the component parts of (most) Anglican eucharistic prayers. Most terms are traditional, and I follow Bosco Peters' terminology in his book Celebrating Eucharist. In what follows I am using the eucharistic prayer for the service which begins on p. 404 as the 'standard model'.

The Introductory Dialogue (The Lord is here etc)

The Preface (It is right indeed etc)

Sanctus and Benedictus (Holy, holy, holy ... Blessed is he ...)

Institution Narrative (... on the night before he died ...)

Memorial Acclamation (Glory to you Lord Christ etc)

Anamnesis (Therefore loving God, recalling etc)

Oblation (Accept our sacrifice of praise etc)

Epiclesis (Send your Holy Spirit etc)

Doxology (United in Christ etc)

So, yes, there is an element of repetition. For example there are repeated items of praise and adoration to God. The part raised by the questioner, the Anamnesis, is indeed repetitious in the sense that it is a 'recalling' or 'remembering' and acts as a summary of the grand narrative told through the Preface and the Institution Narrative. But none of this is burdensome, or should not be, since it all takes us closer to the heart of God!

Nevertheless, our prayer book varies the number of words assigned to each part through its several eucharistic prayers. If you have a few moments you might do a comparative exercise, noting how some prayers offer (say) the Anamnesis in about half the words used on p. 423!

A final point here: any eucharistic prayer, brief or long, is intended to be a unity. It is inappropriate to shorten a long eucharistic prayer by omitting one of its integral parts. Better to turn in the prayer book to one of the shorter forms ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What’s a presiding priest doing on a lay preacher’s blogsite?

A much noticed practice these days involves the combination of presiding priests and lay worship leaders. Let me explain. In many services in our diocese the sharing of upfront leadership roles means that the presiding priest does not need to be standing before the congregation for the whole of the service. Consequently we often find the presiding priest sitting in the front row of the church while a lay person is leading worship or preaching the sermon. This is a natural thing to do in our egalitarian church. But is it the right thing to do? Increasingly I am of the conviction that the ‘presiding priest’ is not simply the person who moves forward to lead the Eucharistic prayer, and, by extension, pops up at the right point to say the Absolution, but is, or should be, the person who ‘presides’ over the whole service as a meeting in which the believers gather together.

If the image of the ‘chair’ of a public meeting comes to mind – the one who steers proceedings along, who remains seated on the stage or podium through the meeting even when another is speaking – then I think that not a bad image to connect to an enlarged understanding of the role of the presiding priest.

Most if not all Anglican churches have space at the front of the church for a seat or stall for the vicar (and another for the bishop when present). I suggest the presiding priest should be seated there when not standing to lead this or that part of the service. I would go further. I think the presiding priest should welcome people at the beginning and commence worship (e.g. by announcing the first hymn), and conclude the service at the end with the announcement of notices and the dismissal (though I accept the variation that in some quarters the tradition is to make any deacon present the voice for the dismissal).

This enlarged role for the presider would diminish little of the roles of the lay worship leader(s) of the service. It would add to a sense of continuity and unity in the service around the Absolution and the Eucharistic prayer. Sometimes the former can be a disconnected part and the latter an add-on at the end of ‘the real stuff’.

It’s appropriate to offer these thoughts on this particular site as a change in direction in our parishes should be both a welcome from lay leaders to a different way of being the presiding priest and an initiative from the priests who preside.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bits and pieces

Please keep in touch with Bishop Richard's blog while he walks the diocese (link across to your right on this page). He will post whenever he has a phone link, which will be most days, excluding his walking on the Heaphy Track!

Yesterday I heard a lovely sermon by Eric Sears which explained the sequence of Sundays known by unusual names: Septuagesima, Sexuagesima, Quinquagesima. Eric made a very fruitful observation: the sequence of themes our church provides in the prayer book (i.e. according to the 2 year and not the 3 year RCL cycle of readings) tells the gospel in a nutshell: creation, human frailty, redemption.

It was wonderful to be part of the Diocese's second of three parts of 150th anniversary celebrations. Yesterday was the celebration of the arrival of our first bishop, Edmund Hobhouse, together with the Letters Patent making Nelson the village into Nelson the city. Of all the many stalls promoting or selling this and that, only two I could see were devoted to the Christian faith (our diocesan one and Atawhai-Hira's one for 'Christianity Explored'). Sadly many people walked by on the other side. It's a reminder that, notwithstanding our gospel analysis of the ultimate despair of a world entrenched in sin, many people in a lucky country like NZ are not desperate to find God and salvation.

That's a challenge for us, is it not!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

What do we do with our bodies in worship?

One thing I am noticing is that there is less and less uniformity in our Anglican congregations over what we do with our bodies in worship. Standing for the gospel reading in a Communion service, for example, is no longer uniform. The situation is not helped by options being allowed by prayer book rubric: for example congregations may sit or stand for the eucharistic prayer.

I suggest worship leaders should themselves be clear about the what and why of body posture in worship. Without this clarity leaders may forget to ask people to stand, sit, or kneel as appropriate for a particular part of the service.

The principles are fairly straightforward.

We stand to make declarations of truth, praise and thanksgiving.

We stand in order to honour God.

We kneel to symbolise our humility.

We sit to listen.

Thus we stand for the creed, to sing songs and hymns, and for the eucharistic prayer.* We also stand at the beginning of the service to honour God at the beginning of this consecrated time of worship, and for the gospel reading to honour our Lord who is the subject and centre of the Gospel.

Then we kneel to confess our sins and to make our intercessions; also to receive the nourishment of God through the bread and the wine.

Pretty much every other part of the service involves us listening (readings, sermon, notices), so we sit for these parts.

*As a concession to infirmity we may sit as an alternative kneeling; and we might change from standing to sitting in the middle of the eucharistic prayer.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Preachers like Waiters at a Banquet

(Drawn from an article in Wel-Com, monthly newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington, featuring the insights of Sr Barbara Reid, a Dominican Sister. The Dominicans have traditionally been the foremost exponents and proponents of preaching in the Roman Catholic church).

"Whether in fast food restaurants, internet cafes, or intimate dining rooms the preacher in love with Holy Wisdom hears and responds to her persistent invitation, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of my wine" (Prov 9:5)."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2009 ACANZP Lectionary available online

Go here or, if that is too direct a step for the way your browser works go to here, look for the download-link at the bottom of the article posted on that page.

Can we have the Lectionary online?

Yes, we can!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Praying on public occasions outside the church

It's always a bit tricky knowing what to say in a prayer on a public occasion outside the church e.g. an ANZAC Day parade. Do we pray with explicit Christian invocations because, notwithstanding the presence of non-Christians 'this IS a Christian country' or 'a Christian can only pray a Christian prayer'? Or do we modify our language according to the circumstance?

Th inauguration of President Obama provided such an occasion or two. At a pre-inauguration concert Bishop Gene Robinson prayed a prayer of great interest, because in the days before the event he had vowed and declared it would NOT be a Christian prayer. At the inauguration itself Rick Warren prayed - a matter of interest because many had objected to him being asked to pray in the first place!

Bosco Peters helpfully sets out both prayers for us to read and to reflect on.

What do you think?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Adapting to different churches

Last night I preached in the Cathedral in Nelson. It's been my privilege to preach there on several occasions. It's also led to a learning opportunity for me. After a sermon or two I realised that the particular acoustics of a very large stone building require an adjustment to my preaching style:

- preach from full script, not from notes

- speak the script, with no (or may be just one) impromptu asides

- speak more slowly than usual (for me), enunciate very clearly, and no 'conversational speech'

- preaching from the pulpit is definitely the best location

Not all readers of this post will receive an invitation to preach in a cathedral but we may well receive an invitation to preach in a different building to the one we are used to preaching in. 'Different' may mean one or more of: different in size (length, height, breadth)*, different in quality of sound system, different in distance between position of preacher and position of congregation, different in ability to display graphics, etc.

(*Breadth is always interesting: a small narrow church is definitely different to a small wide church!)

We will need to be adaptive. Perhaps we should visit a new church for a practice ahead of the actual delivery of the sermon.

Final note here: I have discovered a new preaching resource site, relevant to 'Down Under': it's called 'Down Under Sermons'. OK so its Australia based, but its pretty close to NZ!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Baptism of Christ

The calendar and lectionary invite preachers to speak on the theme, Baptism of Christ, and the RCL gospel reading is drawn from Mark 1.

Here are my key points as I prepare my sermon, working with the background of the horrific carnage unfolding in Gaza and Israel:

- in baptism Jesus Christ affirms that he is God become one of us

- through baptism Jesus begins his ministry and mission among us

- through our baptism we become one with God

- at our baptism our ministry and mission begin

- the point and purpose of creation was communion between God and humanity, including communion between human beings; disobedience to God has broken that communion; Christ came to restore communion; the conflict in Gaza and Israel (and in Iraq etc) tells us that broken communion is not an abstract concept but involves pain, horror, and suffering; the ultimate establishment of peace on earth will require more than local solutions to local injustices and conflicts - it requires the restoration of communion between God and humanity - the restoration which comes through response to the gospel of Christ - there is thus just as much urgency about baptised Christians fulfilling our ministry and mission in 2009 as ever before.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sound advice

For those who have read my postings over the last year or so, you will have observed frequent references to the importance of getting the sound system in your place of worship correctly geared for the occasion.

Without going into chapter and verse, I have had two experiences lately of the sound system not being used effectively. One case highlighted the importance when we are visiting a new place of worship of ensuring that the sound system will be working, or, if no one available to work it, that we ourselves are informed and knowledgeable about how to turn the system on and then turn the correct knobs and levers for the desired output. The other case highlighted the importance of every speaker/contributor having access to a microphone ... if need be, beg , borrow, or, better, buy a handheld microphone that can be handed from one speaker to another.