Monday, May 31, 2010

Sheer diversity

Yesterday I experienced two different services. One prayer book. One not prayer book. One singing modern words to familiar older tunes. One singing new words to unfamilar tunes; and very loud, pulsating music at that. Both services were well-led, had good attendance, and an excellent spirit of fellowship. Each service had a sermon, though one was better than the other (mine was not the better!!). We are a diverse church.

Each service had its own integrity. Both services (as far as I could tell) sought to 'connect' with a particular community of worshippers (while also being accessible to potential 'outsiders' or 'newcomers' to that particular community). The respective connections were made excellently. A diagnostician of congregational life would, on closer examination, determine these congregations were healthy.

The differences in the two services raises intriguing 'bigger picture' questions about the life of our whole church, since each service was representative of wider phenomena in the NZ church (Anglican church, other churches) of great services with good attendance connecting with important particular communities.

What features of one kind of service could be grafted on to the other? (The answer might be 'none'!)

Is our aim in planning, preparing and executing worship services to reach, to connect with particular communities (the elderly, families, youth, Maori, Asians, Polynesians, South Africans, men, women, the townsfolk, the farmers (and within that community, the dairy farmers who have a different set of inflexible demands on their daily timetables), students) or with whole communities? ("Should" one or other be our aim?)

To what extent should we as a particular denomination include the wider church scene in our determinations? For instance, "all the twenties go to the Calathumpian Independent Church of Great Band Music in the next suburb, no point in trying to match what they do, our task it to connect with the older people of our suburb". Or, "Why should Anglican teenagers be lost to the Anglican church as an unchangeable characteristic of 21st century life? There should be a place for Anglicans of all ages and stages in Anglican churches!"

No simple answers to such questions appearing here. Church life is a challenge. But let's give thanks for the great services we experience and for the fact of the connections they are making with different groups of people in our society!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The splendour of worship

Last night I had the blessing of participating in a magnificent service at Christchurch Cathedral. The occasion was the annual confirmation service of Christ's College and St Margaret's College.* Why was the service magnificent? Although a special occasion not readily reproduced in parish churches (e.g. masses of young people wearing colourful uniforms) are there things we can learn from such occasions in the life of the church?

Here are my suggested learnings!

(1) However we fill the space of our church with people, a filled church itself is a major contribution to a shared sense of magnificent worship of God. I encourage parish churches to think ahead to plan special occasions when the church might be filled to overflowing.

How about a proactive invitation to local scouts and guides, or girls and boys brigades for a joint church parade service? A celebration of marriage service or a memorial service for those who have died in the past year (often held around All Souls Day, or even closer to Christmas)? Then there are family services where possibly we can draw in extra people: Harvest Thanksgiving ... Thanksgiving for local volunteer services such as fire brigades and ambulance services ... a Christmas pageant.

(2) Make sure each and every element of the occasion is appropriate to it. The hymns, anthems, and special musical items ... the content and length of the sermon ... the character of the welcome and the quality of the dismissal ... get each of these right and all will be well (as it was last night).

(3) No technical glitches: ensure the sound system is working ... ditto powerpoint if used! Repeat after me: no technical glitches!!! (There were none last night).

(4) Have a rehearsal beforehand. The larger the service and/or the more visitors and/or the more one-off participants (e.g. baptism, confirmation, ordination, church parade) and/or the more extraordinary movements (e.g. pageant), the more necessary it is to have a rehearsal of those parts of the service that are non-ordinary. For a church parade it may require the leaders and the colour party; for a baptism the family and godparents; for a confirmation the confirmands and their supporters/companions).

Finally, why might such a service be 'magnificent'? I think it felt that way because it combined a large number of people with a shared purpose in being there along with a great sense of celebration (young people making a commitment, the end of a journey of preparation). And - most importantly - it was one of those services where a significant focus on God took place. Not only was it Pentecost, but literally, and intentionally, God the Holy Spirit was invoked as well as celebrated. God was at the centre and in the foreground of this service!

*My normal policy is not to mention specific details of location of a service. One reason for that (among several reasons) is not to promote one parish over another. But in this case the service was an extra-ordinary service, so this post is not promoting the Cathedral over other parishes! And the service was well attended by a large number of people drawn from many parishes in the Diocese ... so a very public occasion!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Anything Canada can do we can do ... not yet!

The Anglican Church of Canada has just put its primary worship texts online for free download ... English and French. Links here.

Can we do better than that, Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia?

Not yet!

We are working on it. That's my 'inside information'.

But it may take some pressure and some fast talking. Our copyright difficulties pertain to a relationship we have with that little known, miniscule publishing company, HarperRow ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Great Service Last Night!

Exigencies of family life meant I went to an evening service with one of our children. First time, for me I think, at an evening service in this particular church.

The sermon, incidentally, was very good. But here I want to talk about the service as a service.

First up, there was a band. Very good. Well led by a young man with verve, passion, ability-to-lead-with-voice-and-guitar, and, quite noticeable, discipline. By the latter I mean that some songs could have gone for longer with more repeats. The atmosphere (including lots of keen young people) could have induced a form of emotionalism from the song leader. But no. I noticed that everything went according to a clear, but unobtrusive order, including finishing on time.

Second up, there was an outstanding service leader. Blessed by a lovely voice, served well by a good sound system, and with an easygoing confidence in what he was doing.

What about content? I went to this service with no particular expectation of content beyond songs and sermon ... a lot of evening services in parishes work in this way (i.e. in the few that have them anymore), more formal structured services having been held earlier in the day. But this service proved to be an excellent blend of band-led worship, sermon and other things.

Other things? We began with a short reading from a psalm. The reading from Scripture, though but one reading, did not stint on length. What I initially thought was to be one short informal "follow up" prayer to the sermon turned out to be a well formed intercessory prayer, largely based on one of the intercessory forms found in NZPB. At the conclusion of the service was an appropriate closing reading from Scripture. Oh, and part way into the service, even though it was not a eucharist, there was opportunity to share peace with one another.

Very satisfying!

Half a lectionary loaf?

Over at Hermeneutics and Human Dignity I recently raised a question or two about the lectionary. Among responses in ensuing discussion was this question:

"is it consistent to criticise the omission of some verses within a Biblical text in the lectionary, whilst appearing perfectly comfortable to omit half of the material that the lectionary actually does provide [e.g. by having two readings instead of four=psalm, OT, Ep, G]?"

I have said I will respond to that question here.

I want to think about it for a bit.

Any thoughts from you, in the meantime?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Accessibility of Anglican worship

In my experience of Anglican worship I find most of it accessible: I am familiar with it, I understand it, and I can engage with it. But then I have the extraordinary privilege of a varied background in Anglican worship. Perhaps you do too! Like me you have been an Anglican all your life, you have worshipped in a variety of parishes, and perhaps even in your local parish you have a range of worship styles.

Today we need to ask how accessible our worship services are to folk not currently worshipping at them.

If speaking in tongues predominates, is that accessible to those who do not speak in tongues? If parts of the service are set to music which some like, but others do not (whether it is punk rock or highbrow classical), what does that mean for accessibility to Anglican worship in our patch?

To ask this question may be challenging! A large suburban parish may be able to offer three, four, even five different style services on a Sunday, but a country parish may, in an outlying centre, only be able to offer one service once a month.

What to do?

Here are three questions which may (or may not!) assist our thinking about our answer or answers to such a question.

What enables us to maintain Anglican worship for Anglicans in our parish?

What would we need to do for our worship service(s) to draw in Anglicans who currently do not participate in worship services with us?

What worship services would be appropriate for those we would like to see join our church who are not Anglican in background?