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!