Sunday, January 9, 2011

A wider perspective on worship

Readers - I know of at least two of you, thank you - may be pleased to know that I was back at church this morning. No earthquake swarms and no travelling exigencies (see post below). A fine service it was and just what I like: a plain, standard, no frills (and no spills) Anglican eucharistic liturgy. But I got to thinking during the service.

There is a very wide church scene in Christchurch, NZ. Many Anglican churches, with varying attendances and varying commitments to a plain, standard, no frills Anglican eucharistic liturgy; many fine Catholic churches, some with very high attendances; some strong Presbyterian and Methodist churches (but diminishing numbers of the latter); but the prize for attendance and vibrancy, I believe, goes to a number of independent, or quasi-independent churches which, by all accounts, are pentecostal-cum-evangelical in flavour. And whatever goes on their services, I am certain it is not a plain, standard, no frills Anglican eucharistic liturgy.

Thinking about this, it is no surprise that a variety of worship preferences exists in our society of many flavours and fashions (think the multitude of sports and recreations one can participate in these days compared to forty years ago; or the options in careers, to say nothing of the wisdom that says each and everyone of us will have five careers in our lifetime). Whatever the virtues of sound Anglican liturgy properly performed, in the remainder of my lifetime it is unlikely to assume some kind of dominance in worship among Christians in NZ. I certainly hope its role grows stronger than what it is, and I imagine that such growth would be accompanied by continued growth in the Roman Catholic church in NZ. But will the dominant 'bloc' of larger churches in Christchurch be Anglican/Roman Catholic in my lifetime? I suspect not.

So my thinking continued along this line: what does it mean to be Anglican in respect of worship, living in communities such as Christchurch where some clear and strong voting with their feet is taking worshippers in large numbers to pentecostal-cum-evangelical independent or quasi-independent churches? Is the most important thing the 'Anglican liturgy'? Should we broaden our style of worship services and develop the content of our liturgies to better capture the imagination of worshipping Christians? Some in our midst, of course, are already doing this (with, I hasten to observe, mixed success as measured by attendance; also, I hasten to add, in many cases with a clear sense of using the flexibility of worship style and content available according to our formularies and canons).

The answer to my last question may mean that the most important thing about being Anglican is that it is an inclusive church of the people (think back to the church of Cranmer and co being self-consciously the Church of England, meaning all England). To this aim 'Anglican liturgy' may take second place.

Much can be discussed here. Is a church of the people necessarily a church which compromises liturgical principles handed down through the ages? In the long term will a church with sound liturgy be more inclusive of more people because it will last longer. There are churches in Christchurch, after all, which seem to have great numbers today but were not even in existence 30+ years ago when I were a lad: will they still be with us in 30 years time? (They might be: one of the largest churches in Christchurch when I left as a young adult remains the largest church today).

A final thing I thought about: in yesterday's paper a young, energetic couple were pictured in a church advertisement, as pastors of one of the growing independent churches. The husband is the son of a vicar. I do not know all the reasons why this pastor is not a vicar himself. But it does make me wonder whether we ought to be a church with enough width to incorporate him into our college of presbyters. Perhaps God is working on that :)

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