Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Worship, Mission, Love

Quick thought re worship, mission and love. Sometimes in discussions about priorities of the church we end up with a 'worship is the most important thing' conclusion, and sometimes it is 'mission is the most important thing.'

Both are good conclusions to reach and if it was a competition between 'worship' and 'mission' it might be declared a dead heat.

Recently I have been thinking about something else and I have realised that it may be the connecting link between the two. That something else is divine love. What do we have to offer the world? The gospel of divine love: God loves the world. What is worship? Responding to God's love for us with our love sent back to God.

Mission and worship are connected inextricably in this vision. A world looking at a congregation worshipping God should 'see the love.' A congregation going out into the world goes to demonstrate God's love. Worship and mission are not in a competition, unless it is the competition to give out and give away as much love as possible.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting to grips with Anglican eucharistic liturgy

Tonight I speak with a group of worship leaders in a parish. I have experienced their regular Sunday worship and feel there are no particular problems to address - far from it, they do everything well. It is tempting to say "You do not need me; I won't come."

So what might one say in such a meeting? First, I am going to ask questions of the group as to whether they have anything they want to raise with me. If there are problems they wish to tackle it would be better if we do before the meeting is over. Secondly, I am going to talk a little about the "inner structure" of our most used Anglican eucharistic liturgy, "page 404." (In doing so I will acknowledge the fact that some of my greatest development in learning about liturgy has been through my conversations with Bosco Peters over the years.)

What is important to me about the inner structure of page 404?

First, the service is not a shopping list to get through, each item ticked on the way. Rather, it is a service with an object, to worship God, and two main parts to it, each designed to draw us closer to God and to enable us to receive blessing from God. Part One is the ministry of the Word, and part two is the ministry of the Sacrament. In the first part we hear the Word of God proclaimed. In the second part we receive the Word of God made visible in the Sacrament of the bread and the wine.

I want to concentrate on the first part tonight, the ministry of the Word. This part has quite a few items so, again, the temptation might be to think that the aim is to get through the series of items, like ticking off items on a shopping list. I am going to propose that we think of this part of the Holy Communion as being about the proclamation of the Word so that we then think about the "items" in it as all related to that proclamation.

The initial items - Greeting, Collect of Purity, Gloria, Commandments, Confession, Absolution prepare us to hear the proclamation and (later) to receive the Sacrament. A few further items, Sentence and Collect draw us closer to hearing God's Word (for instance, by focusing our minds on the theme present in the readings and (hopefully!) in the sermon). Subsequent items of Creed and Intercessions are responses to hearing that Word.

I will also make the point that there is a lovely turning point between the preparation for hearing the Word and the proclamation of the Word when the worship leader and the congregation say,

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

In short, Having confessed our sins, let us hear the Word.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lessons from the Royal Wedding service

There are quite a few lessons to learn from the widely viewed wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Some are obvious, such as do everything well and ensure that is so by appropriate rehearsing. Some are less obvious, such as think deeply, widely and slowly about what music will go well with the occasion (and what will not). Whoever put the music together for this occasion deserves an Oscar.

One lesson to think about is the number of voices it is appropriate to have in the leadership of a service. On this occasion we can all understand that the Dean of the Abbey and the Archbishop of Canterbury needed to have a role. But what with each contributing to the leadership and yet another bishop preaching and another cleric leading the prayers, I am reminded that too many voices can fragment the overall sense of unity and continuity in a service.

But the most important lesson to learn, not just for any wedding, but for any service of worship, is that out of the ordinary staples of worship: liturgy, prayers, reading, sermon, music, ritual an extraordinary, riveting, and (dare I say it in a Christian context) magical event can be created.