This weekend I went to a church that was so similar to my own church it felt uncanny. In fact in the last month I have been to three other churches that are more or less like my own. Being in places just slightly different from my home place of worship has really helped me have a look at the way we do things week by week. It is hard to be objective after 20 odd years, but visiting otherchurches really seems to help me reflect on what now seems to be normal. Here are some random thoughts about worship from a very Anglican perspective. Some (all) of them will be obvious to some (all) of you.
- The worship that you experience is hugely shaped by the way all the people gathered are worshipping. I visited a much smaller church over the summer not far from home. It wasn’t rocking the latest trends in worship or topping the charts of choral singing but the authenticy of the worshippers with whom I gathered, also demonstrated by their welcome to strangers, meant my experience of worship was incredibly profound. It is really hard to say how that quality of worship was evident but it was something about prayer, about concentration and about a desire to learn. Perhaps it came because the people gathered in that building wanted to be there together, with one another and with God – they appeared to have very litle else on their agenda.
- Worship is about touching the eternal and there are hints in scripture and our tradition that music is part of the heavenly realm. I have never really got that as I do not have a musical bone in my body. But during the service this weekend at St Werburgh in Spondon, music and song were used to draw the congregation to worship and frame the words of the liturgy in a way that I found helped me access even the bits of the service that can be a little bit dull on occasions. ( I know I shouldn’t find some versions of the Eucharistic prayer and the creed dull but I do, sometimes.) Some of this music involved lacing simple meditative songs through the liturgy which engendered a sense of prayerfulness, other bits involved sung call and response that invited participation and some was simply hymns that had been chosen well to build on the themes emerging from the liturgy and scripture.
- As a minister, the only important outcome is what happened between God and the congregation. It is not important that you felt that your were on top form, looked great in your cassock, led the singing in a splendid voice or preached your best sermon. Our worship is a corporate act of discipleship which shapes us by opening the door for us together to encounter God. ‘How did it go?’ asked after a service is not a question that can be answered by the minister with a sentence beginning ‘I felt……. ‘
- Part b of the above. My sermons should not be like an organ recital – they are more of a hymn accompaniment. They do not have to demonstrate my grasp of theology, my love of language and my wealth of experience. What they do have to do is enable the congregation to draw deeply from the scripture, the liturgy, the prayers and the Eucharist in order to participate in the mission of God.
This is a very short blog as I know very little about worship and always felt slightly confused by a loving God who needs us to gather once a week to remind him how great he is. However worship as the shaping of our soul, the working of hearts and the moulding of our minds I am starting to get. I am always niggled by the verse in Matthew 5 v 48 in which Jesus urges his disciples to be ‘perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ That feels to me like quite a transformation but it is in worship that we can start to be formed in the image of perfection.