Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Who orders the worship?

The following is a copy of an announcement I made recently via a weekly notice-sheet about changes in the Sunday services and why I was making them. I include it here because it touches on something that has been troubling me for some time about the whole question of authority. I will write about this in another blog, but for now here is what I wrote:

"As you know I’ve tried to make some changes in the service pattern in order to encourage growth, a more broad approach to worship and a flexibility that would make it easier to make the transition from being a one church parish to a Ministry Area. However a number of different factors have made me reverse my decision. These are not in order of priority. In fact the real (and underlying) reason for the change comes at points 4-end. 

First, we are the only parish in the Deanery to have made the decision to change. I had hoped that others would follow suite or see this as a good idea but this has not transpired. I don’t mind being the “odd man out” but not if it doesn't achieve anything or contributes to wider changes.

Second, although I have enjoyed the experience of re-writing the services on a weekly basis, the downside is that the services tend rather to revolve around me. They are my own personal creation which makes them rather individualistic. What happens when I am not here? 

Third, the new services I have produced have made no significant difference to attendances except to lower them on the Sundays when there is no Holy Communion. What is more—and this cannot be ignored—collections are down on those days, something we can ill afford. 

Fourth, in terms of ancient practice it must be acknowledged that the service of Holy Communion has, since earliest days, been THE service of the Church. In one the earliest documents written outside of the New Testament, the Didache subtitled “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” written at the end of the first century or beginning of the second (some even dating it to 50 AD!) it says in Chapter 14:1:

“And on the Lord's own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”  

In one of my magazine articles I wrote that weekly communion was not the traditional practice of the Anglican Church but a more recent innovation. This is true. When Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer, Holy Communion was only seen as something occasional, whereas Mattins was the ‘norm’. But that was in the 16th century! What about the previous 1500 years and the early church? Along with many modern day reformers’ I had overlooked that! Plus Cranmer was (over) reacting against the abuses of the Roman Catholic church of the day, not a good basis for re-writing Christian practices!

Fifth, the services are not meant to be for unbelievers but believers. In other words they are not meant, in the first place, to be for evangelism and outreach but for the worship of the people of God. If we are always thinking of visitors and what they think/want, we will take our eyes off God who is the main object of our worship and adoration, and try and make the services popular, or easy to digest and this can lead to a dumbing-down of what should be our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”.

Lastly, after much prayer and thought about this—and not a little soul searching—I realise that I have been rather arrogant in thinking I can change  centuries old tradition, biblical practice (and I have always been one for talking about biblical authority for doing anything) and a service which sets at its very heart the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Lord I purport to serve!  Besides if you look at the majority of the world’s Christians—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, most Anglicans as well as a large number of Methodists etc.— they all share the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ on a weekly basis, “in remembrance” of Him. Not to do so is the ultimate act of rebellion. 

So from next Sunday—10th—we will be returning to the pattern of having a Eucharist/Holy Communion every Sunday at 10.30. With the exception of major festivals—Easter, Christmas etc.—we will be using the same rite printed on card.  Oh and we will not remain seated for the Gospel—another ancient practice I have discovered—so we all know where we stand (deliberate pun). 

Vicar



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