Comments: opinions before Whitsun

Holy Cow! This Yank has never sat through a worship service that was as mind-numbingly boring as a football match that ended up tied at O! [I have heard a few sermons that have had the same effect, however.]

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 30 May 2009 at 3:35pm BST

"Last week the Church of Scotland upheld the right of a congregation to choose its own minister, even if he is a gay man who shares the manse with another, despite tremendous efforts by the Western Isles to stop them. That's rather further than the Church of England has come."
- Andrew Brown, Guardian blog -

It makes one think about the relative difference between the Calvinist Church of Scotland and the Episcopal Church of England - where erstwhile Presbyterians can affirm the ministry of a gay person, and the Church of England still struggles with the reality of gays and women in the Church.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 31 May 2009 at 1:39am BST

Cynthia, why do you think some of us in the choir sneak "Crackberries" into the stalls? It would boggle the minds of some clerics if they know how much text-messaging is going on between Decani and Cantoris during sermons.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Sunday, 31 May 2009 at 7:02pm BST

While Rabbi Romain's suggestions for the most part seem helpful* I think has rather missed the point of liturgy. Every service doesn't have to be - I'll go out on a limb here and say *shouldn't* be - so "vibrant" and full of "passion" that it sends the worshipper out "with a bounce in your step." Sometimes the proper effect is to make the congregation not more excited, but calmer, or more thoughtful. So much bad liturgy I've experienced has arisen from the desire to make every service the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Broadway smash hit.

*except for his suggestion to pounce on your neighbor to offer them "human camaraderie" at the end of the service; - save it for the coffee hour, rabbi!

Posted by BillyD at Sunday, 31 May 2009 at 9:21pm BST

"Sometimes the proper effect is to make the congregation not more excited, but calmer, or more thoughtful"

And really, it should not be about what the priest or rabbi want's to "make" the congregation, but it should be about giving the congregation the space to meet God at that moment in just the way they need to. That can be inner calm, peace, thoughtfulness, joy, despair, sadness, openness, outwardfocusness, inner focus - the very last thing it is about, or should be about, is what the priest decides is desirable.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 7:38am BST

"That can be inner calm, peace, thoughtfulness, joy, despair, sadness, openness, outwardfocusness, inner focus... "

Maybe going *into* the service, but any Christian service that *leaves* its participants in despair, or worse *causes them to feel that way*, gets a great big FAIL in my book.

Posted by BillyD at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 10:46am BST

Thank you Erika, what you've said speaks volumes about the countless mistaken intentions of control-freak clerics who manipulate their congregations.

It really is about letting go and letting God.

Posted by chorboyfromhell at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 12:10pm BST

BillyD
I would not want a Service to lead me into despair, no. But some life situations can be so severe that expecting a Service to just lift you out of them is unrealistic.
I may need to be allowed to remain in despair before God and with God, for as long as healing takes.
A Service is a gateway to God, it's not a quick fix for problems, or worse, a sticky plaster, there there, all's better now.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 2:04pm BST

"So much bad liturgy I've experienced has arisen from the desire to make every service the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Broadway smash hit."

Bingo! Fr. John Julian of the Order of Julian of Norwich, and this is how I understand his words, not what he said himself, so don't hold him responsible for what I say here, wrote a while ago to the effect that liturgy is, after all, work. We come to the liturgy to do the work of worship, which is the way we act towards our Friend. Now we don't expect every enounter with any friend to be a source of unbounded inspiration, why should we expect it with this particular Friend? Furthermore, why do we have to make every Church service the best "worship experience" it can be for everybody? To make sure everyone feels appropriately included, we give every prayer an introduction longer than the prayer itself, we continually tell people what page we're on as though they don't have sense enough to follow along in a book, and we reduce the liturgy to nothing more than a public performance. NO wonder congregants are now calling themselves the "audience". I thought one of the puposes of the Reformation was to take Liturgy back from being a public performance. And what exactly is wrong with newcomers not knowing exactly what is going on? Christianity is not something everyone understands just because their ancestors did. It is complex. It is our job to explain what we do to those who are new, but we don't do a good job of explaining it by falling all over ourselves to make sure every newcomer is repeatedly patted on the head with assurances of God's love for them and how they are good valid people, yaddayaddayadda, and destroying the unity of the Liturgy in the process. Besides, it all looks incredibly fake. Nothing makes we want to run screaming from a Church as much as the vapid smiles and "Welcome" you get if you so much as walk past the door of some places. You don't know me, you might even hate me if you got to know me. So give me my bulletin and whatever books you give to people, let me find a place to put my well appointed bummie, and let me get on with the work of worship, because I am a stranger here, and I will feel out of place regardless of what you do, and that is NOT some sort of horrible torture for me to have to go through. I am, after all, an adult. I really don't need you to affirm my acceptability in the eyes of God every time I turn around!

Posted by fFord Elms at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 2:36pm BST

"NO wonder congregants are now calling themselves the 'audience'"

When I hear clerics and congregants squabbling about the liturgy becoming a "performance" (and I'm not just talking about the choir), I think that we should be aware that there is indeed an audience, and audience of only One.

And I must agree with you Ford, the few times I have been in the congregation (most recently in a wonderful university town in the UK), I mostly just want to be left alone; often moreover to cry at the gloriousness of the liturgy working it's magic. For me that's what it's all about.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 3:30pm BST

Erika, I agree that services shouldn't be a quick fix. To me, though, even pointing towards God is an action of hope, an action against despair. Simply leaving you to wallow in despair without at least that is not a legitimate function of Christian liturgy.

Maybe it's a semantics thing. Depression is one thing; despair is something else - the sin of Judas.

Posted by BillyD at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 5:24pm BST

Billy
I agree, a Service should not deliberately leave you in despair.

But when they first told me that my daughter had leukaemia 4 years ago I would have jumped at anyone who had expected me not to feel despair (not depression!), and who had tried to impose their Christian hope on me. God needs us to be real to be able to heal us, we do not have to conform to any expectations of what Christian Worship is "supposed" to do.

Maybe I'm really only trying to say that worship, even in a corporate setting, is between God and the individual, and that priests should not have an agenda of their own.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 7:04pm BST

Well, Ford, you represent me pretty accurately, I 'd say.

May I only add the following from the estimable Blessed John Keble himself:
"“Next to a sound rule of faith, there is nothing of so much consequence as a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion: and it is the peculiar happiness of the Church of England to possess in her authorized formularies, an ample and secure provision for both. But in times of much leisure and unbound curiosity, when excitement of every kind is sought after with a morbid eagerness, this part of the merit of our Liturgy is likely in some measure to be lost…: the very tempers which most require such discipline, setting themselves, in general, most decidedly against it.”

Posted by John-Julian, OJN at Monday, 1 June 2009 at 9:20pm BST

"...and who had tried to impose their Christian hope on me."

Well, that's not necessarily what I'm talking about, either. But Christian liturgy necessarily points to God in the life of Jesus Christ, doesn't it?

Posted by BillyD at Tuesday, 2 June 2009 at 1:45pm BST

"But Christian liturgy necessarily points to God in the life of Jesus Christ, doesn't it?"

Well, that depends. If that's the priest's aim and if he or she realises that they are a channel for God, then it does.
But if they wrest it from God and make it "their" Service and "their" agenda, then it can sometimes be impossible to find God through it all.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 2 June 2009 at 5:04pm BST
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