Comments: Opinion - 19 December 2015

pace Mark Hart....I'm pretty sure it was Stevie Smith not E M Forster who said " poor talkative Christianity"....its a good phrase.

Posted by Perry Butler at Saturday, 19 December 2015 at 4:29pm GMT

As a regular churchgoer, do I agree with Jody Stowell's opinion piece - yes and no. Yes - it is Christmas every day because of our Lord's presence. No - because many who attend once a year think Christmas is only once a year. Still, one more opportunity to reach minds and hearts.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 19 December 2015 at 8:27pm GMT

Christmas services are undeniably more popular. Maybe that's because services at other times of the year can be poor? For all the talk of Good News, in many churches the only time of year when there is a sense of good news is Christmas.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 19 December 2015 at 10:02pm GMT

@ Perry Butler - it was Mrs Moore in Passage to India "Poor little talkative Christianity" after hearing "Bo-um" echoing in the caves. However, some of us would argue that what she experienced wasn't the authentic deal...

Posted by Pete Broadbent at Sunday, 20 December 2015 at 8:50am GMT

I was very impressed with Jonathan Clatworthy's comment on David Walker's article, that rejects the idea that we should see Christmas attendees as people who need to have their hearts and minds reached - the implication being that they come to church for shallow reasons and need us to teach them to see the deeper truths.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 20 December 2015 at 12:27pm GMT

pace Mark Hart/Perry Butler: The phrase 'poor little talkative Christianity' is used by the character Mrs Moore in Forster's 'Passage to India'.

Posted by Gerald Beauchamp at Sunday, 20 December 2015 at 1:20pm GMT

I stand corrected! Thanks + Pete and Gerald.Happy Christmas all!☺

Posted by Perry Butler at Sunday, 20 December 2015 at 5:57pm GMT

Thanks for the link Erica. I read Jonathan Clatworthy's words with interest. I think some people attend only at Christmas/Easter because there's a spark of interest and some people attend for nostalgic reasons. Either way that's great. I'm a regular attender who often feels that church is not the place for me. However, I keep going because it is a place where fellow-believers teach me things. And I also believe church is important to God (just my take on many passages in the Bible).

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 20 December 2015 at 8:07pm GMT

Interesting article by David Walker. I'm very grateful to have been delivered years ago from the sense of annoyance at people who only come to church at Christmas. Now I'm just glad to see them, and I think 'Well, it's up to me to help create an act of worship that helps them connect with God'.

I'm not, however, as negative as David Walker and Jonathan Clatworthy about the appeal to the mind. After all, the Lord's great commandments include loving God with all our minds. Nor do I think that faithfulness necessarily means affirming that occasional churchgoers are right in all their beliefs (any more than I am!).

I think one thing that David Walker didn't mention is something that I have heard regularly in conversations with unchurched friends who have accepted my invitation to attend a service at our church. Many of them struggle with the Eucharist, with the idea of eating someone's body and drinking someone's blood, and they are wary of exposing their kids to that language. Years ago when we had regular Morning Prayer services on Sundays, there was a way in for folks like that. Now, largely, they're going to encounter a Eucharist. Except at a Carol Service. And that might be another advantage of such services.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 12:36am GMT

Quite a number of years ago now, I attended one of the many evangelical churches in Sydney on Christmas day choosing one easy for my 90 years plus mother to attend and going at 9.30am rather than 8am for the same reason. The minister in collar and tie conducted a service in which the only thing Anglican I recognised was the Creed. I walked out when we were asked to raise our hands if we were saved. My mother and sister soon followed. I emailed the minister and asked why there was no Communion service and was gobsmacked to be told that too many people take communion unworthily on Christmas day. Although now living in New Zealand and in an Anglican diocese, I return to Sydney each Christmas but my sister and I make sure to attend one of the very few real Anglican churches in the city.

Posted by Brian Ralph at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 2:44am GMT

"Poor little talkative Christianity" - a marvellous phrase which could almost be adopted as the new motto for Thinking Anglicans with all itts many and varied comments and opinions. Long may TA chatter away on into the New Year to educate, inform and entertain its readers. Christmas Blessings to one and all, not least to the TA Editors.

Posted by Father David at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 6:47am GMT

@ Tim Chesterton, "Many of them struggle with ....idea of eating someone's body and drinking someone's ....exposing their kids to that language ...when we had regular Morning Prayer ...there was a way in for folks like that".

Of course we would need to be careful that the morning prayer service did not contain any language about death on the cross or dying for our sins. In fact, we probably should cover those big altar crosses in case any of the kids ask, " daddy, what's that for?" May have to have the parish public relations committee check out the hymns and the stained glass windows as well. Some of the imagery and images could inadvertently point to eating and drinking or crucifixion. Very upsetting for the unchurched... indeed it may even upset the "churched".

Perhaps it would be best for the unchurched folks whose raised this concern in conversation to skip worship and go to a movie or concert or something instead. Less chance of being traumatized at the movie theater.

Posted by Rod gillis at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 1:33pm GMT

"Perhaps it would be best for the unchurched folks whose raised this concern in conversation to skip worship and go to a movie or concert or something instead."

They don't need your advice to tell them to do that; that's exactly what they are doing. Fortunately, there is such a huge audience for the CofE that it can afford to be picky about who it reaches out to, which is proven by the swelling numbers in churches all over the country.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 5:01pm GMT

@ Interested observer,"They don't need your advice ...that's exactly what they are doing." Interesting observation. I'm guessing the whole of your response is tongue cheek as mine was to Tim.

The last number of years I was in parish ministry ( retired 2012) our parish church had a family Eucharist Christmas Eve late afternoon with a modified Eucharist with a children's mini-drama instead of sermon. The congregation numbered about four hundred or so. Many were visitors attending with family only then. The service and the the hour offered allowed opportunity for inter-generational Christmas Communion. The children, even if not yet communicants, put their hands out with a smile and twinkle wanting to receive. I had no indication anyone was disturbed over the body blood imagery.

The folks Tim is referring to must be a tiny statistical minority with a concern that frankly ranges somewhere between the tedious to the neurotic. Are we going to abandon inter-generational Eucharists in the service of such unreasonable accommodation?

If someone were to vocalize to me the sentiment that Tim's interlocutors expressed to him, I wouldn't give them any advice. I may try a response like "I'm hearing you are uncomfortable with this? Can you tell me more?"

The conversation may then move in a way that helps them focus in on what is essentially their issue. Not celebrating Eucharist is not a problem solving strategy I would entertain.

There is Christian worship; but if that does not work for you then take in Handel's Messiah, or the Nutcracker, or a performance of A Christmas Carol, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Choices may be made appropriately without begetting expectations that others modify their values. That's not advice: it is how I see the options in a way that respects the integrity of all. We have such trouble in the church letting people take responsibility for their own feelings

Christmas liturgy, whether the madding crowd on the Eve, or hand full of folks on quiet Christmas morning who really want to be there, is what we have to give. I'm sure Christ receives it in the spirit offered. So should visitors.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 5:56pm GMT

While I agree that churches shouldn't be exclusive, Interested Observer, the growing churches tend to be the very evangelical congregations that pull no punches about the cross. (Though I suspect their success has more to do with simplicity, accessibility and social support than it does a particular theology.)

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 21 December 2015 at 5:57pm GMT

'The folks Tim is referring to must be a tiny statistical minority with a concern that frankly ranges somewhere between the tedious to the neurotic'

Your sensitivity to the feelings of my unchurched friends is breathtaking, Rod. And frankly, I wasn't aware that, on 'Thinking Anglicans', being a minority meant that the rest of the church was free to ignore you.

Like you, we have a 4.00 p.m. family Eucharist with impromptu nativity play on Christmas Eve, and it's very well attended. However, I notice that only about half of the people come forward to receive Holy Communion. I have no idea whether there are any others who might have come to the service, who decided not to when they realized it was going to be communion. The only reason I know about the problem I mentioned is because of things personal friends have said to me, non-Christian people who I have invited to church services. I have rather a lot of conversations with non-Christians about Christianity, so I am well-acquainted with some of the hang-ups. And thank you, Rod, I suspect that my friends are no more tedious and neurotic than yours.

I thought David Walker did a good job of identifying why carol services are able to reach people who don't appear to be attracted by regular Sunday services. I have no idea whether his survey raised the issue of communion (probably not); I would suspect, however, that if it had, it might have uncovered some interesting answers.

David says, 'The natural human inclination is to assume that what I like, if it is done really well, is what other people would like, too. My research tells me that this would be a disaster'. Yes, and we Anglican clergy love presiding at Communion. So I'm not surprised to meet some resistance to the idea that it might not always be the best way to reach the unchurched.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 12:37am GMT

I wonder whether one of the reasons non churchgoers don't attend Eucharist services is the same reason I prefer not to attend Roman Catholic services: half the service is about something from which they are excluded.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 10:27am GMT

Erika, "I wonder [why] churchgoers don't attend Eucharist services ..." The notion our Eucharists "exclude" is a current Anglican phobia. In the old days R.C. Midnight mass was a draw for all kinds of protestants for a variety of reasons.

We have to come to terms with the fact that the wide spectrum of society is just not interested in or engaged by faith. No number of welcome mats, no number of gimmicks, no replacing pews with comfy chairs, no modernizing of music nor reversion to choral music, no deployment of Walmart style greeters, no big screens with liturgies for dummies glaring from them will address the fact that most people do accept what we are proclaiming.

Christian communities can only strive to live authentically as we wait for a two paradigm shifts, one in house you might say and one in the wider society. It may take a very long time yet. The double exile of what are now two solitudes is far from over I'm afraid.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 1:35pm GMT

@ 1:35 pm GMT "most people do accept what we are proclaiming.." that should read, "most people do not accept what we are proclaiming." my bad.

Posted by Rod gillis at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 2:30pm GMT

I completely agree that a large number of people simply aren't interested in church.

That doesn’t change the fact that there are people who predominantly attend Communion Services and others who predominantly attend non-Communion Services.
It has nothing to do with phobias, Anglican or otherwise, it’s just how it is.

I don’t see the harm in trying to work out why some people prefer a specific form of worship. Who knows, we might even be able to allay some of their fears by talking about it.

And I personally do not have a Roman Catholic “phobia”. I just don’t particularly want to be any Service where I’m not 100% welcome and included. As a same sex married Protestant woman that does rather narrow my options more than yours might be narrowed.

I do think that people who are thoroughly familiar and at home with something, anything, find it hard to understand the emotional make-up of those who aren’t. That’s true for all spheres of life, and it’s also true for church.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 3:26pm GMT

@ Erika, "I don’t see the harm in trying to work out why some people prefer a specific form of worship." Nor do I, Eucharist, Evensong, Lessons and Carols, to each his own. However, these are variables from our offering of praise and thanksgiving that are not going to make much of a difference in overall social attitudes.

There may be good reasons to schedule an evensong rather than a Eucharist. However, to return to the original point raised by Tim, scheduling morning/evening prayer rather than a Eucharist to meet the tender sensibilities of folks who are disturbed by Eucharistic texts is not a good reason to do so. I suspect this has something to do with tedious parsing, neuroses, or perhaps some buy in to the militant atheist flavor of the month.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 4:46pm GMT

we may be talking cross purposes here, and if you don't mind me saying, I'm missing a level of reasoned argument for your assertions.
Tim was simply talking about his own experience, as I was about mine.

I don't know what Canada is like, here in my corner of England we offer a spectrum of Sunday morning Services throughout the month precisely so they're not all the same and people can choose the one they prefer.

If people find morning prayer more accessible, and tell someone about this when asked, what is the harm in offering morning prayer as a more accessible way in?

I agree that it's not helpful to follow every fad and believe that "if only we did this or that, we'd be packing them in".
On the other hand, we really should listen to what people tell us without becoming all bristly just because it's not what we want to hear. And dismissing comments as tedious, phobic or expressing neurosis, without offering a shred of evidence or counter analysis isn't entirely helpful.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 6:14pm GMT

I'm a bit unsure of the bearing of some of the comments above. Let me explain. In 1953, not long after the coronation of the Queen (she visited Edinburgh while we were there, and we dutifully gathered to watch the young Queen as she visited Scotland, waving our Scottish flags!), I was in Edinburgh with my family. I was eleven at the time. But I still remember the occasion vividly.It was a Sunday, and we attended the local Church of Scotland for the morning service. My father was a minister of the United Church of Canada, and before the Communion Service he was apparently asked, by the Elders, of his religious affiliation. Whatever he said, we were escorted from the church. The communion service was "fenced". Is this the same in the C of E? Or are people simply assumed to belong if they present themselves for communion? Is the Eucharist fenced, or is it open to anyone to receive commmunion?

I don't know, but I do know that, when my wife and I spent five weeks in the UK in 1990, we were only made to feel welcome once, in Loughborough, in Lincolnshire (with the tallest parish church spire in England). Otherwise, we were avoided like the plague.

I do remember, however, that, sometime during the 1990's a visitor to our church was accompanied by a young exchange student, a Buddhist from SE Asia, and they asked if he might receive communion. I said (whether or not the Archbishop at the time would have approved) that anyone was welcome at the Lord's Table, and the young Buddhist was, accordingly, welcomed when he came to receive communion. I did not think that Jesus would have turned him away.

Why anyone should feel excluded from the fellowship of the Lord, I cannot say. But if it is the habit of C of E clergy (or regular members) to treat strangers like strangers, then it is unsurprising that people do not come to church. Nor would an Evensong make a difference. The community is either one gathered at the feet of Jesus, or it is not. If it is, then no one is a stranger. In Canada, we do not exclude unconfirmed children from the Lord's Supper. Why should we exclude those who come to see whether the Lord is good? For those who remember Philip's invitation to Nathaniel, that should be enough, surely!

This might not make a difference to those who only come to church at Christmas time, but whoever and whenever, they should be welcomed by the Lord, and those who serve as his representatives (and that means everyone who is gathered in the Lord's name). Those who attend regularly should remember that how they greet the stranger may determine for the stranger how the Lord is seen, and whether they should stay, and dwell with him. Whether it is Christmas everyday, as Dickens seemed to suggest in "A Christmas Carol", is irrelevant. It is always the people of God who gather. Should anyone be a stranger? And despite what some may think, people's minds and hearts always need to be reached (whether strangers or those who come regularly). (Nor do I buy the idea that people are queasy at the language of body and blood. Anyone can see they are symbols, even those who play the transubstantiation game. In Canada, at least, the Eucharist has, I think, become the norm.)

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 6:42pm GMT

Many years ago it was quite acceptable for Morning Prayer to be used regularly as a form of Sunday Anglican worship. Generations of Anglicans were nurtured on this. No, I don't want to go back to the days of having communion three times a year. But I don't see the harm in doing what we do here at St. Margaret's - having a monthly 'service of the Word' at which we can use less formality and more variety. Lessons and Carols on the Sunday before Christmas has also become very popular here; it's one of our regular invitation services, and this past Sunday attendance was up 80% over our normal Sunday morning Communion attendance.

I know that in the early church they celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday. But they also purposely kept visitosr and catechumens out, and they had a strategy for evangelism and discipleship based on other times and locations. We don't have that today. We're still tied to the Christendom idea that Sunday morning is the front door through which people enter Church life. That being the case, I think we have to ask serious questions about whether a weekly Eucharist is the best form of Sunday worship to help that happen. As I read David Walker's article, I thought he was leaning in that direction too.

Okay, I need to bow out of this conversation now. It's a busy week! Have a blessed Christmas all.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 7:11pm GMT

@ Erika, "I don't know what Canada is like ..." Its filled with folks who are passive aggressively polite. I do what I can to undermine the stereo-type. My countrymen find it disorienting apparently. Seriously, I think you are correct that we are talking at cross purposes.

@ Tim Chesterton, "Your sensitivity to the feelings of my unchurched friends is breathtaking..." Don't you find the term "unchurched" to be rather patronizing and lacking in sensitivity?

My comment was directed primarily to your exampled suggestion to set aside Eucharist because someone thought the EP text was potentially disturbing. I've expressed my opinion on that above in what I think is fair comment. If the reported conversation of your friends is accurate perhaps they might be challenged on their cultural insensitivity with regard to worship, no?

"we Anglican clergy love presiding at Communion. So I'm not surprised to meet some resistance to the idea that it might not always be the best way to reach the unchurched."

Speak for yourself. I'm retired, and seldom preside anymore, except to do a favor for the rector. I'm not of the view that I "need an altar". When I was presiding as a parish priest my objective was not "reaching the unchurched". It was to preside for the gathered community.

I had a great many other opportunities to connect with people who were not active practitioners of religion. I tried to meet them with respect as persons. Most of our efforts at the parish level reaching out to people had little to do with filling pews. It was about trying to provide some of the basic material things to folks who were economically disadvantaged. When I wasn't occupied with that, I spent my time trying to connect with folks who were shut-ins during the holidays.

We have an increasing cohort of shut-ins looking for pastoral support and the sacraments together with a growing number of people who are economically marginalized. Frankly, it might be better for the church to forget its obsession with declining attendance and concentrate on diaconal ministry.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 7:42pm GMT

re Rod and Erika's conversation on modes of worship. Surely, the most important worship for Christians must be aqt the Eucharist. That is where 'the rubber hits the road'. it is the only liturgical worship that foolows on the request of Jesus: "DO THIS, to remember me" - anamnesis, to bring me into your present! There is no substitute for followers of Jesus as encountered in the Scriptures.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 9:10pm GMT

Fr Ron,
Like about half of all Germans I was brought up as a Lutheran Protestant. We had Communion Service three times a year at New Year and at Easter and at the annual Confirmation Service.
I'm not sure that dismissing whole Protestant denominations as failing in their worship is entirely helpful.

"Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" says nothing about frequency.

And I say that as someone who tends to avoid non-Eucharistic Services.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 23 December 2015 at 10:31am GMT

The first year I was retired I took advantage of being free on Sunday mornings to attend a variety of churches Anglican, United, Lutheran, Baptist. What I observed, worshiping in the pew, but being "in the business" as it were, was how much obvious planning and effort that clergy and others put into worship, sermons, children's focus, music, attempts to bridge with the wider community and so forth. I suspect the same will be true of most churches for Christmas services whether the worship is Eucharist or not.

When I was in harness I always made a point at festivals at the end of the liturgy to thank by roles all the folks who contributed to making services at festivals they events they were, from folks in liturgical roles and music ministry roles to volunteers and the janitorial staff to folks who did outreach in the lead up.

A great number of folks at the door would remark about having enjoyed the service, and it was obvious they meant it.

We were careful as well to include in the intercessions, naming them by role, all the folks who had to work through the holidays, medical staff, teamsters, police, fire fighters, military personnel, and so forth. Many of them would have family at the services of course.

Clergy, at this time of year, oscillate between liturgies that are often atypical (in terms of attendance,energy, expectations) and spending time in a pastoral role with individuals who are having a difficult time.

Debates about fine points aside, for those of you who are busy with the Lord's work, don't beat yourselves up over attendance and small details. What you are doing is important and touches lives in all manner of ways at a time of year that has more ambiguity than appearances may suggest.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 23 December 2015 at 4:25pm GMT

A comment on who is allowed to receive etc: when I began to study for the priesthood (C-of-E), the very first thing I remember being told was "you never turn anyone away from the Lord's table", and though this is still (alas) not the CofE official position, I have seen it confirmed many times at C-of-E altars. So since I was ordained at an age when "who could care less" about rules, I have always said (in a loud voice) "I am not the host at this table, but he whose context is ever gracious and whose hospitality is ever perfect, and anyone who wishes to come forword is surely welcome" (and two people told me a long time afterward that that sentence brought them back to our Lord's table).

Posted by Sara MacVane at Wednesday, 23 December 2015 at 5:37pm GMT
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