The most common kind of convincing I have had to do as a priest is to convince people that 6.00 am in the morning, or 11.30 pm at night is a really good time to have Church at Easter. I talk about going fishing, or skiing, or A.N.Z.A.C. day when in Australia there is a dawn service that lots of people attend.
n the week following Easter Day, we had guests (a married couple) from Germany come to stay. They are both pastors in the mainline Protestant Church of Germany (EKD) and share a job.
Over the years that I have been visiting them from Australia, I have had the opportunity to compare the congregations in which I have been with what they are doing. I thought that I would share with you some impressions from this visit.
The first thing that really blew me away was this! I will relate it ‘verbatim’ to give you the full effect. They said “We gathered outside the Church at 6.00 am in the morning for the first service of Easter. We lit a bonfire in the middle of our courtyard and we all gathered around it. Then we went into the Church. Afterward we had breakfast. We had about 120 people there and lots of Children too. Many of them were not regular members of the congregation. We think that people really like doing something ‘out of the ordinary’ for Easter or special occasions.”
After the few days spent with me, my friends went home because they had to put the finishing touches on a family camp ‘week away’ in the holidays which their congregation was hosting. By the way, it is also this same friend who gave me the name of Mahmoud Abogama a person seeking asylum in Germany and with whom they are involved.
So what do I make of this? Well, first of all there is this! The Protestant Church in Germany in some ways defines itself as ‘not Catholic’. This means that things that look Catholic are rejected because of their ‘look’.
Now I don’t know if you know, but the recommendation to begin the ‘Easter Vigil’ again only came with Vatican 11 (in the 1960’s). When the So the Changes in liturgy that the Catholic Church introduced when it decided to ‘open up the windows’ have flowed in the last 40 years right into the heart of Protestantism. I have noticed this too in the Protestant Churches in Australia. Many Uniting Church ‘ministers of the word’ are wearing stoles to represent the liturgical colour of the season and so on.
What I think about this, in the first instance, is that the Anglican Church is so lucky to consider Rome our sister and that we have never given up our claim to be part of the Holy Catholic and apostolic Church, even though we owe a great debt to and have borrowed a lot from the reformation. It means that the whole range of Church practice is open to us, or rather that we are open to it, without too much trouble.
When Vatican 11 says ‘We think it is a good idea to emphasise Christian initiation again, and re-institute the service of the Easter Vigil’ then we look at it and say ‘Yes! Why not! That looks great’. I experienced my first Easter vigil in 1975 when I was looking around at where I might test my vocation. It was this service that helped to convince me to become and Anglican. (The vow of celibacy prevented me from becoming a Jesuit.)
Our liturgical sensibility means that we do not have to climb over the Reformation too much to appreciate the suggestions or changes that Rome makes. This is a very great benefit. But more to the point, we ‘get it’ whole. The Easter Vigil is not just a matter of lighting a fire. It is part of a whole system of Easter observance that begins on Maundy Thursday night and continues unabated till Easter Morning. The Easter Vigil itself has a series of elements in it (like the vigil readings themselves, and the ceremony of light, and the renewal of Baptismal vows) which all go together in one ‘thought world’. Because of our Reformed yet Catholic heritage, we have all this available to us too. We can have ‘the whole thing’ not just the most obvious bits (like the fire).
But I admire my friends greatly for their openness to new things and I think that we could take a lesson from their book here in Montreux.
Did you also notice that they had 120 people! This is partly because they have more people to work with. But what my friends have done is to inspire the imagination of people who are not Church goers. They have made contact with a great ‘wider community’ through their refugee work, and regular family camps.This builds Christian credibility.
Here in starkest terms is the difference. While we as Anglicans have the riches of the tradition, and the knowledge about the other parts of the tradition that go with the fire lighting, for example, we have a sort of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ kind of attitude to it. The most common kind of convincing I have had to do as a priest is to convince people that 6.00 am in the morning, or 11.30 pm at night is a really good time to have Church at Easter. I talk about going fishing, or skiing, or A.N.Z.A.C. day when in Australia there is a dawn service that lots of people attend.
This is the juxtaposition I noticed, and which I want to Explore. My friends in Germany try something from the Catholic Tradition in an Evangelical Church and get 120 people at 6.00 am. What is that?
I think my spouse Robyn is right, in part, when she says ‘You don’t advertise it well enough’. I will be taking her up on this next Easter. If we have treasure (albeit in earthen vessels) then why not let people know.
The other thing that I think that my German friends have is that they have been where they are for a long time, but have used this time to make connections into their community and to earn a reputation for being caring beyond their own Church borders.
I think that as and English speaking group within a French speaking population we are at somewhat of a disadvantage here. But I think that we could easily do two things. First of all we could do a better job of advertising our treasures. I hope that will be in hand. Second, we could take a lesson from our Evangelical friends, and see just what a treasure it is we have, and participate in it fully. I havealready heard this coming from members of the congregation in their words of reflection on Easterlast Sunday. I have been greatly encouraged by that. I hope that we can do a bit better each year.
I also wonder how we might find ways of building or credibility in the community given our circumstances of a ‘shifting population’ which at the moment is small. Watch this space.