Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Courage to Lead as Inspired by St. Crispin’s Day

Jesus serves us by opening up new possibilities for being and action that were not open before. As the letter to the Hebrews says ‘We have complete freedom to enter the most holy place by means of the death of … Continue reading

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So what do we do? Clearly…

So what do we do? Clearly we have accepted the absence of the Spirit, and opted for a co-ordination of Church life via canon law, and the hierarchical administration of offices. The alternative seems to be that ‘all we like sheep have gone astray, every one unto his own way’ This represents a kind of factionalising of control into groups, when there is also no effective co-ordination either by the Spirit, or by those holding office in the Church.

Reflection 21-10-12
I was plunged into some troubling thoughts during the reading of the epistle at the Eucharist one Wednesday recently. St. Paul was talking about how the Church runs. He says what we say every Sunday. ‘We are the Body of Christ, His Spirit is with us’. Each member has a role given to them by their giftedness in the Spirit. The co-ordination of these different roles is also a matter for the Spirit, because the spirit is the Spirit of love, and it is love which co-ordinates and works out differences.

This is all very well, but he has troubles. In Corinth, the worship is so chaotic, and there are some people there who think that they are more ‘spiritual’ than others, so that they think that they should govern how things go. It is this scene of disorder and conflict that gives rise to the great passage of praise to love in 1 Corinthians 13 ‘If I speak with the tongues of humans and of angels, but do not have love, I am nothing better than a gong!’ So the picture of the Church is that all the members’ activities are co-ordinated by the Spirit of love.

I remember once telling my friend from Germany about a sermon I once heard. The Priest was talking about the Church as a ship with us as the crew. He said ‘And luckily, we have a good captain, the Pope guiding us.’ My friend said ‘No! Christ is the head of the Church, not the Pope.’

So there is the issue. The co-ordination of the Church has become a completely human affair. We have substituted the Spirit for ‘offices’ in the Church, from the Pope to bishops to clergy. We have turned a ‘Spiritual Body’ into a hierarchy. Where is the freedom of the Spirit in worship? Where is the overflowing of gifts and contributions from every member.

A very early text of the Church ‘The Didache’ (The Teachings) has the sentence ‘Let the prophets give thanks as they please’. The picture here is like that of St. Paul. Many people are making their contribution. It is this Spirit-co-ordinated contribution of gifts from everyone which St. Paul names as the sign of God’s presence which can be easily ‘read off’ the community life.

So what do we do? Clearly we have accepted the absence of the Spirit, and opted for a co-ordination of Church life via canon law, and the hierarchical administration of offices. The alternative seems to be that ‘all we like sheep have gone astray, every one unto his own way’ This represents a kind of factionalising of control into groups, when there is also no effective co-ordination either by the Spirit, or by those holding office in the Church.

Interestingly enough the Didache gives an answer in the previous sentence. It says about participation in the Eucharist ‘If one is Holy, let them come. If not, let them be converted’. This sentence points of a process of conversion which is a necessary part of Christian life. At the time of writing of the Didache, no one was admitted to the Eucharist unless they had undergone a period of training in the faith (in fact, using the Didache!).  This was their answer. Instead of just letting everyone come without being trained in the discipleship of Christ, there was a period of socialisation so that the congregation could be sure that there could be maximum freedom of expression of its members.

This pattern is adopted by some ‘start up’ churches I have read about. They say ‘Everyone who wants to be considered a member here, and given a ministry has to do ‘Christianity 101’. This is a form of socialisation into the ways of that congregation so that two things will come true. First, the people who come will understand that they are not ‘consumers’ who can come and go as they please. Each person has a ministry that results from the gifts of the Spirit. Finding out what that ministry is, is part of the process of socialisation. Second, the people who come are not just accepted willy-nilly, but are trained up so that they will grow in love, and be able to make their contribution in ways that build up the whole congregation, rather than in ways that are destructive.

The Anglican Church has some difficulty with this because it is very confused about the idea of membership. The Anglican Church, as the established Church, had everyone as a member so that the idea of ‘doing something to become a member’ made no sense. It is this picture that has to some extent governed our culture. In fact, many congregations need people to offer their gifts so badly, that people say ‘I do not go there any more because I had just arrived and I was pounced on to do something’. Rather than invite new comers into a period of formation and discovery of their gifts, we tend to accept those who will offer.

This process omits the process of conversion that the Didache speaks of. The Didache does not expect everyone to be holy straight away as if by a miracle. But it does expect everyone to be converted.

This process of conversion can come about in two ways that I think are viable for us now. The first is to let people who come to us settle in for at least a year before they are invited into anything. This leaves them alone to belong to us, before we ‘pounce’ on them to make a contribution. This process of waiting also has the good effect of seeing where people are up to, and what is best for them.

When we underwent training about the safeguarding of vulnerable people, we were advised that because those who prey on vulnerable people sometimes come to Churches, it is wise not to be too keen to accept people’s offers of a contribution until they have been around a year or so. I think that this is good advice.

The second thing that I think that we can do is to have discipleship groups to which people are invited to attend. These are the Tuesday and Wednesday groups that are at present operating. We could say, for example, that membership of one of these groups is a condition of being a Chaplaincy Counsellor or reader, or the condition of performing any ministry in the Church. What do you think?

The other process is the one of faith renewal that two people from our congregation are doing now. One of them is a long term member who is saying ‘I want to deepen my faith’. The other is a newer member who is saying ‘I want to learn more.’ The effect for both of these people will be not only a deepening of faith, but a greater integration into the life of the Church. They will have more of the freedom of the Spirit because they have done ‘Lessons in Love and life with God 101!’

So there’s my best shot at a solution. How much of this is achievable in our present context I do not know. I do know that unless something like this happens, we will be left with either a hierarchy or ‘everyone going their own way.’

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There are lots of places …

There are lots of places that promise the same thing as the Church: your dreams fulfilled. There are lots of places that do it more ‘showily’ than we do because there is money at stake, and more of it to splash around in making a ‘show’, but there is one element about the woman’s cream jug on the show ‘Flog It’ which is exactly the same as the church: hardly any one knows the real value of what we have (a treasure in an earthen vessel). That will only come out on judgement day, either in heaven or when we close down (should we be found wanting before then).

It is well known that television shows reflect the society in which we live. Sometimes they prepare us for the kind of society in which we live. Take ‘Big Brother’ for example. Apart from the name of the show which is taken from the totalitarian world of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984′, the structure of the show gets us used to ever more surveillance and less privacy and the idea of being ‘voted off’. The show itself deadens our hearts to the plight of people who ‘lose’ at the ‘game of life’, so that when it comes to being sacked, or made redundant, we have already been prepared for this kind of a world by the ‘game show’ of ‘Big Brother’. This kind of preparation for the way the world is going to be is also exactly what children do in their ‘play’.

My attention to this structure of things was heightened once again as I was watching ‘Flog It’. This show is one of the many English shows based on the auctioning of antiques in the hope of making lots of money for the person who has brought them. An essential element in the show is that the person selling is not aware of the value of the item. There is the build up phase of the show which consists of of the ‘evaluation’ of the object by several experts. Then comes ‘judgement day’ when the auction is held. Will the reserve be reached? Will the person be happy with the price? Will the expert’s opinion be correct? (another risk is taken). After judgement comes consolation or rejoicing. It seems that human beings are inveterate ‘putters of ourselves on the line’. Perhaps this is because life itself is like that. Each day is a ‘putting ourselves out there’ in the hope of achieving ‘something’.

The second characteristic element in this kind of a show is that the person bringing the item has something which they hope is of great value, but that the value is hidden from them. Some game shows depend upon skill or effort for a person to be a ‘winner’. ‘The X Factor’ or ‘Weakest Link’ or ‘Pointless’ are of this type. But in the ‘Flog It’ game show it is important that the person does not know the value of what they have.

Then the third  characteristic element of the show comes in. This is the ‘What will you do with the money?’ phase. Each person is asked ‘Well you have risked this item at auction for something else: money. But what will this money represent for you?’ They reply ‘Re-doing the bathroom’ or ‘Going on a holiday’ or something that represents what they hope to gain by putting their item (a symbol of their life) at risk.

This phase of the game is known in sociological circles as ‘dream building’. It is the hope for something better (a dream) which inspires people to set off on the ‘game show’ (risk) course.

One particular episode which I saw last week had all these elements powerfully bound together. The woman who came onto the show had an 18th century ‘creamier’ (a fancy name for a cream jug) in the shape of a cow. The cream went in the top, and came out of the cow’s mouth! It was quite small, and of course she did not know what it was worth. The show’s host asked her ‘What do you hope to do with the money?’ She said ‘I want to put it toward a trip to New Zealand to see my first grandchild.’

The ‘creamier’ was estimated to be worth about £200.00. But when it went to auction, all her dreams came true. The creamier went for £ 1,800.00 and the woman was able to book her trip to New Zealand there and then.

The powerful thing about this particular episode of the show was the combination of five big themes:
hope (the woman risks something for the sake of realising her dream), judgement (the auction), grace (the value of her object was a surprise to her and she did not have to ‘earn’ it), belonging (the desire to visit her family) and fruitfulness (the desire to see the next generation ‘the fruit of her womb’).

Now you can perhaps see where I am going. I keep making a comparison between the way that these themes are dealt with in the Christian faith (which is not very popular) and television game shows, which deal with the same themes, (but which are very popular.)

The first thing to say is that money is just so concrete. We are a materialist and consumerist society. We really do believe in what we can touch and feel. Money is so flexible in that it represents our hopes and dreams in a highly liquid form. Applying these themes of Hope, Judgement, Grace, Belonging and Fruitfulness to life with God is difficult because as one person at an enquiry group said to me “God is not very ‘in your face’ “. We can be atheists really, because the reality of God’s life does not impinge much on what we do from day to day. Jesus says to us ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves do not break in and steal.’ And there will be a day of judgement when being accountable for our lives will come. We do need God’s grace toward us if we are to survive this judgement. These are the features of a life lived ‘toward God’. We see the way the world is and keep hoping for a better life. But to direct our life toward God, and not money is difficult.

The Church is the place where we truly ‘belong.’ It is the place where family ties are transcended and belonging ‘in Christ’ becomes the main reality of our lives. Our ‘children’ are the ‘children’ in the faith and the question of ‘fruitfulness’ we ask is ‘has this congregation been fruitful, or have we been barren?’ We learn how to be people in our natural families in Church.

The themes of Christian life are exactly the same ones as are played out in secular life, as the game show demonstrates. The difference lies in the direction to which the energy of these human themes is put. It is one thing, in summary to have ‘get up and go’ but the real question is ‘Where does our get up and go go to?’

Some people who have had difficult natural family lives find their belonging in God’s family. Some people who are single find friendship and ‘children’ in the Church. Some Churches bring new ‘children’ to birth in the faith. The task for us as a congregation is to find ways that the reality of God’s life, as less ‘in your face’ but more ‘real’ can be demonstrated. There are lots of places that promise the same thing as the Church: your dreams fulfilled. There are lots of places that do it more ‘showily’ than we do because there is money at stake, and more of it to splash around in making a ‘show’, but there is one element about the woman’s creamier which is exactly the same as the church: hardly any one knows the real value of what we have (a treasure in an earthen vessel). That will only come out on judgement day, either in heaven or when we close down (should we be found wanting before then).

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At Eucharist, we put our …

At Eucharist, we put our lives ‘in play’ for God. At Evensong we reflect on how the ‘play’ has gone.

Now that I reflect, the difference is like two speeches in Henry V. The one (for Eucharist) says ‘For he that hath not stomach for this fight, let him depart!!’ the other, after the battle (like evensong) has the King say ‘Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’The dead with charity enclosed in clay: And then to Calais; and to England then:Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.’

The starting point for this reflection is the noticing of a difference: That’s what they say: ‘Difference leads to reflection’. So here is the difference. Since Vatican11 the Eucharist has come to occupy a central place in the worship of the Catholic and Catholic-influenced Churches. When I was a Methodist, we used to have a form of morning prayer each Sunday. It was mostly hymns and a sermon. OK. So the purpose of this was the hearing of God’s Word through the words of the sermon. I think I have told you before about my German friend who said about reformed worship in Germany ‘You know, I could leave out all of it, but not the sermon.’

So in the Anglican Church too. It was common for morning prayer (Matins) to be the main form of worship each Sunday. The introduction to Matins sets out the purpose of it: to hear God’s Word and to pray for the things we need, and to give thanks to God. This is much the same purpose as reformed worship still has today.

Anglican Churches with a strong Choir tradition also connected the singing of the psalms the canticles and the anthem (like the cantata in reformed tradition) with Matins. There was a lot for them to do, and naturally they liked it. So Matins and choirs became connected.

Along comes Vatican11. This Church council said ‘We want to give the Eucharist back to he people.’ The Roman Catholic Church had a lot more work to do in this regard (like changing from Latin to the vernacular for instance) than others, but, none the less, the Anglican Church was heavily influenced by this liturgical renewal. We began a period of sanctioned experiment with liturgy in the 1960’s which resulted in the prayer book we use now. The outcome was a much more participative style of Eucharist, with the roles shared out among the whole congregation. This was in part necessitated by the decline in Choirs, but also by the desire to involve everyone who comes through the church door.

The other thing that changed is the purpose of coming to church. Instead of a mental division being made between ‘those who are up front’ delivering the ‘Word of God’ and those who are in the body of the Church more or less passively receiving the Word of God the idea that drives today’s Eucharist is ‘the celebration of the presence of God with Gods people, by the whole people of God’. As I keep saying ‘What we do on Sunday morning is something that everyone does for God.’

There is also a process that this participation sets off in us as we take part. I think of this process as a ‘conversion engine’. This was also John Wesley’s idea. Participation in the Eucharist as communion with God involves the processes of reconciliation with God and with each other envisaged by the words we say. This is the concentrated form of ordinary life: awareness, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, communion, joy!

This is then an introduction as to why I think that to have Matins as the main thing we as English Speaking Christians do on a Sunday morning (even with communion form the Book of Common Prayer) is no longer a viable option. So, as part of our period of sanctioned experiment we have made the Eucharist with maximum congregational participation the main thing.

But also as part of our period of sanctioned experiment, we have re-instituted Evensong on the fourth Sunday of the month. We did this for the first time last Sunday. It was great.
Now the structure of Evensong is much like Morning Prayer. There are readings for the hearing of God’s word, there are psalms, canticles, hymns, an anthem and a sermon. The role of the congregation is more passive than in the Eucharist which we now celebrate together. So what is it for me that makes the difference between the value of evensong, yet the difficulties I have with Matins?

I think the main difference lies in the time of day when each service is held and the place that each service holds within the life of the congregation.

Evensong, when we held it last Sunday was conducted in the warm glow of evening and candle-light. We are opened up to God by the onset of evening. This is, for my money, a better time to be more passive and open to God. In the morning, my aim is to present the Gospel in an active fashion: to ‘strike a few blows’ for what things mean. Remember the hymn we sang last week? ‘Not forever by still waters would we idly rest and stray; but would smite the living fountains from the rocks along the way.’ This is not the kind of hymn that can be sung easily at Evensong. We should sing it where something is at stake, which is the case on a Sunday morning. The question asked of us then is ‘Where are you?’ ‘Can you strike some living water from thee rocks?’ This question captures the ‘up for grabs’ nature of our status and participation in the Eucharist.

But Evensong is more like the ‘warm bath’ that I might enjoy after a hard day’s work. Then all the comfort of God comes to bless us as we give ourselves up to sleep. We pray ‘Lighten our darkness lord we pray and defend us from all perils and dangers of this night for the love of your only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ We sometimes sing ‘Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest, the lights of evening round us shine…’ or pray ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who at this evening hour rested in the sepulchre and so made the grave to be a be a bed of hope for your people…’ These are prayers of confidence in God. These are prayers that invite God’s protection. They are proper at night or in the evening. That is why it is also proper to have special prayers for healing at evensong. That is why it is proper to be more passive. Eucharist in the morning energises and forms us for Christian living. Evensong rounds off the process.

This is the difference for me that makes both ‘work’ as forms of Church. At Eucharist, we put our lives ‘in play’ for God. At Evensong we reflect on how the ‘play’ has gone.

Now that I reflect, the difference is like two speeches in Henry V. The one (for Eucharist) says ‘For he that hath not stomach for this fight, let him depart!!’ the other, after the battle (like evensong) has the King say ‘Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’The dead with charity enclosed in clay: And then to Calais; and to England then:Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.’

Both kinds of ‘speech’ have their place. Here is my rationale for each kind and their timing.

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