Church is God’s ‘Cabaret’, so ‘Right This Way Your Table’s Waiting’

Reflection 18-8-13

 

We have been having some conversations with our new web site developer, Robert, about how the new site should ‘look’. Before I started to talk to Robert I did not know that each year had its ‘colours’ and that most of what goes on about  people’s appreciation of a site belongs to this unconscious realm of colour and perception.

 

We then got to talking about the values of the different generations. You know ‘Gen X’ and Gen Y’. One thing that Robert said struck me about Generation Y. He said words to the effect that “They think that life is a ‘Show’. It is meant to be fun.’

 

The first thing that came to me was how much I am out of touch with these generations that are younger than I am. I have spent most of my clergy life relating to people who are older. Here, we have begun to make friends with people who are about the same age, and if any of that bears fruit, it will do well for this congregation.

 

But the truth of the Church is that there ought to be room for all ages and stages. You can see for your self the difficulties that arise when one group captures the ‘culture’ in a congregation and uses its power to keep things the way they want it. The result is stagnation. At the same time, there are limits to the amount of difference that can be borne by any one.

 

So how does this work? It looks as though we are trying to do the impossible: be a Church for everyone, at the same time live within our limitations.

 

One person from Zurich has been heard to say ‘The role of the older generation is to use their wealth to fund the next generation’s activities.’ I think that this is a very humble and sensible suggestion. It does not mean that they have no influence, but it does build into the church life the idea of renewal and how it will be financed.

 

About worship, there are also some solutions that I think are creative. The first principle for me is this. “What we do on Sunday Morning in the Eucharist is by the people who come for God.’ That is to say, it is not for the people who come. This means that we ought to build in as much participation by everyone who is there. That is why I have put an emphasis on increasing the possibilities for active participation by the whole congregation. If there are lots of different kinds of people present, then we can have lots of different worship styles by them, for the Glory of God.

 

In one place where I worshipped, we decided to have a ‘Eucharist by Children.’ We asked first of all if the older members of the congregation would give up their preferred ‘style’ of worshipping God, for the sake of allowing the children’s style of worshipping God to take over for one Sunday a month. They agreed. Then we asked the question ‘What does the Eucharist look like when we adjust its structure so that children can play most of the main parts.’ We developed an order, and received the bishop’s approval. We had a great time.

 

Other congregations have split into ‘age and stage’ groups for the teaching and preaching and intercessions, or if there is a bi-lingual congregation, they have split into language groups for the same part of the Eucharist.

 

Another solution is to have different kinds of worship offered by people of a different temperament. I do not think that this is ideal, because it plays too much into the hands of those who think that worship is for the people who come. But at the same time I am glad that we have Evensong here once a month because this represents a way that some people really like to worship, and it is good to give them room to express themselves.

 

 

Different styles of worship have different levels of ‘ease of accessibility’ too. The Eucharist is designed for a specific purpose, and is not open to people who are not schooled in what it is meant to achieve. But this does not mean that we should not try to offer ways of worshipping that are easier to participate in. We are exploring something along these lines for the Second Sunday in the Month as a form of outreach.

 

The thing is, that we are always trying to manage difference while at the same time trying to be as inclusive as possible.

 

The other thing that Robert said about the desire that life be ‘fun’ for Gen. Y reminded me of the movie ‘Cabaret’. I found my self responding with ‘Life is a Cabaret old Chum, Come to the Cabaret’. There is a danger that this means that there is nothing to be taken with ultimate seriousness. This danger is faced in the show ‘Cabaret’ when in the ‘restaurant scene’ a beautiful day is enhanced when a young lad gets up and begins to sing ‘O Fatherland, Fatherland show us the way… Tomorrow belongs to me’. What starts out as a beautiful boy soprano voice singing a lovely tune ends up as a symbol of the mass participation on the Nazi movement by the German people, all the while singing ‘Life is a Cabaret’, and the Jews are hauled off to their deaths.

 

But there are some similarities between Church on a Sunday and a ‘Cabaret’. The first thing is the hospitality! The song says ‘Right this way your table’s waiting’. Sometimes people say to me ‘If I went into a Church the roof would fall in’. I say ‘No, if you went into a church you would find a seat with your name on it waiting for you.’ It is really sad that people do not see going to Church with the same expectation that they will be welcomed as they do when going to a cabaret, or to a restaurant. But our role in hospitality is just like that of a waiter in a restaurant: to welcome others, and to be of service to them. In fact, the role of Deacon in the Church is very much like that of being a ‘waiter’: so much so that in Brisbane there is a group dedicated to service of the poor, like deacons, which calls itself ‘The Waiters Union’.

 

The other thing is that like a cabaret, our Eucharist is a microcosm of life. Life, not as she is ordinarily lived, but life lived before God. The Eucharist is a play in which we all have a role to play. How well we learn to play our parts will determine how well we will get on when the Age to Come arrives in power. As Richard Norris has said “The Church is a collection of people whose business it is constantly to rehearse a divinely authored play whose first actual, full performance will occur in the Age to Come our task is to learn our parts “

 

I would love it if we could form a group that is committed to exploring how we might bring alive the Eucharist more for those of us who are committed to the Christian way of life. This of a life which is the most serious ‘cabaret’ that there can be.

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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