Thursday, March 30, 2006

Worship dislikes (part two)

Vain repetition.

Notice that the first half of the phrase is an essential part of it. So I don't mind hymns with choruses, which give you time to think about the words in the verses and bring you back to a thought which is then further expanded on. I don't mind "choruses" per se, so long as we don't spend time singing them over and over (yes, that's fine, got that, now can we move on please?)

Taize chants in prayers are fine, if a little over-rated in my view. Gives you time to assent to the prayers being offered.

1. Choruses that say "I love you, Lord" in six different ways. Or "How wonderful you are" (I know this is a little harsh, we need to spend some time on it and the words are difficult to compose, but can we have some imagery, please?) And some barely say anything at all. Some are mercifully brief but that's not a reason to sing them ad nauseam.
2. Rattling through the same prayers every week and yes I do include the Lord's Prayer, I don't care who taught it, it was an example, not a ritual/memorial. (He did give us one of those.)
3. Long rambling prayers even if technically they're not repetitive. "What's wrong with the Battersea Dog's Home?" "Nothing, why?" "It's the only thing you didn't pray for."
4. And of course preachers who've made their point very clearly and illustrated it and set off round again when they don't need to, having actually proclaimed the Good News powerfully. (Again, some repetition is not only allowed but useful, maybe essential.) "Has the preacher finished yet?" "Yes, he just hasn't stopped."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Curry and Quiz and Community

Last night was curry and quiz night at the church and an excellent evening it was too. Thanks to Andy for organising, all those who cooked, and Pete and Annette for the well-balanced quiz (modesty forbids that I say which team won).

Which brings me back to community, solid church and exclusivity. We were a disparate group last night. Not that disparate, in that we are all white and middle-class, (but then most of Yate and Sodbury is), but these are people that I probably wouldn't have met other than through the church. I have things in common with them - Pete and I share a passion for 70s rock in general and Steve Harley and Bill Nelson in particular, Stuart and I share a passion for science-fiction, Richard and I share a passion for mathematics, and so on - but no one thing in common with all of them except faith. Which we didn't talk about last night, or at least I speak for myself. Are we a community or an exclusive club?

It is different to the chess club where we meet, play, and talk about chess, and go home until next week. Occasionally at chess club there is talk of eg fishing but mostly it's about chess. Roleplaying night we talk about films and computers but these are mostly related to roleplaying, even if somewhat tangentially. But at church we talk about other things, although Pete did put in some kind of Biblical question into as many rounds as he could.

TheTuesday Together club (and it is very new; it is still an experiment as I understand) is not primarily, or even largely, intended to discuss faith, although it will sometimes, as in February's meeting. It is not an outreach group, although anyone can come, member of the church or not. It can be a drop-in group; some members didn't come because they don't like curry (or maybe quizzes). They may come next time, or the time after. It will be an awkward night for some (Annette's netball night, for instance).

It still builds community, in the way that solid churches do. Amen.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A breakthrough

This ties together some comments on previous posts with the next book on my reading list, which is Liquid Church. This is an exciting new book on ecclesiology.

Health Warning: I've only read the introduction and overview so far, so you might want to check back when I've finished it.

However as I understand it at the moment, the thesis is that the future of church is not attending an institution at set times, but networking and informal relationships. Church is a verb not a noun. So blogs which people comment on is "being church" (not sure about the syntactical structure here), and as we build up a network of them, the Gospel is preached and spread. Instead of going to Sunday worship we can meet down the pub, as has also been suggested to me, and worship there.

It sounds too simple, and too good to be true. What am I missing?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Self-denial and Lent

I have never "given something up for Lent." Are you shocked?

There is much reference to it among theological students. On the other hand, the (admittedly small) discussion group at my church could ultimately not endorse it - and I wasn't trying to persuade them. We could see a long tradition of it - most obviously of course the ritual of Pancake Day. We could agree that for some people it was important and presumably enriching. We just couldn't see what it was.

If the meaning is "to share Jesus' suffering/temptation" or something similar, then I don't see it. For one thing, giving up (say) chocolate is not comparable with 40 days in the desert and to say it is would be arrogant. In any case, why? The message of Jesus' work for me is that suffering was done by Him so that we don't have to. Lent is a time for mature reflection and consciousness of your own sin, but not for making yourself needlessly miserable.

If the meaning is to live simply, then I can see that - but that is for all year round, surely. Likewise for giving up bad habits; Lent could be a time to start, but not more so than New Year. And they should be given up permanently if you mean it. I once gave up alcohol indefinitely, as a witness to others that it wasn't necessary to get drunk to enjoy yourself. It lasted around eighteen months. The reason I started again was I wanted a pint in the pub and lemonade just wasn't doing it. But it wasn't to do with Lent.

So if someone can explain why they deny themselves in Lent and how it enhances their spirituality I would be pleased to hear it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Jonathan's theory

Are both of these men Methodists? And how do you feel about them?

Worship dislikes (part one)

This is the same topic as previous posts but now no-one can call me on my language.

I don't like holding bits of paper and books while I'm trying to worship.

1. It restricts my freedom. I can't dance while singing from a book. I can't wave a streamer or shake a tambourine. I can't even clap my hands. I can just about sway in time with the music. If I have to put my reading glasses on to follow the words, everything else in the Church is out of focus; I can't see the imagery, the banners, the preacher/leader is blurred and so are most of the faces of the congregation. I can't close my eyes to concentrate if I have to know when to join in.

I could learn all the words, you say? Yeah right. Hundreds of hymns and choruses and several different liturgies. (Even if they're only slightly different - which is often more trouble; at Wesley we use the modern form of the Lord's Prayer and at Yate the traditional form - and I'm having trouble keeping track of that. I'm often two lines behind. And I know the Lord's Prayer.) I know that in the past, the hymns were written to be learned so that theology could be learned with it. But this is the modern world, to quote The Jam. We have so many other things to learn - and our memories are not as good since we got used to recording things in written form (like blogs). If I'd started twenty years ago to learn words then I might be better now - but then I would have learned old forms that have since been changed. So how much better off I'd be is moot.

2. I don't like reading from books or orders of service. I read at different speeds to others. I never follow the Bible reading in print as I read too fast and finish three verses ahead. On the other hand, as noted in an earlier comment, liturgy is usually said too fast. I need to go at about one third speed to understand the densely packed content. Try understanding a novel by reading one sentence in three. (Yes, repetition helps, but we'll come back to that.)
My butterfly mind won't let me concentrate on what is being said, if I have other words before and after on the page - my eyes flit about.
I notice typos or spelling mistakes on the page (I'm an excellent proof-reader) and it distracts me. I even wonder whether there should be a comma here or a semi-colon there; I'm a big fan of Lynne Truss. (Yes, I'm a pedant and proud of it.)

3. I'm not convinced we're good at corporate reading. Singing at least gives you a tune and thus a tempo. (Think how important that is by remembering the times when an organist played too fast or too slow.) Again, because I'm good at sight-reading I sometimes read (a little) differently to others - I want to put a breath in, or carry on to preserve the meaning of a complex phrase when others pause. Then I'm aware I'm out of phase and have to get back in. If it didn't matter if we finished together that would help - but it wouldn't help others and would embarrass me to finish two minutes later because I want to read it slower.

4. Don't get me started on managing two different hymn books, a written liturgy, an extra song on another sheet, the notices and whatever. So it isn't usually as bad as that but it can be pretty bad sometimes. Do I put one down, trying to keep the page and then fumbling for it (and there's sometimes nowhere to put them except on the floor), do I juggle them, almost literally, holding them all together? And I want to concentrate on the sermon without either balancing things on my knee, trying not to kick what's on the floor, or worrying that my bit of paper has got dropped and has floated three chairs away and how am I going to get it back and does it matter?

Rant over, for now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The rebuilding of the temple

A parody.

Ezra 6.1-16

At the dawn of the new millenium, the powers that be decreed that the temple with the twin towers in the Great City of London had to come down.
The worshippers were sent into exile in the wicked city of Cardiff where there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The treasures and trophies were carried off to a private vault out of sight of the people.
Then, Lo, it was decreed that the temple be rebuilt.
The people of the northern wastelands
said, “By whose authority do you rebuild this temple in the city of London?”
The priest’s replied, “Everyone dost know that London is the centre of the universe and anyway, God told us to build it there.”
Therefore, the workers were given all that they needed and more, to complete the task.
When the temple was completed the treasures and trophies were returned and the worshippers returned from exile with much celebration and great joy.

by Joanne Sherwood

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What do we need?

Caroline led prayers on this today and it's a good question, although I'm perhaps going to take it to places that she didn't intend, taking some of the topics from earlier and turning them into questions. The temple needs to be cleaned regularly, some things thrown out, and some things put back. Obviously also implied is "What don't we need?"

Do we need liturgy to praise God in suitable language and style?

Do we need to deny ourselves in Lent to improve our spirituality?

From today's lecture: Does the Methodist Church need bishops?

Do we need dissenting voices to help us clarify our thoughts and theologies?

There are two things we clearly do need. One is prayer. The other is space. So here is some of the latter, which may help with the former.

Was that helpful?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Jobs for the boys and girls

Elections time and "everyone gets a job". What am I called to be? Student President sounds grand but what does it mean and is it a bit much for someone new to the College? There is a popular candidate. Meeting secretary implies the gift of administration and sorting out, which is not evident in this member. Social secretary the same applies but more so. Assistant librarian doesn't sound thrilling. Musical director isn't even a starter. Nor First-aider. Treasurer is taken. FGH co-ordinator requires someone who lives there. Chapel steward? What do they do? AVA co-ordinator, outfitter co-ordinator. Don't fancy anything with co-ordinator in the title (and what does AVA stand for anyway?).

I need a job called "Troublemaker", "Firestarter", "Delegator", "Philosopher-king". Tell me about chapel steward again. Can you do it sitting down? Votes on Wednesday. Trust.

As one job opens, another closes. Last day at the Lunch Club as placement draws to a close. Nice people, some like a strong cup of tea, some like the tea-bag waved at it. You get to know people when you serve them dinner. Also coming to the end of my time as "preacher-teacher", as one group had it. This will be a wrench but also a relief in some ways. Jobs are about skills and gifts, and other people can have these too. I'm on my bike.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Service Report Form

Particular Circumstances
Part of series "Saints and Heroes" - Gideon

How appropriate was the worship to this kind of congregation?
They are used to this preacher and his ways, and generally react well whatever he throws at them.

How were the gifts of the congregation used?
Angela was good with the children, Liza-Jane was spectacular as the angel, and everyone joined in with the actions in the Superhero song, taught last week by Amy.

Were any ingredients of worship absent? If so, were they deliberately omitted? Why?
Little time spent on confession, much on absolution. Quite deliberate. The question remains whether more should have been done, given that it is Lent.

How well do you think the language used in the service related to the congregation?
Children's prayers used while children present. The Bible read from the Message and the Book of Books.

How clear was the aim of the sermon?
Seemed from comments afterward to be well understood. Preacher spoke of faith, obedience and humility and went on to age-ism and leadership.

For you, how successfully was the aim achieved?
Perhaps the point about tokenism could have been made clearer. The meta-narrative in the middle was important too. Could also have talked about gender and sexuality. Inevitably, without a full script, some things were slightly under-emphasised.

What were the strongest points of the content and delivery of the sermon?
The preacher was passionate about the subjects, which did seem to come from the text. He was clear and had good diction.

What aspects of this part of the service need further development?
Be nice if he could have it all sorted out before Saturday night. Then depth and illustrations could be added.

Any other comments?
Does need a team approach to incorporate several elements , even to putting the hymn-board back up. All contributions were valued.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What shall we talk about?

The reason for starting this blog was the number of ideas tumbling over each other desperate for discussion. Since today is my day off, all I intend to do is list them in no particular order in the hopes that they will somehow be able to sort themselves into an orderly queue. Here goes:

Liturgy, ritual and symbolism, worship and lifestyle in Lent, empowerment, prayer, discipline, dissent and freedom, openness, money, compromise, leadership, religious orders, emotion, progress and fidelity, creativity.

There may be more (check back to see if any get added).

In the meantime, here is some music

Friday, March 17, 2006

Can't we just agree to disagree and get on with being one?

Today's homework was writing up my notes on the Anglican-Methodist talks between 1955 and 1972. This gives me a title which seems to have synergy with yesterday's title. That's the excuse anyway.

After it was all over, ie the mid-seventies, I guess everyone felt thoroughly exhausted and demoralised. All that work for no progress whatsoever. And the attempts since didn't go anywhere either.

No-one should be surprised. Two structures with long and proud histories (some of it in adversity) trying to join together. You might as well try to merge the Robins and the Gasheads. Doesn't stop people suggesting it though.

Actually I think at this remove that considerable progress was made. The fact that talks took place at all was progress. The realisation on both sides that you can't always get what you want is a lesson. Unrealistic hopes, demands and expectations are junked (mostly). This gives you freedom to move on. And the 20th Century saw ecumenism accelerate at a rate unbelievable to Victorians and earlier. We have joint services, visiting preachers from other denominations, ecumenical parishes, joint training (he said modestly) and so on. Are we united? Nowhere near.

The lecturer on Thursday told us how the Methodist movement post-Wesley split, split and split again. Over practical details, over theological understanding and over sheer bloody-mindedness.
Even now not all the splits have re-united. But all worship God, in ways that suit them.

So the answer to the title question is history, culture, human frailty and you can add your own. Am I dispirited? Sometimes. Am I exasperated? Frequently. Am I encouraged? Now and again. Am I amused? A bit. Am I carrying on? Oh yes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

We do not always agree

Two discussions today with that theme.

Two of us discussed the Ash Wednesday service on the 1st which I felt uncomfortable and upset about; partly because everyone else seemed to be happy with it. Was I just being awkward and selfish? Now I learn that a number of others share at least similar reservations - and took part to the limit of their strength. Clearly some value it (or presumably we wouldn't have had it), and there will be another one next year, at least in some format. I have worried whether I should apply for a dispensation next year. Others presumably did not this year.

At Circuit Meeting we discussed the Methodist Church's thoughts on sexuality, and the attempts made to genuinely hear all sides in order to make a statement. Society is divided still on this one, so unsurprisingly our Church is, and so was the Circuit Meeting. The resolutions passed in 1993 are contradictory. They are not being changed; they are not even under consideration.

If the Church took a view, any view, the point was made, then some would be excluded and rejected. Therefore it is good that the Church does not take a view; it lives with the contradictions as best it can. In this way all can be invited to receive God's love.

If all services were designed so that no-one could ever be offended or upset then they would be dull beyond belief. Some services we will enjoy; some we will find difficult. So it is all right, it is necessary, to have services such as Ash Wednesday. And for me to be asked to attend.

Pray for me that I can go next year and take something from it. (I still don't want to.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Postscript: How quickly?

... can you create a service of worship?

The service which was the subject of the last post took 3 weeks. E-mails all over the place. Orders of Service created and revised. Hymns rejected and replaced. Proofreading the powerpoint the afternoon before. Music added to the preview presentation the night before. The sketch was first rehearsed fifteen minutes before the service (the preacher arrived while it was being done).

And now I have a service on Sunday. Emphatically not my service - a service from the people for the people. The theme chosen 12 weeks previous in committee. The first part decided by a chance remark by Paul W - he was shocked when I said we'd do it. Pam suggested a hymn. Sketch found on the internet while searching for a different one and an angel acquired on Sunday. "Superhero" song added when Stuart used it last week, with Amy teaching the actions - CD borrowed. Which leaves me to choose three more hymns and a reading (pretty obvious admittedly and Angela will read), find some prayers, write a sermon (already have the theme - thanks Charity), phone it through to the steward (today), check with Sunday Club teachers. Do we want a second reading? Is there time for anyone else to think of a hymn? Can Liza-Jane and I find time to practice (and has she got the e-mail?)

I need to finish this entry to go and do it.

How many people does it take?

... to prepare a service?

Today the answer was: three - but not counting the one who wrote the sermon, the one who had to be consulted on liturgy and order, the one who did the intercessions, and the musical consultant. So up to seven, then. Talk about team ministry.

Did it work?

Well, yes. And it probably was all the better for the team effort. The Powerpoint slides meant we didn't have to hold up to three books and search through them for the right pages. The sketch made people laugh - and hopefully think. The hymns were varied. The communion sharing, though it took longer than usual, was nice (even if we had to look away when the bread was dropped).

Was it seven times better than if one person had done it all?

Probably not. Hmm.

How much effort should we take? A lot more than we normally do, I guess.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


All my friends have a web presence so I should have one too. The first half of that sentence is clearly false, and the second half is a non-sequitur, but you get my point.

I have never successfully kept a diary so we'll see how this goes, but I am coming across a lot of issues I want to think about and this may be a good way to do it.

The title? A homage to W.W. Sawyer. We'll get to the precise reason another time.