from St Faith's
Fr Neil Kelley: 23
‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.' So says Our Lord in
today’s Gospel: a reminder that over and above all else it is God who
comes first. The first of the ten commandments makes that clear and in
the good old days of the Book of Common Prayer we heard that regularly
in what is known as the Summary of the Law. The first commandment
reminds us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength
and mind. And the way we do that, the way we put God first, is to
The Liturgical Commission of the Church of England has recently
published a report entitled “Transforming Worship” which was received
at the last meeting of the General Synod.
It makes for very interesting reading, if you are interested in that
sort of thing, although I haven’t finished reading it yet. I must
finish it soon as the Diocese have asked me to suggest ways in which
some of the recommendations contained in the report need to be
implemented in the Diocese of Liverpool.
It is appropriate today, one year after being licensed as Diocesan
Adviser on Liturgy and Worship, that I take the opportunity to thank
you for your generosity in agreeing that some of my time can be given
to Diocesan work.
Some have criticised the Roman Catholic Church in recent years for what
might be described as “throwing the baby away with the bathwater” and
whilst the report doesn’t say that we have done that, my reading of it
is that it certainly hints at it.
In recent years, certainly among some of the clergy working in the
Kirkby Team when I was there ten years ago, there has been something of
a feeling that we shouldn’t bother too much about services because the
real work of the church is done outside the building.
The report contradicts that assumption when it says: “we must not let
the familiar words of the dismissal mislead us into thinking that,
while we are still at worship, our active service has not yet begun.
The very phrase ‘divine service’ reminds us that worship too is
“Worship must never be a performance merely for its own sake and that
can sometimes happen or appear to happen. There is a danger that a
concern for the liturgy to be well-prepared and carefully celebrated
can develop into liturgical fussiness and perfectionism”. But, says the
report, “we still have to take responsibility for planning and
celebrating our rites to the best of our ability, and we will normally
find that good and well-prepared liturgy will inspire the Christian
community to joyful living and costly service, in ways that are deeply
attractive to those outside or on the edge of the church.”
We talk a lot, and rightly so, about the church’s involvement with
those who are poor. But we don’t tend to have the same debates and
conversations about how we tackle the issues of spiritual poverty. Many
in fact claim that it is because of a spiritual richness that people in
third world countries can cope with the material poverty around them.
Perhaps those of us who live in rather comfortable surroundings have
something to learn from the spiritually rich!
In recent years many have described the liturgy as the shop window of
the church. Liturgy can be an opportunity for people to be drawn to the
church or put off it for life!
One of the things that came out of a meeting with Bishop James recently
is that he has asked me to organise a day conference in the Cathedral
next autumn, a three-line whip event for clergy and readers, entitled
“The Beauty of Holiness”. The importance of worship cuts across all
churchmanship and styles.
Of course each tradition has elements which can be good or bad and we
can and must learn from each other.
There are many new ideas in the liturgical market-place at present,
offering a whole range of resources for all age worship. Some is very
good and powerful, some trite and banal. I know for example of a priest
in this diocese who confessed that if he doesn’t get a laugh out of
people at an all-age family service he comes away feeling he has
failed! What have we turned worship into when we think like that? Do we
really think that as priests we have to become game-show hosts?
A year on, after the last review, the content of all age worship was
discussed by both PCCs recently and will be discussed more as we seek
to work out what is right for our two churches and taking a whole raft
of considerations into account – more later!
We are blessed here to enjoy a high standard of liturgy, serving, music
and lay participation. That is not something we should be embarrassed
about or feel guilty about. It is something to celebrate and rejoice
in. and we are good at celebrating. The new Area Dean, Roger Driver,
came to see me the other day and one of his comments was “the best
parties in the Deanery are all up this end!”
The whole of the report I mention is based on the significance of
worship in all that we do participating in the 'missio Dei', the
mission of God. Worship and mission are inextricably linked.
It is good, with that in mind, to acknowledge the dedication of five
people from our two churches, (Fred Nye, Jackie Parry, Kari Dodson,
Lynda Dixon and Cynthia Johnson) who are this week beginning a year
long course organised by the Diocese entitled 'Mission Shaped
Ministry'. Mission Shaped Ministry is for Christians who want their
churches to be more effective in mission: a course for all
denominations, traditions and streams and for recognized ministers who
want to sharpen their skills. Those participating will learn about the
nature and shape of the church, the qualities and characteristics of
Christian ministry and will be helped in the process of listening to
God in our own culture and community. It is designed for busy
Christians who are active in ministry and part of the learning comes
through reflection on our own context and story.
Mission and worship are inextricably linked, or should be. When we
worship, as the report I mention says, we participate in God’s mission
and when we worship well we give others an opportunity of deepening
their relationship with Him.
Perhaps the final word today on worship should come, not from the Synod
report, or even from the Diocesan Advisor on Liturgy and Worship, but
some words from the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, in his thought for
the day on 12th September.
'I've been fascinated by the recent spate of books casting doubt on
religious faith, as if religion meant believing six impossible things
before breakfast. Well, religion is a matter of holding certain
beliefs, but that's not the only or even the most important thing about
it. Religion is also about ritual; and ritual is about taking certain
beliefs and making them real in the way we behave.
Would my life be the same without the Jewish New Year? No. I might
still believe that life has a purpose, that what matters is not how
much we earn but the good we do. I might still be convinced that it's
important to apologise for the wrong I do and try to make amends. But
those beliefs would have no fixed date in my diary and I might never
get round to acting on them at all. Religion isn't the only way of
thinking about ultimate questions. There are others: philosophy for
example, or science. But philosophy and science never created rituals.
And when you lose ritual you lose much else besides.
When people pray, they ritualise the sense that there is someone
watching over what we do, and that creates internal restraints. When we
lose that, we have to invent another form of watching, closed circuit
video cameras, and that's the beginning of a loss of privacy. When we
have the Sabbath, we have dedicated family time. Lose the Sabbath and a
generation later families begin to fracture. Ritual structures time the
way music structures sound. It turns life into a work of art, giving it
shape, proportion, grace and beauty.
In English the word secular comes from 'seculum' meaning worldly, so
religion signifies something other-worldly. But the Hebrew word for
secular, 'chol', actually means sand. And that, without ritual, is what
we can sometimes become: a grain of sand blown by the shifting winds of
moment and mood. Rituals help us consecrate time, weaving into our
lives the things that are important, not just urgent.'
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