Monday, June 24, 2013

On the one subject that really matters ... we pass

In part, posts and comments here are on the state of the Anglican church. Sometimes the focus is global and there is much to despair about, since the global Anglican work is that of a 'Communion' and currently we have a Communion mostly in name only. Sometimes the focus is local, life in these islands, with an occasional nod to Anglican life in the West Island, also known as Oz.

When the focus is local, there is also much to despair about. With what statistics we can muster - we have no internal whole-of-church-in-these-islands attendance stats - (including census figures) we are at the very, very best on a plateau. Likely guess is that we continue in statistical decline. If we look aroundabout and see that the booming churches of our cities and major towns are nearly always non-Anglican churches, we might stop and ask what could we learn. In my experience we mostly do not stop, let alone learn. I think we do think about where we are going on the debate over same sex relationships, there is a rather long pause going on because we fear (and especially our bishops fear) division, and yet nobody has - to my knowledge - advanced a way forward which is hopeful for a future together. Then there might be temptations to localised local despair: the way one's diocese is going, the inability of the parish to agree on some detail of a building project, and the lack of harmony in the choir. The usual stuff of ecclesiastical despair!

However I am not personally despairing at all. Optimism is my middle name. Here is a particular reason why.

A privilege of the positions I have held in ministry education for 12+ years in two dioceses is the ability to visit parishes, here and there, town and country, anglo-catholic, broad church and evangelical, early and mid-morning services, and sometimes evening services (though few of these exist these days). I have had, as you might imagine, some interesting experiences of Anglican worship through these years. One service I went to might be the only example in the world of an ecumenical service featuring Roman Catholics, Brethren and Anglican. Another memorable service involved travelling to one of the most remote places of worship in NZ (two hours drive from the nearest town) for a service with a half dozen people. There have been services which have owed little to Anglican liturgical principles, services which took an unbearably long time (I cannot recall any services which were too short!), services in unbearably cold churches, and, yes, services which have inspired and lifted me to heaven. Out of all those services one thing stands out.

I was thinking about this one thing yesterday when in a new-for-me church (where, to my pleasure, the liturgy was excellent and the sermon superb). That one thing is love. In every congregation I can recall, there has been love. The liturgy may have been all over the shop, the sermon have dismally failed to engage the congregation, the music been too loud and the heaters inadequate for the winter frost. But there has been love. It was present in bucket loads yesterday. The secret of the continuing life of local churches is the love each has for the other.

Statistically, we Anglicans in these islands should be worried, much more worried than our leaders ever seem to be about the future. Liturgically, we Anglicans should be exercised, much more exercised than we ever seem to be, over what Anglican liturgy in Kiwiland should look like in the 21st century - especially in respect of inter-generational worship services. Homiletically, we could simply work harder at being better preachers, engaged effectively in connecting Scripture to life and life to God. Controversially, we could search our collective soul much more deeply than we are currently doing, about how we become a church which casts no one out. Yes, we could do better in the areas where we are failing.

But on the one matter which matters above all else, our love for one another, I believe we are succeeding.

And love covers a multitude of (ecclesiastical) sins!

Postscript: for a possible future of the church getting in touch with culture, try this ...

Andrew Brown's comment is here.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Father D
I cannot except your comment as it majors on 'ad hominem' in its critique of the priest in the video.

By all means make a comment about the unsuitability for the priesthood of people who (say) encourage dancing in church, or displays of irreverence, but please don't 'ad hominem' women in general re the ordination of women as a logical deduction from the video clip.

Anonymous said...

Not my cup tea but full marks for enthusiasm at least.

Anonymous said...

I've seen some male priests break into some pretty scary dance moves during charismatic services!

Hint; Liturgical vestments do not necessarily make for dignified dancing.

Actually, being British doesn't help either! ;)

Andrei said...

Let' see - on reading the article

(1) Despite the fact the Bride is wearing white they have in fact been cohabiting for many years

(2) They are not Church goers

(3)When they decided to get married it was the caterer for their wedding that suggested that Church and Vicaress as a suitable "venue"

(4)If you watch the video two old ladies walk out an you can see not all who remain in the congregation are particularly impressed.

(5)There is a place for solemnity and solemnity does not have to be joyless.

(6) Are these people going to be led to the Lord or are you actually going to drive even more from the Church with these Monty Python antics?

Anonymous said...

Andrei: I agree - it was a stupid stunt undertaken to ingratiate a couple with no interest in the Christian faith. This woman vicar seems to have forgotten this was supposed to be a worship service in the presence of the Lord.