Monthly Archives: August 2012

Starting a New NYNO Congregation

There will be heaps more to it than this, but one of the keys tasks will be forging a group’s own sense of its identity.

To this end, a standard worship service needs to be written. This is not necessarily a set liturgy in which the congregation takes part but rather a description of each part of the meeting in terms of its spiritual significance: what do we hope to happen here or there. This will also include set phrases and prayers that express this theology and that are used week in, week out.

As a whole, the service should encapsulate the theology of the group, which of course should be the Gospel. Every week we repeat the core statements of our understanding of the Gospel and why that makes us who we are.

Next, each week we take a portion of the service – a portion of what we do – and we preach on a Scripture that grounds this act.

Remember, whenever you think you’re repeating yourself you probably need to repeat it another two/three times before anyone will remember it!

Hating Church?

Why do Christians have such a record of falling out with each other over church services? Why do we demonise other churches and Christians, feel such deflation and anger over services we don’t like; why are our emotions so engaged over notices, music and sermons so that we fall so quickly from some of the most fundamental patterns of the Christian life?

[Aside: There’s a whole heap of words that have been written in the States about how the ‘Church’ has kicked individuals in the teeth, how people have become disillusioned by fundamentalist teaching, narrow-minded and insensitive church discipline or the abuse of power by church leaders. I haven’t read too much of it. My guess is that the complaints are often quite specific and don’t necessarily translate too well to our situation. Still, it’s something to be away of  and explore if opportunity arises.]

I think we get so tired and fed-up with church because we care. It’s an obvious point, but in the throws of a disagreement it’s not always appreciated. But I’m not simply going to advocate empathy and listening to one another. That goes without saying but doesn’t really address the something that seems to be underlying the whole situation.

My point is rather that we care because God and our faith underpin the core of a Christian’s personality and identity. If you confuse me about who God, if you make me frightened and doubt that God loves me, I will hate you. That might not make all that much sense, from one perspective, because surely we should be more interested in pursuing the truth about who God is than in getting people to tell us what we want to hear, but that’s rarely how faith works – for good or ill.

Let me give a couple of examples. A woman walks into a charismatic meeting. She’s used to a formal, liturgical service.  Testimonies are given from the front about how God has been experienced directly in that person’s life during the past week. The sermon speaks of the necessity of ‘pushing into God’ in prayer. Those sitting next to her seem lost in the music of worship. How will this woman react? She will either assume that these people have something that she needs and doesn’t have, or she will miss what she’s used to and long for the familiar words of the liturgy that remind her of who she is in Christ and perhaps feel that her own faith is not valued here.

The situation could be flipped. The Christian whose faith is highly experientially grounded might well come to a Catholic liturgy and feel the ‘words, words, words’ just go on forever and leave him cold.

Would either Christian be able to settle in congregations they visited? Possibly some might, but the very fact that these different churches exists implies that most wouldn’t.

The point is that this is not simply a question of acclimatisation but rather that God and faith matters to us in a profound way and we look for a church in which our identity can be strengthened and nurtured and it’s very difficult for us to handle uncertainty or contradiction in that place that we call our Christian home.

The way forward for disparate groups is not compromise, a bit of a service that suits one person and a bit for another. That way leads to universal dissatisfaction. Nor is the answer simply listening and understanding one another, as though all practices are ultimately of the same value and interchangeable. The answer lies in participation, in ownership. The model of the body insists that church only exists in diversity and that all must be valued with the history and experiences that in part constitute each one of us and so constitute the body. The Church will not progress by getting rid of ‘dead wood’ or by attracting ‘the right sort of people’. It’s our job to find the lost sheep, not lose them.

That doesn’t mean there is no role of correction or leadership but that such activities take place in the context of personal relationships. It also means that leadership must be able to navigate diversity while maintaining the personal.

Does this give us an answer to our dissatisfactions? Perhaps it’s a start, and enough for today!

Grace and Community

An Excuse

What follows is an attempt to work out two ideas that appeared to my mind to stand in conflict with one another. I’m still not doing huge amounts of reading to ground any of this historically or exegetically. Nonetheless, I still think it will prove useful to continue to thrash out what exactly are the questions that more detailed work will attempt to answer later.

Common Prayer

One of the most influential spiritual experiences that I have had has been within services from the Book of Common Prayer. The spiritual dynamic of these services involves the rehearsal, and by God’s grace actual participation in, the basis of an individual’s relationship to God the Father, through Jesus Christ – and in particular his sacrificial death for our sins, brought to us in God’s word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Approach, Confession, Absolution, followed by the enjoyment of peace with God in prayer and the hearing of his word or reception of Christ in the sacrament. All this is enjoyed with fellow travellers by one’s side but one’s own dealing with God are personal and private. This allows time to reflect and be honest before God in way in which we, almost certainly, would struggle with others.

Communion as the defining symbol of worship

Strangely enough, I’m not going to explore the Anglican Eucharist here. In NYNO. I’m starting from the standpoint that the central act of ‘worship’ is not music but rather, in it’s barest form, meeting together in Christ. Doing this, sitting by one another, acknowledging one another as siblings in Christ, receiving from one another and giving to one another the necessities of community life is more important than singing songs. Doing this reminds us of the one who makes us a people, who makes us one body through the gift of his own.

The Personal or the Communal?

I’m going to assume that the personal aspect of Christianity remains essential and that my experiences of Common Prayer were not merely emotional misdirection. But if we wanted to preserve this, what would a liturgy look like that incorporated this into a meeting in which communion/community was central?

At the heart of these issues may be the fear that other people – perhaps the laity – are unable to mediate Christ to me in the way that the Anglican service might.

Where is the grace in community?

Perhaps the way to resolve these doubts will be to clarify the relationship of word and sacrament to community. There is a temptation to think that word and sacrament must precede – in some sense – community because word and sacrament are places of grace, places where Christ comes to us and constitutes us as his, individually and corporately. And yet, if we go back again to the words of 1 Cor 12, surely the body is a place of grace. If only we could recognise it!

There must be different levels on which this can be discussed. There is a theological level of logic which might attempt to describe the precedence of one to another. There’s also a practical and liturgical level: we as a community need to be reminded that we are constituted so in Christ. When will this occur? Who will do this for us? Presumably this is the role of Christian leadership, of preaching, of eldership. And, it may well also be the role of the Lord’s Supper.

God can speak as and when he likes and his grace can be mediated by each one of us sinful and broken people. But we all need to be brought to Christ, need to be met by him whenever we meet. We need the word, and we need the sacrament, because we need Christ. This is logically and theologically true and liturgically sensible. But when we have heard and recognised that we are constituted as God’s people – how do we respond to this. Do we then put the kettle on and bring out the new baked bread? And where – if at all – does music come back into the picture?