Category Archives: worship

A Shortened Liturgy for this Sunday

We’re going to try a slightly shorter order this Sunday.

I’ll continue to offer a short very reflection on the Lord’s Prayer as the opening act, before everyone gathers around the table for our meal.

I’ve worked through the grace prayer a little, but the biggest change is removal of the Creed. My thinking is that the sermon and the creed can make for a formidable number of words. We’ll see how it goes.

Agape Meal (6) – Shortened

Edit: Mon. 20 Jul. 2015.

It went fine I think. However, I forgot the offering in the liturgy. Surely a good sign when people remind you that you’ve missed it!

Agape Meal (6) – Shortened – offering

Praying in Silence, Participation in Public

The following is a first draft of a new section from the NYNO booklet, which is slowly taking shape, currently titled: Beginning a New Church …

Our practice of praying in public has changed over time. Originally, before NYNO started, we used the ‘chaplaincy’ model of conducting a service in which the minister figure led the prayers. We feel there are limitations to this form of worship. To recapitulate: when the minister leads all of the worship the congregation can begin to think of themselves as passive recipients of a spiritual good. When this happens, spiritual community can be assumed to be an additional and non-essential aspect of church. It is possible that this is exacerbated in our case, where the congregation consists of older people who have become accustomed to their role and contributions being peripheral to the life of their churches.

With respect to prayers, there are different ways of addressing this problem. An obvious solution is to invite members of the congregation to contribute to different parts of the service and, in this case, to lead the prayers. This is a sensible way forward in that it encourages a wider public participation and yet acknowledges the diverse giftings of the congregation: for whatever reason not all have the confidence or aptitude to take a public role.

In our own situation we felt that increasing the number of public contributors while keeping the same model of service was not the best way forward. We thought this for a number of reasons. Firstly, even if we encouraged some people to lead prayers and succeeded in getting them to do this, the majority of people would still not be doing so. We would still have in place a model of worship in which community could be seen as peripheral to church. We would still have a congregation who through their age and living situation have become less than central to the life of a church centred on a parish building. What we hoped for instead was to find ways to emphasize the importance of each member and the value of his or her contributions, whatever they were. Inevitably, when a service is led or conducted this leading role will be especially esteemed, to the detriment of valuation of the contributions of everyone else.

Secondly, in our particular situation we felt that it was particularly difficult to be seen to be ‘raising’ people into church leadership. The problem lies in part in the way Church of Scotland ministers, and no-doubt those of other denominations, are viewed in society generally and perhaps especially amongst the older generations. It would be difficult for any individual to be seen to taking on that role in such a small church that largely existed within a relatively small housing complex. All manner of attractive and unpleasant power dynamics would be possible if a resident were to take a role as a church leader for a church that largely consisted of residents. Of course, leading prayers or even taking a public role in worship does not entail church leadership, but it does imply it to some degree with a led service model and where few people are willing to contribute publicly.

Lastly, we recognized that we might be unsuccessful in finding people who would want to contribute to the service. We simply might not have such people. Our congregation might be too frail or too intimidated, for reasons discussed above. It had to be possible to find a form of worship that could be embraced and enjoyed even when the giftings of public speaking were not available.

For these reasons, we turned to a form of silent prayer in which the prayers of all the saints are recognized to be significant and there is no necessity for anyone to be understood to be praying on behalf of the whole congregation. Everyone can and must pray, is called to do so, and this is reflected in how prayer is conducted in the liturgy.

Our current liturgies are largely composed of prayers and statements of faith and the congregation says these prayers and statements together, to God and to each other. When we come to intercession, we recognize that we are responding directly to the differing situations of our lives and so there is the need for words that respond to this. Simply put, this section of the service begins and closes with set prayers (when we are not celebrating communion, we close with the Lord’s Prayer) that remind us of the reason why we can and should pray. In between these prayers pieces of paper are distributed and people are asked to write down topics for which we can all pray. These are collected in and then one person has the task of collating these topics and simply saying ‘Let us pray for …’ before a period of silence and concluding the silence of prayer with the responsive prayer, ‘Lord in your mercy,’ to which the congregation responds ‘Hear our prayer’.

There are undoubtedly limitations to this approach. It’s advantage is that it is simple and requires relatively little preparation and so can be used by anyone. At the same time, this simplicity and silence means that we are not teaching people to pray in any particular way. Well structured and thoughtfully composed prayers, teach us to pray according to what God has revealed of himself. Such prayers teach us to pray with faith, hope and love. It is possible that a selection of collects could be used to accompany these prayers, but there will always remain a balancing act: the richer and more varied we make our liturgy, the more demanding it is to prepare the service. Perhaps the way forward is to keep a simple basic form of liturgy, but to allow individuals to enrich it as they have the time, energy and inclination to do so.

Bosch on Dimension and Intention

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 199-201.

Bosch offers here a thought-provoking, if not immediately obvious discussion on the relation between mission and church and in particular on whether mission is an essential aspect of the church. He uses a pair of concepts from H.-W. Gensichen: ‘dimension’ and ‘intention’.

‘Intention’ refers to an explicitly missionary act, something that is primarily intended to be an expression of the love of God, and of the Church, to the outsider.

‘Dimension’, somewhat opaquely, refers to manner in which every aspect of the Church’s life must have a missionary element or, perhaps better, must have a character derived from that of God, who in Christ has shown himself to be ‘missionary’. The Church’s nature is missionary, taken as it is from Christ, the Son of God who who created and redeemed the world as an expression of the love of God.

Therefore, everything the church does must have a missionary dimension, not everything must have a missionary intention.

The church is missionary when she is welcoming to outsiders, open to change for the sake of others, when she upholds the and defends the truth the Gospel, even though there may be no explicitly missionary intention in any of these acts. She has to be this in order to perform mission at all. Intention can only exist on the basis of dimension.

Useful texts listed are:

Phil. 2:14-16. ‘Do everything … as you hold our the word of life.’

Col. 4:5. ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.’

1 The. 4:9-12. ‘Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters … so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.’

1 Pet. 2:12. ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’

1 Cor. 5:12-15. ‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”’

2 Cor. 3:2-3. ‘You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.’

More generally, I’m reminded of Barth’s discussion of Salt and Light in CD IV.3.2 par.72 and, unsurprisingly for us, the manner in which the Church’s nature is to be shaped by her source in 1 Corinthians: we are the body of Christ. If Christ is the Son of God, and we are the body of Christ, how can our nature be anything but self-giving for the world? Even when we prophesy to one another, our words will point to the one who sets the world free (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

The Church Inside Out

I discovered the following in Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980), pp. 176-78.

The theology of the apostolate soon underwent a certain radicalisation due to Hoekendijk’s contribution. He polemicised against the church-centric mission that had been especially in vogue since Tambaran 1939. The Church was an illegitimate centre. Not the Church but the world, the oikoumene, stood in the centre of God’s concern. Van Ruler’s thesis that mission was a function of the Church, was inverted by Hoekendijk: the Church was a function of mission. There was no room for a ‘doctrine of the Church’. We should refer to the Church only in passing and without any emphasis. Ecclesiology should not be more than a single paragraph in Christology (the messianic involvement with the world) and a few sentences in eschatology (the messianic involvement with the world) … 

From the outset Hoekendijk could not accept a ‘theology of mission’. If he did so it would imply that mission would once again be an extra. There would then also conceivably be other ‘theologies of …’. He therefore pleaded not for ‘theology of mission’, but for ‘missionary theology’ as expression of all authentic theology. …

In this way Hoekendijk’s theology of the apostolate became a theology of the world. Theology is God inviting us to share the world with him. For precisely this reason it was a theology of the Kingdom. Mission was not the road from church to church: mission or Church was the interaction between Kingdom and world, involved in both … The form which this involvement took he called shalom, Hebrew for ‘peace’, which he described as a ‘social happening’, and which was an ethical rather than a soteriological concept. Reconciliation became a universal humanisation process. In his earlier writings he did characterise the task of the Church as kerygma, koinonia and diakonia – proclamation, community, and service. In the course of time, however, he increasingly moved towards the last of the three.

I find it curious that the following theology derives from the 1960. Theological language along these lines is, I find, being used with plenty of enthusiasm today. Not having read Hoekendijk’s theology at first hand I should be cautious speaking directly about him. An English translation of some of his shorter works was published in 1966 with the title ‘The Church Inside Out’ (SCM). It’s another one to add to the list …

I am all the more interested having just read Barth on the Church as witness (CD IV.3), and also John Flett’s head spinning The Witness of God. When I hear this language used today, it is in my experience without reflection on Bosch’s concluding analysis (from 1980!): you get rid of the Church  and something essential is lost.

It’s not as though I don’t have sympathy for Hoekendijk’s frustration with the Church. It is only because of faith that I stay loyal to the church structures and institutions. Yes, I have enough self-knowledge to know that I am no less fallen than the next church member, but that doesn’t make identifying with and living with and in the Church any more comfortable.

As an attempt to flesh out something more positive, here follows a brief summary of something I was going to provide more detail of later … some Barth inspired thoughts.

The move from missio dei to church-less service (identified by Bosch above) seems to stem from an absence of Christology. The language of mission and kingdom seems to have been abstracted from Christ himself. One often hears today this language used in connection with discipleship. On the face of it, this sounds quite Christocentric! With it, though is a closely connected assumption that the discipleship of the gospels has no direct relationship with the Church. As Barth points out, this is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. The ‘absence’ of Church from the gospels is because it is everywhere assumed! Of course it is, the gospels themselves were written from within ecclesial community, often addressing the concerns of that community (the assumptions of form and canonical criticism spring to mind).

This being so, the Church’s existence is determined (skirting over a discussion of actualistic ontology) by her saviour, by whom the covenant between God and humanity is concluded. Christ is about his Father’s work. Humanity is called to witness to that, to echo Christ’s words and actions as the covenant partner and so point others to him. The Church follows the attitude of Christ, who is about his Father’s business. God’s concern firstly is for the world and in Christ the world is justified. We come to faith and join the Church as members of the world. The Church is composed of those brought to the knowledge of this salvation found in Christ and so are called to participate in their own proper way in the loving work of God. The Church therefore cannot be and must not be firstly concerned with its own life, or see itself as an end in itself. To do so would be to be radically incoherent. The Church is called, and therefore the Church must follow Christ and do the Father’s work. But because it is called it is the Church and it is as a community that the Church can witness in a manner no individual can (Stringfellow springs to mind for the ability of the Church to witness politically today). Think of the roles of forgiveness and accountability. The Church here is not somehow establishing a perfect society on earth, it is pointing in a faltering manner to the one who has already forgiven them. Of course, I can forgive people outside of the Church and this can be a witness, but in the Church I don’t just forgive. In the Church I can be forgiven too.

The future of popular missionary theology is not the removal of ecclesiology. It is rather having a good ecclesiology by which the Church can understand her very nature is to be outward focussed, in which even her most private worship in word and form, can be a witness to the world of the coming kingdom.

Why a Meal? Where’s the Teaching?

NYNO’s theology emphasizes the body of Christ, family, hospitality. It is hard to miss the centrality of all those things in the gospels. Luke notes that Jesus came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). Part of what drives us is our dissatisfaction with ‘all-age worship’ services which usually cater well to the needs of one group of people. Perhaps the toddlers win, or the teenagers, or primary-school aged children. Alternatively, the service is enjoyable for adults, and children of all ages are overlooked and their needs forgotten about. How do we as NYNO attempt to do something different? Is there another way of doing things where we can all meet together, and no-one is overlooked, and everyone joins their hearts in worship and is uplifted and has a sense of belonging to the body of Christ, joined with him and with one another? Is this pie in the sky?

Each time we have met together on a Sunday, we have emphasized the centrality of the Lord’s supper. Our first innovation in that meeting place was to change the seating so we were all gathered around the table. This eliminated the sense of someone being at the ‘head’ of the meeting. It is a visual spatial sign that we are all equals as we gather before our Lord. We have emphasized in our teaching that communion is central to our faith, and we have made clear that we will persist in gathering around the table even when we are not able to partake.

Another concern which might arise with Sunday worship in this form is teaching. How do we achieve good teaching for all ages in one gathering? How do we make sure that the youngest child to the oldest pillar of the faith, who has known Jesus for eighty years has some sustenance? We believe that the answer for us as NYNO is to make our meal-gatherings the main meeting. We gather around the table; we serve one another; we take communion; we recite liturgy; we worship with our songs; we are all literally singing from the same hymn-sheet. Turning people into strangers is one way to make people distant, less dangerous. There is no way to hide in the back pew if we all sit side by side, united in Christ and to one another, from the youngest to the oldest. In these practices there is lots of ‘teaching’. Each time we meet we are reciting, praying and sacramentally participating in the basis of our faith.

It’s possible that some may look at our gatherings and question whether we have enough ‘proper solid bible teaching.’ Several things can be said to this. Firstly, we are not against teaching. If your gathering has willing able teachers, by all means let them teach. We are anxious however, that those who do not have such gifts from God should not be impeded from developing their own churches. We hope that our corporate acts of worship will be deeply significant and beautiful and rich.

In a situation that is diversely aged and there is a need for age-specific education, for children and adults, it may be most appropriate to provide that somewhere other than in the main meal gathering. Our reasoning for this is that adult oriented sermon can be difficult for children and their parents. Equally, a child oriented presentation can be dissatisfactory for adults. With our approach, separate ‘Sunday school’ classes for particular age groups could meet before the main Sunday meeting, or at another time in the week, to study the word together. Perhaps they will focus on a book of the bible, or a topic, and use different media as appropriate such as storytelling, drama or Godly Play.

All that to say, our meetings around the table are the most important part of our fellowship. They are what define us and make us different. Hopefully, they are the distinctive part of what make us truly inter-generational. Teaching need not be compromised. It will just look different than a forty-five minute sermon for the adults, or a children’s talk, or separate children’s church, or an all-age service which is all about primary-school aged kids and leaves nothing for the grown-ups.

Julie and Matthew

Hosting a NYNO Meal

Here’s a little how-to when it comes to the practicalities of hosting a NYNO meeting centred around a meal.

Some Basic Principles

Keep Things Special and Simple

We want to keep our breakfast gatherings as special as possible but also as simple to prepare as possible. For us, it meant a couple of loaves of homemade bread with butter and jam, and tea and coffee. Of course, you can use your own recipes, but we’ve included some of the ones we’ve used below in case you find that helpful.

If there is a suitable oven in or close to the meeting area, doing some baking on the day creates some wonderful smells. Practically speaking we have found it sensible to do as much preparation as possible before we arrive, and then perhaps have one thing prepared, ready to pop in the oven during the hour before the meeting. Of course, if you had people who wanted to get together early and bake on the day that could be fun! Just so long as it doesn’t become a chore and people’s service doesn’t begin to displace our participation in worship as the most important thing.


We’ll discuss liturgy in another place. But here it’s enough to say that how we sit together matters. We always try to give the impression of everyone sat round one table. Practically we can’t actually do this but we attempt to arrange what tables we have in something of a circle, with everyone seated around the outside. Here’s a diagram to illustrate.

The blue squares are square dining tables, the yellow squares dining chairs. We arrange four of these tables into one large table at each end of the room and place dining chairs around three sides of the large table so that people are facing inwards to the room.

The red tables are are low coffee tables around which we place comfy arm chairs (green squares).

It’s more important to us that people should be aware of being sat round a table together than that they should be able to hear a speaker. Our meeting is more about emphasizing the participation of the people than the performance of the preacher.


To set up with normally arrive an hour before the beginning of the meeting. This allows enough time to set out the seating, do any baking

Each table setting has a plate, cup and saucer, knife, and serviette, along with the liturgy.

For a breakfast of up to 30 people:

  • One packet of butter, cut into cubes and served in small dishes.
  • One jar of jam, served in small dishes
  •  About 2 pints of milk for teas and coffees, in four little milk jugs.
  • A couple of sugar bowls, but we find that very few people take sugar in their     beverages.
  • A packet of fresh, ground coffee which last us 2 meetings. We make two large     cafetieres of coffee and four pots of tea.

We have clusters on the tables consisting of a plate of bread; milk jug, sugar bowl and teaspoons; butter and jam servings. They serve about 5-6 people. They should be in easy reach, and people are encouraged to serve one another. At the appropriate time, teapots and cafetieres are brought through from the kitchenette and again, we serve each other.

The Meal

The liturgy we’ve been using will be discussed elsewhere, in brief outline though the meal goes as follows. Before we eat, we say grace together. As we share breakfast, we enjoy fellowship with one another. At this point, we also offer around little forms and give people space to write down any items for prayer. Our meal is drawn to a focus point by taking all the items for prayer to God before one another in silent prayer. We say the Lord’s Prayer together and sing a final hymn. We bring our meeting to a close by speaking aloud the benediction to one another.

Time disappears during a meal! But we strive to keep the whole meeting to about 45 minutes. That way people stay longer because they want more breakfast, or to talk to one another and not because the service is dragging on …

Afterwards, we have found that people are very keen to stay and enjoy further fellowship. We are always inundated with people willing to help with the clear-up, dish-washing and drying, and taking leftovers home!

Two Recipes

Irish soda bread

Here’s a recipe for a simple soda bread. It’s fine to make the day before and bring to the meal pre-sliced. It’s a recipe by James Martin and can be found at .


  • 170g/6oz self-raising wholemeal flour
  • 170g/6oz plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 290ml/½ pint buttermilk

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6.
  2. Tip the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir.
  3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, mixing quickly with a large fork to form a soft dough. (Depending upon the absorbency of the flour, you may need to add a little milk if the dough seems too stiff but it should not be too wet or sticky.)
  4. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.
  5. Form into a round and flatten the dough slightly before placing on a lightly floured baking sheet.
  6. Cut a cross on the top and bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

We find that 3-4 loaves is plenty for around 25-30 people to have a couple of thick slices each.

Hot Cross Buns

Here’s a recipe for Hot Cross Buns, that worked so well on Easter Day, we may have to do it again before long. It was based on the recipe here.

It worked well to largely prepare this the night before, leaving the buns on trays in the fridge over night, covered in clingfilm. I took them out of the fridge for a gentle second rising first thing in the morning. They’re ideal to bake just before a meeting because they only take 12 minutes and so have time to cool down before icing, ans also because they reate an impressive aroma.

  • 240 ml of whole milk
  • 2 packages dry yeast (5 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup (115g) currants
  • Zests from 1 orange and 1 lemon or 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup (110g) sugar
  • 4 cups flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 500 grams by weight
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 140 grams of cold butter, cut in small bits
  • Additional flour for kneading
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  1. PROOF the YEAST In a small dish, heat milk in microwave about 1 minute to 105F – 115F. Gently stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. SOAK the CURRANTS In a small bowl, whisk egg and yolk well. Stir in currants and zests. Set aside.
  3. MIX the DOUGH In large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices and salt. With fingertips, blend butter into flour until a coarse meal forms (I’ve use the food processor for this stage). Make well in center, pour in yeast and currant mixtures. Blend thoroughly with hands, then form into ball and transfer to lightly floured counter. (Don’t worry, the dough will be sticky. If it starts off too sticky to knead on the counter, just knead it right in the bowl.) Knead 10 minutes, adding as little flour as possible, just enough to work dough without any stickiness when the kneading is done.
  4. FIRST RISE Transfer dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, first rubbing the dough mass against the bowl to lightly coat all sides with oil. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. FORM BUNS & SECOND RISE With a fist, gently deflate dough. Cut into 30 pieces. I cut the dough into 6 and divide from there. Form buns and arrange on two or three baking non-stick baking trays. If you’re preparing the night before, cover gently with cling film and place in fridge.
  6. BAKE Preheat oven to 200º C (180º in a fan oven). Bake for about about 12 minutes.
  7. ICING. The icing can be prepared the night before and kept in the fridge. If it’s too stiff to pipe in the morning, place it in a microwave for 2 or 3 seconds – no more. For the icing, blend a tablespoon of melted butter with 2 tablespoons warm milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir in about 250g of icing sugar. For Easter, pipe in crosses or on other occasions, more simply spread across the top of he buns.

Julie and Matthew

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 – Symbolic Seating (Meeting Posts 3)


The following sermon was given at a Sunday service, at which we had changed our changed our seating arrangements. Before we had a familiar arrangement of speaker and lectern at the front and congregation facing the speaker. Our new format had us gathering in a circle, around a table laid with the communion elements. We wanted to emphasise that in the church there is no position of power; nobody is higher or lower than anyone else. On our little table we laid a loaf of bread, a cup of wine, a cross and the open Bible. All of us sit facing each other across these symbols. The changes in our meeting space were a physical representation of the symbolism which is at our core – that we gather around the communion table, Christ is at the centre, and we are united one with another.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

We read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 together in both the ESV and The Message.

Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

15-18 I assume I’m addressing believers now who are mature. Draw your own conclusions: When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. That’s basically what happened even in old Israel—those who ate the sacrifices offered on God’s altar entered into God’s action at the altar.

Why Chairs Matter

Firstly, we feel it was important to mention what the sacraments are for in order to give some context. They are all signs of covenant, that is, of God’s promises and his will for humanity. Augustine called the sacraments ‘visible words’. They are visible and tangible signs which bolster our weak faith. God imparts spiritual things through visible ones. We want to emphasise two things in particular – our participation in Christ when we take communion, and how we are joined with one another as we partake.

The signs – the cup and the bread – are symbolic, but they are also, mysteriously, far more than just symbols. A symbol that is nothing more than a symbol is dead. But when the symbol points us to something larger than ourselves, something eternal, the symbol has life.

We don’t know how, but by the holy spirit, we feed on Christ when we participate in the cup and loaf. Our minds can’t grasp how, but by faith we believe that something profound and beautiful and significant takes place when we take the cup. This seems to me so characteristic of biblical spirituality- the ordinary, the humdrum and the miraculous, supernatural are on a single continuum.

We want to emphasise that it is, of course, possible to participate in Christ without the sacrament, but that it is impoverished. The sacrament is central to all of our gatherings even when we don’t partake because the act makes Christ central. Communion is a moment of personal encounter with Jesus. John 6:56 say this: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.’ Our participation in the cup and loaf, our communion, is an intimate moment when each of us meets with Jesus and is wholly centred on Him. The reference to idolatry in first verse is a warning to keep God at the centre of our worship – at the centre of our individual lives, and common life.

When we participate in the cup, we are not only participating in Christ in the here and now, but we are on the cusp of eternity as ‘we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes’ as it says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Communion is a taster of the redemption to come. It helps us to see what lies ahead and helps us to already participate in it in a limited way. As it was a Sunday in advent, we began our service by singing O come, O come Emmanuel. We expressed our longing for Jesus to come. We talked about being ‘hallelujah people’, living after Christ’s resurrection, but that we are also ‘advent people’, waiting and longing for Christ’s return in glory and victory. We live in that sure hope.

Having talked about what it means to participate in Christ, we move on to talk about what it means to participate with one another. Again, our new way of sitting together has symbolic significance. We want to emphasise that our participation in Christ is a communal activity. The various meanings of the key word, koinonia, are communion, fellowship, participation, sharing in, contribution/gift, and presence. All these facets of that one word express our joining with one another as we participate in Christ together.

Some traditions end their Eucharist service with these words: ‘Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his holy spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ There we touch the heart of the mystery of community.

In some mysterious way, when we participate in Christ’s cup, and have communion with Him, we are joined together as brothers and sisters. We participate in the feast together. It is joint participation. Thus, as Jean Vanier would say, community and family become closely intertwined, because aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with God.

So, as we are participating in Christ, communally, being somehow joined with one another, we are being built by the Holy Spirit into community, into the body.

Practically Participating (Meeting Posts 2)


Participation is a key idea for NYNO, something that we feel is essential in any church. In using the word ‘participation’ we understand the church to be a spiritual entity, one that finds its meaning and identity in relation to God: a church is not primarily a club or a voluntary organisation; it is God’s community. We take our place in the Church as God’s children alongside Christ, called by our creator and saviour.

All this means that people matter. All of us come into church needing to receive from God. But the gift of God to us is such that as we receive salvation we are brought into a freedom to live differently. This does not mean living perfectly, but rather life in relation to our Father in heaven through Christ and so with one another.

In short, this is not a small thing. The consequence of this is that we matter. We matter as individuals and our participation in the life of the church matters.

From the start of NYNO, Julie and Matthew have felt it essential for new church communities to hear the honest opinions of its members. The heart of the Christian message militates against authoritarian leadership. We can’t simply dictate ‘from the front.’ The Church lives as it loves all of its members.

Historically, the majority of people who turn up to church week after week, decade upon decade, are rarely asked for their opinions, preferences or ideas. Indeed, this is a pretty frightening idea from the perspective of a leadership that is strategically planning a future. Such conversations could be fraught with tension, disagreement and misunderstanding. And yet, however threatening, maybe this is the only way forward if the majority of a congregation are to be actively engaged and involved – participating – in the communal life of a church.

So, one Sunday morning, we invited our gathering to dream about their idea of the ‘perfect church’. What would it look like? We invited people to remember back to a time when they felt happiest in church, and to reflect on why that was the case.

Luke 15

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Perfect Church?

What would your perfect church look like?

Perhaps ‘perfect’ is asking too much. If so, try approaching this from a different angle: what is your fondest memory of being in church? What made that experience so good? Were you at peace in church, conscious of the closeness of God or perhaps inspired to live and serve?

In so many ways in life, we find we can’t go back. Things have changed: we have, others have. And yet why shouldn’t we indulge in a little daydreaming. And who is to say that we won’t find keys in the past that might unlock the future? We don’t need to be worry about the practicalities of how such a church could come into being, just reflect on times when church has surprised and delighted us.

So, would the perfect church meet in a cathedral, an awe-inspiring space, such as St. Paul’s London, or King’s College Chapel, Cambridge?

Would there be music? Quiet chanting, soaring choirs, orchestral accompaniment, electric guitars or bare voices in unison?

A minister who gives compelling sermons? Who seemed to bring the very words of God to your heart?

Is church to be full of energy and activity, or quiet and reflective?

Would it be full of children, or empty of them?

Would it be the church you grew up in, or in which you brought your children up?

Would be full of friendly people, or people who didn’t bother you?

What would be the perfect church? When has church been a joy to you?

Why the Question Matters

I ask this question aware that to my knowledge it’s not something about which most of us have been invited to give of their opinion. And that troubles me, because your opinions, your thoughts and preferences about church, matter.
In our reading we heard Jesus speak of the lost sheep.

The Pharisees had taken offence at Jesus’ habit of surrounding himself with disreputable tax collectors and sinners. A teacher should live in a manner consistent with his or her words. What kind of teacher offers implicit affirmation to such people by sitting with them at table?

In response, Jesus tells the Pharisees a parable.’Suppose one of you,’ he begins, ‘has a hundred sheep and loses one. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open and go after the lost one. And on finding it, would he not celebrate?’

The whole matter resides on a question of identity and belonging. The Pharisees considered these disreputables as traitors, misleading themselves and others, diluting the purity of God’s people, perhaps dissuading God from blessing and liberating his people. They were to be ostracised in punishment and as a warning to others.

But Jesus looks on these people as lost sheep. The shepherd looks on each animal as precious, valuable. Just so, Jesus has not ceased to care for his people. They may have strayed, but that is all the more reason to chase after them and bring them to safety.

This parable speaks to something that should be at the very heart of any ‘perfect’ church. It reminds us that in the Kingdom of God, we gain our citizenship, our membership and significance, our identity, because it is given us from the depths of the love of Jesus Christ. The waters of baptism do not merely wash the skin but declare to us that with Jesus we now have new life, and those waters operate with no record for our abilities, our competencies, our moral performance. All such things are secondary to this wonderful truth: God views us with love. We may have wandered, but we remain his sheep.

And if Christ cares for us, then we must care for one another. As Jesus said elsewhere:

He who has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47)

These words must of course be reversed: he who has been forgiven much, loves much. Or consider these words of Jesus to the unforgiving servant:

Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33)

Think of it another way. If Christ loves you and I love Christ, how can I treat you with indifference?

The upshot of all of this is that a church, as it knows that love of Christ, must seek to be a place where such love is shown between its members. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means listening to one another. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means paying attention to each other’s hopes, dreams, memories and experience.
In our self-appointed task of being a great church, of raising money, of tidying up, or organising music, it is so easy not to consider the person before you. A wonderful being created by God. Broken, as we all are, and yet loved by Christ and a recipient of the hope of eternal life, now called to serve Christ with all that he has given them. A lost sheep, for whom Christ gave his all, and over whom he now rejoices.

Let me summarise. I am concerned that our church are forever in danger of not respecting their members as those loved by Christ, and rarely really listening to their voices, there thoughts and concerns. If the members are so treated will they not become dull, muted, quiet, finding that church does not engage them as a whole person but merely as a means to an end and will the church itself then fester as a community, ceasing to be a place that nurtures and affirms, unattractive to those outside.

Thought Forms

All of what I’ve said this morning has been said in all seriousness. Julie and I would like to find ways in which your thoughts, reflections, hopes and fears can contribute to our life together. That can take place entirely informally, as we talk to each other. But we also recognise that talking about faith can be difficult for many reasons and such conversations mustn’t be forced. In your notice sheets, you should have what we’ve called a ‘Thought Form’. This is simply a piece of paper which you can use to tell us things, if there isn’t the opportunity to do so directly, or if you’d prefer to do so through writing.

We will include this form with the notice sheets each time we meet.

What could you use this for? You could say, I really liked that hymn or tune. You could say, I enjoyed that sermon, but I didn’t understand xyz. You could say, I’d like us to have a church outing. You could say, I miss my old church, the people and the building. It probably wouldn’t be a good use of the form to write personal attacks.

When you write something on one of these forms, be aware that it’s something that could be shared with for everyone. We are not seeking to be the sole point through which all conversation must take place. Of course, if you’d prefer it not to be shared, you can indicate that. You’ll see that there’s the opportunity to write your name or to leave it anonymous.

As we began, so shall we conclude. Let me ask you again: What makes the perfect church? Or, what are your fondest, or most profound, memories of church? I’d like to invite you to jot a few things down on your thought forms in answer to the question.

We are all lost sheep. But that means we are all important. Your voice matters.

NYNO Church Meetings and Body Theology (Meeting Posts 1)

NYNO has been operational since July 2013. Much of our time has been spent building relationships within the sheltered housing complex in which we are based. Getting to know the residents, their families and the staff who work there is an important part of building a community which is diverse, strong, warm, all-embracing, welcoming – in short, Christ-like.

In the background, we have been studying the theology which underpins all of this – namely, the theology of the ‘body’. Our studies have taken us to 1 Corinthians, where Paul makes plain the nature of church as one body, many parts, comprising diverse ages, nationalities, gifts, interests and denominations. We have spent four consecutive meetings talking about this body theology – why it is important; how it shapes our meetings; how it has significance for us as part of the wider church in Aberdeen, the world, and our church history.

We have emphasised the centrality of celebrating communion together. When a minister is available to take communion, it is part of our meeting. When that is not possible, we seat ourselves around a table with the elements visible, and reiterate their significance to us as the body. We have talked at length about what it means to participate in Christ and with one another, and have grappled with the mystery in it all.

The following posts are an attempt to condense our thoughts and teachings. Check out our updated book list to see what we’ve been reading.

Thoughts for NYNO on ‘Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting’ (1)

As NYNO kicks off with its preparatory research we’re trying to get a handle on a lot of different things. We’re eager to be involved in wider conversations going on in the UK concerning innovative forms of church and so one of the first things we sat down to read was the Church of Scotland’s Report, Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting, submitted to the General Assembly in 2011 and prepared by John Drane and Olive Fleming Drane. It can be found with a quick internet search.

Having said this, we’re not trying to be emerging church gurus but rather solve a particular small(!) set of problems surrounding every-age churches that are accessible to older people. To that end, as we read through material in the coming months and post small articles, we’ll be writing very much for ourselves and the issues we face and certainly aren’t offering a super-critical supposedly objective judgement on everything we encounter.

So, what did we gain from reading the report?

For this post let’s start with the preference that we noted for creative worship over and against what might be described as a rationalistic word focussed theology and the worship it shapes (3.1.4).

We already have ourselves a desire for NYNO churches to be places in which people’s creative impulses can be shared and put to the service of worship. We’ve got some ideas, some borrowed, some new, that we think could work well, although of course they’re all untested in our context as of yet.

Our current thoughts are, though, that reflection and creativity will be most productive and faithful when occurring within a theological framework. We haven’t, to put it one way, given up on words. A couple of things about how we hope to use words:

Starting a church is difficult. There’s a need for the new members to form, to receive, understand and participate in the identity of the church. In one sense, this will be catholic and so no different from any other church. In another sense, this identity will also be very particular, depending on the precise context in which the church meets and the lives of the people involved. Words will be important for forming this identity, for corporately finding and telling and sharing the story of who we are. Of course, the report is not criticising the use of words but an abstract technical division and categorisation of Christian belief at the expense of the imaginative.

We’re planning to do our own research on worship. If we’re going to be innovative in worship, there’s no point reinventing the wheel or making the mistakes of yesteryear. One of the things I have a hunch is missing, and I’ve already alluded to this in a previous post, is an appreciation of the spiritual dynamics of what happens when we meet. There’s lots to be said about this, but put very simply Word and Sacrament point us to reality of God acting, speaking, and the content of God’s speech to us is Jesus Christ. This being so, we’re looking for our meetings to be places where spiritual events occur, which we’re expecting to be God speaking of Jesus Christ and us hearing this and knowing our sins are forgiven.

With that framework in place, the possibilities of creativity open up on a secure basis. I’m guessing this is all the more important where NYNO groups might have lay leadership or are less confident at being able to maintain coherency between the shared faith and any new contribution.

It’s very likely I’ve read into this section of the report more than was necessary, but as I mentioned earlier, the purpose of these notes and reading the report was to help us form our own mind with regard to the particular tasks in front of us.