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October 10, 2006


Jamie G

You know, I think some of this 'peaceful reflection' stuff actually stems from the modern disease of seeing Christianity as a private matter between us and God. It goes along with the issue that the Christian life can be lived in isolation, which I think is almost completely unsupported by scripture. We are saved into a community of believers, whether we like it or not; we journey together; we are the living stones that are built together to form the temple. It's not that we should shun peaceful reflection - rather that we should appraise it as a priority in line with our vision of what church should be like.

Katy W

Personally, having gone through a stream of churches from the high C of E smells and bells, to ordered mini methodist communion glasses, to clappy hand waving house churchy, to nada... and down a few more paths to good old all soles, I mean all souls, I've seen a fair few styles of worship. I've gone through the charismatic part feeling it was blinkin brilliant because I was so sick of people singing songs about this amazing God who, according to the songs, does amazing things - as if they'd much rather be doing anything else, anywhere else and completely missing the point. Feeling as if these words we were singing were real - then it's completely appropriate to jump up and down and wave hands and get really excited.

However, as the years have progressed - I've lost my ability to really connect in that style of worship (and even in a toned down version of it). I found myself getting stuck into a cycle of doing the motions, looking appropriate, but not really connecting with the words, or with God. Quite frankly, I find if I go to church more than 3 sundays in a row - I get really bored in worship. Not because I sing songs in worship to feel good - and it's not having the effect anymore, not because I believe it any less, but because I want to express my faith, my love for and worship of God in more ways than just singing 3 chord guitarry songs.

If I engaged in quiet reflection every week - I'd get bored too, but sometimes the quiet reflection is a heck of a lot more creative than the parroting of songs, and helps me a heck of a lot more to connect with, worhip and adore the God that I think is quite frankly amazing.

So long as we choose one tool to express our worship and stick to it, there are going to be people who find it less helpful. So long as we stick to one part of the spectrum, people are going to winge about people who stick to another part of the spectrum.

I don't think it really matters what media or method we use to worship God as long as we express to God what we feel. Maybe Terry Waite is picking up on a feeling that what he sees is shallow and not allowing people to connect with God - quite frankly there are times that I would agree with him. On the other hand if we engaged in the style of worship that he seems to be promoting all the time, a similar thing would probably happen (maybe not for all people, but definitely for me).

Like any relationship - our time with God needs time for peaceful reflection, time for rigorous argument, time for goofy doting, time for all sorts of things. I think variety is the spice of worship and I haven't come across many churches that do it.

jamie g

Katy - thoughtful post.
what about 4 chord guitarry songs? would these work better for you? ;)

Julian Treasure

Everyone is different, not just from each other but from day to day, so whatever worship happens it will never please all of the people all of the time.

That having been said, I think that ritual and routine are flavourings, sometimes comforting but to be used with discretion - and definitely not to be confused with the meal itself.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu says:

"Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion."

That book usually makes wise reading in my experience, and I love to substitute 'Spirit' for 'Tao' all the way through. For me, his warning about ritual rings true.

Here's Jesus on similar matters from Matthew 6:

"5 "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him."

So the question is, are we ritualistic in worship... do we use 'vain repetitions'? Or is Katy's reaction (and possibly that of others, who knows?) simply a reflection of the inevitable mismatch between where some people are at any one time and what's being offered to them?

I know that most churches, not blessed like we are with four outstanding worship leaders, have the same band, style and pretty much songs every week. I do think it's important to stand in gratitude as often as possible and this does make me think how lucky we are. I'm in a unique position to reflect on this because I'm the lucky one who gets to play every week - and I love the way that the four leaders' styles are very different, and the way the changing personnel creates a different vibe every week. We do new songs, well-known songs and hymns. We do gentle reflections and stomping praise. We do arrangements and free improvisations.

All this comes through giving worship the space it needs (at least three songs at a time ideally), and through not ritualising it by rehearsing the same band so that they become perfect but robotic. IMHO, our lack of rehearsal is our single greatest strength because it creates a space, into which almost every Sunday the Spririt enters in force. Usually the more disorganised the preparation the more we let go (no choice!) and rely on the Spirit, and the more powerfully the worship opens the doors to the throne room.

Of course we must never become complacent and of course we must always invite and welcome challenge, and take our own inventory regularly. But I for one relish the variety we have and I really don't think that we are currently in danger of being formulaic.

Having said that, we are a growing church and as we grow we will have more opportunities to offer even grater variety: in due course we'll probably have two services, maybe even three, on a Sunday, and we can change the style, the pace and the content to give people the chance to choose the one that gives them what they need that week. Quiet reflection (with or without music), personal sharing of gratitude and of requests for help, extended communal prayer, healing, weekly communion... these are all things that we may be able to create space for on a regular basis.

Regarding Terry Waite's piece that started all this off, we have a phrase in recovery that tends to rebalance things when someone is complaining about a particular meeting not being any good for them: look for the similarities and not the differences. It's a trap to focus on the latter, and it takes work sometimes to stay with the former. Most of all, just as with life, it's much more productive to ask not what church gave us today but what we gave it.

So in sum I agree with Katy that variety is the spice of life in worship - and I think we do it better than any other church I've ever come across. Let's celebrate that, while we look forward with confidence to offering even richer and more varied spiritual food in the future. Let's draw from tradition and from modernity; from ritual and from freedom; from organisation and from spontaneity; from leadership and from involvement; from shouting and from whispering; from noise and from silence; from closeness and from openness - not to create some style statement but because we seek only God's guidance, and then he leads us to the next right step, one step at a time.

With love, Jules

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