Monday 5 November 2007

Pray together, stay together

Final notes from this year’s retreat — about worship. There's a natural tendency to think of worship as a programme based activity, like vacuum cleaning, or watching telly. Everything is projected on a screen before me, as entertainment or edification. Good worship requires Gear, either Muppett show electronic gizmos (Big Mixing Desk and Jumbo Projector), or a shedload of Twee Gear from the Mowbrays Catalogue (“randy for antique”).

If you stopped Joseph in the carpenter's shop and asked him about worship, life was worship, family meals were worship, the table he'd made yesterday was worship. Synagogue was part of it, and so was the temple occasionally. The roped off God zone was really rather minimal, and when Jesus died, the veil was torn and the ropes snapped. How silly to try and recreate it now , and call it a missional tool.

Furthermore 7% of communication is the script. That means 93% isn’t! Forty years long of faffing around with the words of worship in the C of E, and I reckon we've pretty much determined empirically what a place like Saint Wandrille, which has only changed the script once in the past 1300 years, knew all along — that the attitude with which we pray is infinitely more important than the words we use.

The Rule is a whole of life policy, that starts at the God end. What goes on in Church is an integral part of life and work, not a bolt on extra. You just do it and see what happens. The point is not to entertain yourselves, but to focus everything else, using the psalms in particular. All human life is there, all emotion, including nasty, tentative, lary, hopeful and thankful (sounds like the basis for seven brand new dwarfs). What goes on in the church is as integral to life as breathing. Sometimes air tastes good, and sometimes it's just air. By and large there's no point worrying about breathing, unless you're underwater. You just get on with it. In a very undecorated place like Saint Wandrille (where the church is, literally, an old barn) the community itself is the icon, and everything is radically simple and unselfconscious.

So where does this leave the whole language of “doing Church?” Worship as Muppett/ Antiques Road Show easily becomes rather stilted and artificial. Emergent churches are starting at the other end, creating community first. Worship ends up much less cheesy and artificial — an expression of who the community is before God and part of what they do, rather than an aspirational exercise. The measure of worship is not the words or gear we use, but how Pelagian or self-conscious we are in Church.

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