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Cradle-to-grave moments

15 March 2013

Dana Delap finds this book essential reading on occasional offices


Worship that Cares: An introduction to pastoral liturgy
Mark Earey
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18

HOW many of us can understand, beyond our instinctive knowledge, what happens in occasional offices? In Worship that Cares, Mark Earey explores our deep human need for ritual, and how it connects with the bigger perspective at moments of change, particularly at baptisms, weddings, services of wholeness and healing, and funerals. He suggests that if our human experience can be appropriately connected to the bigger Christian story, and woven within the liturgy of pastoral rites through word and symbol, meaning is brought into people's lives.

Liturgy and ritual shape the theology of those who, though on the edges of the Church, rely on them to help them through the life-changes of birth, partnership, and death. What happens if the rite and human experience contradict one another? For Earey, maintaining the integrity of those experiencing rites and of the minister is imperative. So, for example, he helpfully draws out the tension between the theological truth and psychological demands of a funeral liturgy.

He demonstrates how our different denominations and traditions give liturgical resources for the diverse emotional and spiritual needs of the gathered community. Although the liturgical text may be carefully thought through, it is in the sermon and in extempore prayer that weaknesses in pastoral theology might reveal themselves. A series of useful questions highlights potential stumbling-blocks and confusions, and a range of doctrinal solutions are given for further reflection on how funerals relate to the mission of the Church.

Our society has come to understand "health" to be our normal state of being, and sees illness as an aberration; that runs counter to the experience of many individuals for whom "dis-ease" is the norm. Earey examines the growing practice of offering prayer for wholeness and healing in church and on the streets, while asking how pastoral and liturgical practice might need to change to encompass fully the needs of individuals and communities. While some will disagree with his theological stance, his thoughtful reflections on what the Church still has to learn are pertinent to those offering prayer for wholeness and healing.

Sunday worship may not often be a place for individual pastoral care, but it is the place where ministers hone the pastoral skills and principles for use in contexts for which no formal rite exists. While offering Christian liturgy to those who do not profess Christian faith is risky, he suggests that it is a risk worth taking. By offering "apt liturgy" for our communities, we may be making new and unexpected connections with faith. The theme of the journey could have been developed, particularly around baptism and the journey of faith. There is obvious potential for further exploration of pastoral liturgy relating to discipleship.

This is not a manual on how to use liturgical texts well, or an exploration of what can be found within the liturgical resources of our Christian denominations, although it includes some of that. This book introduces the principles and skills needed by an effective pastor engaged in those moments when people are most open to hearing how their stories make sense within the story of God's love.

Earey's background in theological education and pastoral care has shaped an excellent book that should be mandatory reading for all those training for pastoral ministry, as well as those who want to refine and understand better what happens in our pastoral services.

The Revd Dana Delap is Assistant Curate of St James and St Basil, Fenham, in the diocese of Newcastle.

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