LITURGY should be understood as an act of service for the public
rather than as the worship of those inside the church, a conference
of liturgists heard last week. Bishops, archdeacons, cathedral
canons, and parish priests gathered at Aston University, in
Birmingham, for the "Worship 2013" conference, organised by the C
of E's Liturgical Commission.
Opening the conference, Fr Edward Foley OFM Cap, Duns Scotus
Professor of Spirituality and Professor of Liturgy and Music at the
Catholic Theological Union Chicago, and a priest at Old St
Patrick's, Chicago, described Jesus as a "public theologian" who
did his main teaching at tables rather than in synagogues or the
"This table ministry was not always, only, and exclusively for
the sake of gathering disciples and converting them to Jesus's own
theology," he said. "To delimit Jesus's table ministry to . . . a
strategy of evangelisation, narrowly conceived, designed to recruit
others into his religious movement, turns the . . . Missio
Dei - the mission of God, revealed in Jesus - into a
self-serving ecclesial act. It also misses the gospel fact that . .
. God has a love affair with the world, not just the Jesus
movement, and not just the Church."
He said that the Greek word leitourgia was often
mistranslated as "a work of the people", when it should be
understood as "a public work done in service of the people". The
practice in Athens of wealthy citizens' funding a naval ship for a
year was an act of leitourgia, he said; and the 15 uses of
the word in the New Testament "never refer to the worship of the
He described Sunday worship at his own church as "an opportunity
not only to feed the baptised with the gospel banquet, but also to
re- iterate to guests and seekers . . . that God has a love affair
Fr Foley's address set the tone for the conference, which also
heard from the composer Will Todd, the poet Michael Symmons
Roberts, and the Revd Dr Jessica Martin, Priest-in-Charge of
Duxford, Hinxton and Ickleton.
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, spoke
about the memorial service held in January 2001 for the singer
Kirsty MacColl at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, London, while he was
Rector. He said that the arrangements had been made with Ms
MacColl's management team, "who wanted both to be honest about who
she was . . . and what she believed, and also to do something
pastorally for her fans, who were shocked at the death and
grieving. They recognised that the only place to do this in British
society was church. That's true. It's still true; but it is
changing, and we shouldn't take it for granted."
In the closing question-and-answer session, one delegate de-
scribed the "extraordinary fault-line" between what is legally
allowed and what actually happens in parishes". Canon Christopher
Irvine, Convenor of the Conference Planning Group, responded by
asking: "What does it actually mean to be part of a wider Church?"
He said that "what was given to the people of England" at the
Reformation "was forms of prayer rather than a con- fession of
faith or doctrine. Behind that lurks a principle . . . that we
deliver our understanding of God, and how God works in the world,
through our forms of worship. That's our inheritance."
He said that there was "a wider consideration that we all do
actually belong to the same Church, and some of us would say that
there is extraordinary value in knowing that what is happening in
one local church is happening elsewhere".
But the Revd Mark Earey, co- director of the Centre for
Ministerial Formation, and tutor in liturgy and worship at the
Queen's Foundation in Birmingham, speaking in a personal capacity
rather than as a member of the Liturgical Commission, said: "The
fact that this question gets asked all the time suggests to me that
we have a system which is broken. You don't get good worship by
having the right rules.
"The C of E is based on a pattern, which I think is a
16th-century model, which is that unity and good stuff comes from
having rules and uniformity. It is a political model, not a
liturgical model, which was then applied to the institute as a
political tool. . .
"We operate in a legal model where we should be operating in a
model which is more to do with trust and accountability; trusting
local people, local clergy, and local lay leaders to do what is
right in their context, which has integrity with the tra- dition
but which is also indigenous and inculturated."