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A service, or an act of public service?

26 July 2013

Gavin Drake hears views of what liturgy should be at 'Worship 2013'


Peace in our time: modern-liturgy buffs gather last week

Peace in our time: modern-liturgy buffs gather last week

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 Temple.

"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 emerging Church".

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 with everyone".

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."

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