THE website whychurch.org reviewed statistics of church
membership over the past ten years, and concluded that there are
four categories of people that the Church is failing to reach: men,
the young, the poor, and Christians. The surprising last category
arises from the growing number of people who, when asked, say that
they are Christian, but do not go to church. They are the believers
who do not belong.
This requires all of us who plan and conduct church worship to
ask whether we have failed to identify, and offer, a liturgy that
engages and articulates the faith of our generation. And, since
this has been the period when we have become accustomed to the
liturgical style and context of Common Worship 2000, this
soul-searching must include our experience of this book, which has
shaped the worshipping life of our Church.
Most of us have a list of the parts that we love, and which move
us, and also the phrases and prayers that irritate. We find that
some services work, while others need revision. The marriage
service meets with general approval, but, as the recent public
debate has revealed, we find some statements in the baptism service
Although it is interesting for those of us who worship to swap
stories and experiences, and for the Liturgical Commission to
devise new forms of service, this misses the point of why the
liturgy of the Church of England, and especially Common
Worship, fails to address this generation. It is an activity
for those already inside the doors.
Let us start by asking how we actually use Common
Worship. At my church, we consider that our main act of
worship is parish communion, on Sunday morning, and the baptism
service that takes place within it. For this, we use Common
Worship, with its wide range of options, to enable us to
derive a form of service that fits our own circumstances.
We also offer choral evensong, and usually matins as well. This
attracts visitors, and others who attend more occasionally, who
would not see themselves as full members. We use the Book of Common
Prayer, employed within the range of the Anglican choral
THEN there are special services: the school end-of-term services,
the launch of a new charitable organisation, the shoppers' carol
service. We devise our own order of service for each occasion.
So, for us, Common Worship and parish communion go
together, and I suspect that that is the case for others, too.
Common Worship affirms and strengthens the eucharistic
life of the Church; so it makes the assumption that a church is a
defined and identified group of people who form a community, and
gives a language to express this identity, and a ritual character
to give it shape.
But the problem with any community is that, while there are some
within it who value the comfort and reassurance it provides, there
are also others who are outside. Any liturgy, or form of words
drafted for use by one community, will exclude all those who are
not included. If we see the church primarily as a community, then
we are setting up a system that excludes just as much as it
If Common Worship serves a defined Christian community,
does it serve those who are outside? Is it building a faithful
gospel witness, or is it using the theological language of
eucharist and communion to justify and facilitate the withdrawal
from an aggressively secular society into the safe haven of a
clearly defined community?
I have just returned from a fascinating visit to the only
sub-Saharan African country with a long history of Christian faith:
Ethiopia. It took me a while to grasp that their churches are
completely different from ours; in fact, they are not churches in
our sense at all.
Instead of buildings in which Christians gather for worship,
they are holy enclosures with several different parts: a holy of
holies, to which only clergy have access; a place where choir and
worship leaders perform the sacred songs; a hall where young people
are taught the faith; and a large space outside where people read
At festivals, there will be different kinds of worship
continuing all night - sometimes with two or more going on
simultaneously. People go to whatever bits they want, and very few
go to all.
POST-MODERN England is a different kind of society from rural
Ethiopia, but there may be something that we can learn from them.
Worship is not a catch-all activity that must be conducted in a
style laid down by the church authorities. It is diverse, varied,
simultaneous, and unexpected. A post-modern church needs to
discover a post-liturgical style of worship.
We need to recognise that places matter. Far more people in the
UK relate to the church building itself than come to the worship
within it. We need to think more about the part we play as a
custodian of national sacred space.
Occasions matter. People come to church when they have something
to say or do: this may be the birth of a child, or the death of a
loved one, the end of a school term, or the launch of a new
organisation. Marking special occasions is how most people
I value my participation in Common Worship parish
communion on a Sunday morning. It is fine as a starting point; but
we need to discover forms of worship that can speak to that
majority of Anglicans who find that our liturgy does not speak to
Canon John Binns is the Vicar of St Mary the Great,