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Reimagining Worship: Renewing worship in a changing Church

13 July 2018

David Stancliffe finds a worship handbook refreshingly broad

THIS is a jolly, chatty book, mixing glimpses of the obvious with really challenging insights on how to do church better. It is put together by four experienced practitioners who draw on material contributed by some twenty people (how: was it a series of group brainstormings or a number of papers?) who have a wide range of experience between them.

The basic fourfold structure of the book is explained in the introduction, and uses the now well-established fourfold structure based on the Emmaus story in Luke 24 (as I did in God’s Pattern in 2003): the “Gathering” of God’s people, the “Word”, our response in “Sacramental” worship, and finally “Sending”: how we go out and put our renewed vision into practice.

All chapters include questions to think about or provoke discussion; anecdotal experiences are boxed for easy reference; ideas crop up in various sections and criss-cross the material: “Remember that everything is connected,” say the editors in conclusion (like Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister); but it isn’t always easy to track and develop these threads, as the index isn’t really designed to do that: you can look up the authors who are quoted, but not for example “reordering”, “sacrifice”, or “eucharistic theology”. Snappy summaries and helpful hints are lined in the margins of the text.

Section A, “Gathering”, has sub-sections. The first, Relational, is genuinely parochial, with questions about the locality, class, and the dangers of self-selection. There are warnings about what the gathered group looks and feels like to outsiders, and of the misuse of clerical control (or that of the “worship leader”).

The second sub-section, Caring and Inclusive, has a good deal of overlap with the first, but includes warnings that there may be “people who learn or grow in different ways from us, which may be through listening, through action, through ‘trying it out’, through music or silence or images. . .” Now I know why I’ve never felt at home in some churches, as this list describes all the things that characterise me. But it was good to read: “What would happen to our church’s worship if we spent an equal amount of time on the preparation of the service itself as on the sermon?”

Creative, Located and Well-Led are the other elements in this first section.

Section B, “Rooted in the Word”, feels as if the editors are on surer ground. Good News, Biblical, Using the Psalms, Believing, Filled with the Spirit, and Building and Feeding the Body of Christ give an opportunity to explain what a lectionary is and how it is constructed, the place of the historic creeds in worship — a weak section, as the editors seem not to have grasped that the creeds act more like coats of arms or ensigns around which the Church has historically rallied — as well as the place of lament, how to intercede, and some tips on reading and presenting the Bible in media other than the spoken word.

Section C, “Responding”, has sections named Sacramental, Baptismal, and Eucharistic; Encountering the Living God, Intercessory and Seeking Wholeness, before concluding with sections on Silence and Musical Response. As an oblique comment, I’m not sure why some of the headings are adjectival, qualifying “response” and some are substantive — Encountering the Living God and Silence, for example. I don’t find that the difference between sacraments and sacramental is clearly explained, and the insistence that it is words that give meaning to symbols I disagree with profoundly.

On baptism, there is a conflation of immersion and submersion in the box on page 146, and, while I agree that confirmation is essentially a pastoral rite and unnecessary to complete baptism, I do not find any mention of that anointing with chrism immediately after the water baptism which complements St Paul’s dying and rising with Christ in Romans 6 with the Johannine emphasis on the action of the Spirit to bring about the new creation.

So perhaps readers will not be surprised that I find the eucharistic section the weakest in the book, theologically as well as pragmatically. The section on disentangling encounter with God from an emotional frisson that follows it is more original, and the section on Wholeness and Healing is clear and helpful.

The final section (D) groups under “Sending” sections entitled To Become More Like Jesus, Crossing Thresholds, Worship, Mission and Pastoral Care, and Prophetic. In their final section, the editors write: “Belonging affects our caring, which affects how we and others believe and how the church grows and is built up.”

This reflects the genuinely outward feel of the book and the enthusiasm of its contributors, and will bring a slightly breathless challenge to those churches that want to step beyond the monochrome, dominating, and unthinking routines that characterise much of what passes for worship.

It is refreshing to find a handbook like this from the Evangelical end of the spectrum which is designed to make an appeal to a wide and inclusive sense of how to form and celebrate the Church’s worship and life for the “whole parish”. The emphasis throughout on formation will appeal to a broad range of those concerned with helping the Church to look outwards and forwards. It may be partial in its appeal, but its acknowledgment of the big context is important.

The Rt Revd Dr David Stancliffe, a former Bishop of Salisbury, chaired the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission during the years when Common Worship was being created.

Reimagining Worship: Renewing worship in a changing Church
Anna de Lange, Trevor Lloyd, Tim Stratford and Ian Tarrant, editors
Canterbury Press £21.99
Church Times Bookshop £19.80

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