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Crowning the Year by Tom Clammer; and Landscape Liturgies by Nick Mayhew-Smith

by
19 November 2021

Richard Greatrex reads suggestions for worship tailored to its context

AS A rural incumbent recently moved to a new benefice, I warmly welcome Tom Clammer’s Crowning the Year, a timely guide to aspects of rural ministry, which arises directly out of extensive experience.

Setting the scene by describing two contrasting Gloucestershire benefices, the author lays out distinctive characteristics of village church life, noting that where some see small, scattered congregations worshipping in ill-equipped, costly buildings, served by dwindling and under-resourced ministry teams, others find deeply pastoral, incarnational communities, coterminous with local populations, church buildings that are valued signs of God-with-us, a higher percentage of parishioners attending than in urban parishes and a significant proportion blessed with church schools.

Such observations form a base from which to draw a theology and ecclesiology for rural ministry with a rhythm of public prayer at its heart. I especially appreciate the application of cell-church values across a rural benefice as means for exploring the challenges of balancing cell-sized numbers with the perceived desire for congregational worship.

This approach feeds into a helpful framework for liturgical theology, providing practical pointers pertinent to multi-church contexts. When might “place” take precedence over “story”, for instance? Harvest and carol services might draw particular resonance from being embedded in their specific localities, whereas Ash Wednesday to Pentecost’s long march to the cross and resurrection may be more effective as a journey taken together across the benefice.

Also covered is the celebration of the liturgical and agricultural years in a rural setting, albeit limited by its focus chiefly on authorised Anglican sources. While Chris Thorpe’s recent Ploughshares and First Fruits (Books, 31 December 2020) is referred to, there is no space for inclusion of either the Staffordshire Seven’s Seasonal Worship from the Countryside or the superlative resources from the Arthur Rank Centre’s Germinate website, both of which I regularly use, together with material with contemporary Celtic origins.

Nevertheless, Clammer’s is an immensely valuable title, serving both as a guide providing practitioners with fresh discipline and impetus, and as a reminder to the wider Church of the rich potential to be garnered from contemporary ministry in rural contexts.

Landscape Liturgies, Nick Mayhew-Smith and Sarah Brush’s collection, which draws on wide-ranging materials from across the Christian traditions, ties in well with Clammer’s rural ecclesiology. Where the latter urges us to move outside our buildings, here we encounter prayers and liturgies to do just that. Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist rituals rub shoulders with Syrian, Celtic and Saxon rites, alongside blessings for animals, outdoor spaces, trees, rivers, seas, hill and vale, agriculture and pilgrimage — a veritable feast of texts old and new, some beautiful, some lyrical, some eccentric; but all, if used judiciously, able to “read” the state of our planet today.

At times, the authors have elided the language (allowing imprecations against demons to be re-envisaged as warding off pollution, for example), but they always aim to maximise contemporary relevance, and they are keen to remind us to adapt liturgies to suit given situations. Although the rites collected here contain a mine of information and inspiration dating back to the early centuries of the Church, they often include complex texts requiring informed and flexible handling.

Nevertheless, when combined with vivid and appropriate symbolic actions (sickle-throwing is unlikely to pass a risk assessment), they offer rich foundational material for the construction of profound new rituals to suit current circumstances, from the consecration of churchyard programmes to the blessing of flood defences or even anaerobic digesters.

Ultimately, as Robert Macfarlane reminds us in The Old Ways, “landscape and nature are not there simply to be gazed at; no, they press hard upon and into our bodies and minds”; and both these timely books go a long way in moving us from being “on” to being “in” our landscape and to understanding that we share the fruits of the incarnation with all creation.

 

The Revd Richard Greatrex is Rector of the Chew Valley East Benefice, and author of Stations of the Resurrection (Redemptorist Publications, 2019).

 

Crowning the Year: Liturgy, theology and ecclesiology for the rural church
Tom Clammer
Canterbury Press £16.99
(978-1-78622-339-5)
Church Times Bookshop £13.59

 

Landscape Liturgies: Outdoor worship resources from the Christian tradition
Nick Mayhew-Smith
Canterbury Press £16.99
(978-1-78622-380-7)
Church Times Bookshop £13.59

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