I'm still in placement exile from my home parish and while being so, seem to be getting a bit more organised in respect or Sunday services to attend. However, last Sunday's was a little last minute! We were staying at my parents-in-law and planning to go, on the Sunday, to the 'bigchurchdayout' (see; www.bigchurchdayout.com). However, I discovered that this didn't kick off, so to speak until slightly later in the day.
So, we chose to go to Chichester Cathedral for their 11am Eucharist. I took two children with me. It was also a bit of a reccie as a college friend is being ordained there at the end of June and I wanted to check out some of the practical stuff. It was, as expected, a wonderful service both liturgically and musically; the incense was swung liberally and the choir were on top form. But, as with all these sorts of services, it was one that lacked congregational 'participation'. It was only during the sermon that I actually sat up.
Now, for those not necessary in the know, Chichester Diocese hasn't been known to fully 'embrace' the ordination of Women to the Priesthood. I wasn't going for any debate or discussion on the subject, but, when during the sermon, the Dean talked of listening to the Spirit, and quoted the following from (Benedictine scholar) Sebastian Moore about how the Church's leaders (and those whom they led) were unable..
‘to cope with the scientific revolution when it came, dithered when Darwin discovered
Evolution, and Freud the unconscious, and now resists the feminist movement and the rethinking
of sexuality. It all goes back to a church that understood God and his Son in
legal terms – God authorising the Son and the Son authorising the Church, rather than in
the Spirit, that got relegated to the role of someone you pray to before taking an exam.’
the rest of the text can be found here: http://www.chichestercathedral.org.uk/dyn/_assets/_pdfs/_folder1/(1)SermonpreachedbytheDeanonTrinitySunday-TheCathedralsFeastofTitleSunday30May2010.pdf
I just didn't expect these things to be said within Chichester Cathedral, but it rang so true that time and time again we seem to get so worked up in what appears to be the language and legality of theology without looking behind it and praying and working through where we believe the Holy Spirit is taking us on our ever changing faith journey. Christianity is now over 2000 years old and, much like we expect children to mature as they grow, so surely God expects and guides the church in change and maturity. There are of course deep rooted questions that do need to be answered and worked through, and there are issues that are guided particularly strongly by scripture. However, we must not forget that when we are considering such matters, first and foremost we do this within a prayerful environment. If we don't, then where is God in our decisions? He is not.
After Eucharist, I took the boys onto thebigchurchdayout (www.bigchurchdayout.com) I wasn't sure what to make of it and must admit to feeling somewhat apprehensive. I wasn't meeting anyone there and the 'tone' of the event was very much evangelical - at the other end of the tradition spectrum to mine. There was a main stage, marquee for the children (with very well organised children's activities), a smaller stage and a tea-tent away from the noise for those who wanted to escape.
Once I'd orientated myself and felt a little more comfortable, I had a truly wonderful day out. It was a 'big church day out'. The sun shone, there were lots of people and it was a glorious celebration of everything good that is our faith. I experienced some new worship music and was particularly moved by the music of Trent and Tim Hughes.
The boys had a great time - and the children's activities (organised in to age groups) were fantastic and well organised. An hour of entertainment for them; with some adult participation as well. We weren't able to stay until the end, but left after seeing Tobymac - unfortunately, my desire to be in the main crowd wasn't the boys idea of fun (sound of the speakers resonating on our chests; taking me back to my youth and pop & rock concerts!).
At the end of the long day, I reflected on what a diversity of worship I had had the privilege of being part of. I was able to worship in both contexts and whilst on one hand I loved the formal liturgy of the cathedral, and still love this form of worship, I was able to worship in an equally later in the day in a much more relaxed, free flowing way. There is a place for all forms of worship as well as a place for a combining of older, traditional liturgy with modern themes, songs, instruments etc etc. We need to take courage in both hands and (as mentioned earlier) in a prayerful environment, take worship out of our (and the established church's) 'comfort' zones and ensure that we enable people today to adequately connect with God.