Category Archives: Liturgy

Is our worship any good?

I’ve just read a booklet entitled ‘Evaluating Worship’ by Mark Earey, and I found it fascinating – he talks about the different models of worship that exist, for example, do you think:

  • Worship is for the individual to draw closer to God, or
  • Worship is to enable us to be more open to the readings and preaching, or
  • Worship is our duty – it doesn’t matter whether we like it or not, or
  • Worship is heaven on earth – as the angels are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in heaven, so we reflect that praise on earth…

The models of worship are different to ‘styles of worship’ – so any of these models could be formal or informal, they could use hymn books or the words on a screen. In fact, often when we argue about the style of worship (eg. we mustn’t have bongo drums in the service) we are really trying to defend our model of worship (eg. I don’t care whether people like bongo drums – people should see worship as a duty).

I don’t particularly prefer any style – I like both formal and informal worship – but a more interesting question for me has been ‘What is my model of worship’ – none of the above really resonate for me.

Having reflected on it, for me it is about the family of God coming together around the table and being equipped to serve the community. I value us showing up, week by week, getting to know each other well and becoming a spiritual family. I also value us being sent out into the world to serve others and to let God’s love be known.

There are many sobering scriptures where people think their worship is great but God has other ideas – the classic example is from Amos 5:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5.21–24, NRSV)

The booklet ends with a quote from the theologian the Reverend Michael Vasey:

The evaluation of worship in any Christian tradition has to attend not only to the emotional and aesthetic experience but to its outworking in agape, justice and mission.

How can you tell if worship is any good? Not by asking ‘How many of us liked it?’ (the ‘emotional and aesthetic experience’). What Vasey reminds us is that the truest evaluation of worship will always be based on what are essentially long-term criteria, rather than the short-term criteria we often apply.

Blessing the New Hymn Books

On Sunday 23rd August, at St John’s, we had a special service of blessing for our new hymn books. This prayer was used:

Almighty God, everlasting Father, You created Your people to offer thanks and praise to You. Grant Your blessing upon these copies of Hymns Old and New, that they may be for us instruments of praise by which we may worthily magnify Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

The Lord almighty, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, bless these hymn books and those who use them.
Amen.

As a symbolic act we then brought the green ones up and laid them on the altar on our way up to receive communion and picked up the new orange hymn books from the altar on the way back. Then sang the remaining hymns from the new book.

It went remarkably smoothly, considering!

Come Holy Spirit

The Pentecost service at St John’s on 23rd May was one of the most moving services I’ve been to in a long time. Several people commented about how it had affected them too, but I couldn’t persuade anyone to write about it!

For those who don’t know, Pentecost is the festival where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit which enlivens each Christian. The Holy Spirit is reported in Acts to have come like a wind and also like tongues of fire which rested on each disciple’s head. In St John’s there was a place where we could make “Pentecost Crowns” to depict this (modelled beautifully by Florence in the picture). Incidentally, did you know that bishop’s mitres are shaped like that to look like flames of fire at Pentecost?

Moreover, the disciples were given the Spiritual Gift of speaking in tongues so that they could communicate the Gospel to people in their native tongue. This is because our first responsibility as disciples is to spread the Good News of God’s Love but we need the anointing of the Holy Spirit to be able to do this. For me personally, the most moving part of the service was being given the privilege of anointing everyone who wanted it. We anoint people with Holy Oil at Pentecost to ask for the Holy Spirit to be present in their lives. I know some people sensed the Holy Spirit very strongly as we sang the song “Be Still for the Presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here.”

In our prayers, we thanked God for the Holy Spirit who equips and guides us. Finally, we each had a candle and we took the light from the Easter Candle and passed it from one to another until all our candles were lit. This represented the light of Christ being in each one of us. The liturgy then becomes very challenging – reminding us of our responsibilities on earth, it says:

As part of God’s Church here in the Parish of Badshot Lea and Hale, I call upon you to live out what you proclaim.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, will you dare to walk into God’s future, trusting him to be your guide?

By the Spirit’s power, we will.

Will you dare to embrace each other and grow together in love?

We will.

Will you dare to share your riches in common and minister to each other in need?

We will.

Will you dare to pray for each other until your hearts beat with the longings of God?

We will.

Will you dare to carry the light of Christ into the world’s dark places?

We will.

We then extinguished the Easter Candle in silence and we all processed out of the church singing “The Spirit moves to set us free – walk, walk in the light” This represented us taking the light of Christ out into the world. The blessing was outside in the beautiful churchyard in the sunshine.

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all those who are on the Worship Groups who plan our services – there is one group for each of the three churches. It has been so good to plan services together and to grow in love and understanding of each other as we have worked together. The services are still developing so please give us your feedback!