Musings on evangelism

One of the interesting things happening in the Church of England at the moment is the wave of alternative forms of worship which have been spreading across the country. Many people (including myself) still swear by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (revised 19 hundred and something). Since then it has been (a fair bit) superseded by the 1980 Alternative Service Book (now out of copyright), and (sometimes unwillingly) superseded by the 2000 “Common Worship.”

The first observation I’d like to share is that people in England quite rapidly fall into two camps. There’s the people who love the old-fashioned style of worship from the BCP, and there’s those referred to as “happy-clappy,” who prefer to sing and dance in their services.

Also interesting is the major attachment some people have for the BCP, to the level where they may despise the recent Common Worship. My (somewhat limited) experience of Common Worship shows that, in the hands of a sensitive preacher, it can be easily used to form very attractive services closely matching the old forms of worship.

So what is it that attracts people to old-fashioned services?

One of the major things I find is that I enjoy the tradition of old services. I like the idea that I can have broadly the same service every week. Yes I like it to vary, to refer to different parts of the Bible, and to embrace different points and prayers. But having the same structure every week is something to which I am quite attached.
This is almost certainly a comfort factor. I like to be able to come to a familiar environment and worship God in a familiar way. It’s more tricky if I have to cope with strange orders of service on a regular basis.

I think this is a very powerful attraction. The ideal situation would be that I could visit any church in England and find a service mapped to the same form. I could follow the service however old I was, however ill or infirm. My years of experience with it would make the worship far easier to understand.

People often mention another great advantage to the BCP service. The original prayer book is centuries old, and the language has only been slightly updated. This means that the prayers and texts are formed in a poetic style, which embellishes and enriches the meaning. Quoting the Collect for Advent may be illustrative:

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Traditionally, the first Advent Candle is lit at the start of the prayer. What could be more appropriate than “cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light?”

People argue that the old-fashioned words are a hindrance, impeding understanding of what’s going on. I would suggest that slowing down over the words is even more important in today’s society, and that the words encourage a far deeper level of spirituality than those offered in many alternative services.

The fact remains that many people prefer old-style worship, and yet at the same time it is being superseded all over the country by music groups, rock bands, and multiple prayer groups.

Perhaps the nature of rock bands is that they’ll always be loud, even if in the minority. There is a large swathe of people across England who find they cannot adapt to the new forms of worship, and simply disappear from the church. They often do not argue with the “inevitable march of progress,” and form a silent min(maj?)ority whose wishes are never expressed. Even now there are many vicars who try to force their guitar playing on an unwilling congregation!

Prayer is important in Christianity, but I also think it is a very personal thing. I’m not going to be encouraged to sit in a group of people and create a new prayer. Almost certainly it will have little relevance to the others present. Not only this, but it teaches us nothing new. Surely the most important role of a Sunday service is to try and teach us something about God or about the Bible that will encourage us in our lives as Christians? Perhaps the most important ideal for a service is that we should leave it with something to think about, engaging our brains.

A factor I also found telling is the British stiff upper lip. Nobody is going to tell me to have fun if I don’t want to. And I’m definitely not going to clap my hands on Sunday morning. Although I believe God definitely wishes us to enjoy life, I think I’ve plenty of opportunity in the rest of the week. I’d rather spend my time in Church contemplating His magnificence, without having my thoughts interfered with by drums.

Perhaps the most important aspect of an old service was that it invited thought and contemplation without being dull. Modern services often include long periods of silence to help greater absorb the significance of a passage of scripture. But I often find that this is completely useless; either there’s not enough content, or I don’t understand it anyway. I’d rather be reasoned with, and have different meanings examined in the wider context of the Bible. This should be simple for a well-trained preacher.

Well here endeth the ramble. If you want me, you’ll find me skulking in the darkest corner of a Cathedral.

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  1. serena
    Posted January 30, 2006 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Leigh! You have a blog, and I didn’t know. So I thought I’d read it all, instead of doing my work.

    I think you make some excellent points here – however, i don’t know that BCP is as dead as you might worry. What I do think is that the guitars and bands also have a place – take my church at home for example. Ok, we’re not Anglican, but we tend to have a more traditional service in the morning, with hymns and maybe one or two worship songs with a reduced band (and still piano). That service has most of the older church members, and a lot of families, because of the Sunday School. In the evening, however, the band is usually the only live music we have – and that’s the service most of the youth group come to. There’s no difference in the quality of the teaching, but the different styles help different people. I guess this is me falling into both camps, as usual …

    Completely sympathise concerning prayers, mind you – if you don’t have the gift of spontaneous prayer, nobody can help you achieve it! Written prayers – like the St Anselm last night, which is a favourite of mine – are much more meaningful to me!

    Sorry, I’ve wittered on for long enough :)

  2. simple57uk
    Posted January 30, 2006 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Serena,

    I do see your point. Worship songs just aren’t my thing.

    What I worry about is a more general dumbing down. The BCP provides a framework which promotes understanding and deep thought, whereas I often feel that modern services focus more on having fun than understanding God.



  3. serena
    Posted January 30, 2006 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Oh yeah, I completely see that – and pretty much agree! I recognise that I’m in a fairly unusual position with my home church – in that we have ministers who are actually interested in theology, as well as our services having worship songs …! One thing I definitely notice these days, though, is the lack of liturgy in my home church – I love the flow and rhythm of it that I get to experience when I’m up here masquerading as an Anglican :)

    BTW, have you thought about coming to The Way tonight? I think you might find it interesting if you’re free.

  4. Stefan
    Posted January 30, 2006 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    oh hear hear. Sometimes I think this is just arrogance – as if the General Synod thinks that the general public are somehow too stupid to understand “thees” and “thous” and sentences that are somewhat more poetically-constructed than what we’re used to. Even if that’s the case, that still means it has no place in Cambridge colleges of all things…

    There’s also the fact that the BCP and KJV are integral to the music used by C of E, and so parishes that reject these are perhaps more likely to turn their backs on 450 years of musical heritage as well. Just look at the Catholic Church, and how utterly culturally bankrupt many English masses are, to see what’s happened elsewhere…

  5. serena
    Posted January 31, 2006 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Well, “thees” and “thous” are fine, absolutely – but also exactly the sort of thing that would put many of our contemporaries off. A lot of the time it comes down to whether you are a church with a strong youth evangelism focus, or whether you are feeding a more stable (and probably slightly older) congregation. At the end of the day, we are an elite group – what follows for us mostly doesn’t for other people, unfortunately. I love BCP, but I also think Common Worship has an awful lot to offer – if nothing else because it DOESN’T throw out the idea of liturgy, as many lower churches (even within the Anglican communion) have. I certainly enjoy using it at Sunday Communion. In musical terms, I completely agree that BCP and KJV are integral to most of the music composed for the Anglican church – but again, it depends whether people find that sort of music helps them to worship God. Frankly, we’d find death metal a bit off-putting (actually, I probably wouldn’t …!) but that’s a matter of our taste – albeit influenced by cultural and theological considerations.

    Interestingly, in a lot of books we use in my church at home, there are bits from the ASB that crop up …!

    (PS: Stefan, I’m not converting! Sorry.)

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