The-Church-of-Holy-Sepulchre

“Miracle of the Holy Fire”
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

I continue to enjoy the writing of Abbot Tryphon of the All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Christian Monastery, off the coast of Washington state.  Please take some time to visit his blog, The Morning Offering.  Here’s some great thoughts he shared this morning on community…

Christianity is a communal faith, one that requires its followers to be actively involved with others. The Church’s worship is communal, and salvation itself is a corporate act, one that necessitates interaction with others. One is not “saved” in a vacuum, but as part of the corporal life of the Church. Your salvation must be as much a concern to me, as is my own salvation. My relationship with Christ is not about me, but about us. Our sins are not just against God, but against the Body of Christ, the Church. Our love of God can not be salvific if we do not love others, for just as the Lord said, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20)”.

Given the communal nature of the Church, it is particularly alarming to see increasing numbers of people isolating themselves from others. Many have turned to the Internet as the primary source of interaction with others, finding “friendships” with people who will never be met in person. The importance of social interaction in the central square, as seen in traditional villages where the cafe life and church were the primary source of fraternal interaction, has pointed the way to a future of increased estrangement from each other.

Isolated from others, the communal nature that is an important element in what it means to be human, is lost. It is thus imperative that we guard against the temptation of spending too much time in front of the computer, and too little time with others. The sight of young people sitting in coffee houses, together, yet apart, is troubling. Mobile phones, text messaging, ipods, communication through email, and countless hours on facebook, leads to the furtherance of an isolation that is murdering the soul. As humans, we are meant to be together, for it is in our lives together that we grow in mind and spirit. It is in community that we learn to love God. For friendships to be limited to on-line chat rooms is a tragedy of major proportions, one that will ultimately be the ruin of society.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

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Westminster Cathedral
London

Every church is a liturgical church. Let’s establish that from the get-go. No matter how “spirit-led” your particular church claims to be, there is a liturgy in place. I’ve been on staff at churches that were very contemporary, and prided themselves on being “led by the spirit” during worship. Fact was, though, we did church the same way, week in and week out. We started with two fast songs, prayed, two slow songs, prayed for the offering, took the offering, someone sang special music during the offering, we had a scripture reading, sermon, and finally, a closing song with an altar call. No matter how much someone said, “I just feel led by the Lord to (insert change in normal pattern here…)”, reality was, every Sunday worship service was very similar to the week before. In fact, in one church where I served, the same elder prayed for the offering almost every week, and quoted Malachi 3:10 (Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.) each time he prayed, without fail. At another church, an elder gave thanks for UGA Football every time he prayed for the offering. No lie. Bless his heart.

That being said, perhaps I should title this post “Top Ten Reasons that Historical Forms of Worship Work”. “Liturgical” seems to be the word our world uses to describe what “traditional” churches (Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, etc.) do on Sunday mornings, though, so we’ll stick with that.

So, let’s walk down the dirt road, and I’ll tell you my thoughts on why I think the ancient methods of worship have great value. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about style of music, but the discussion is about a pattern of worship.

Let’s start with reason 10, and count our way down…

10) Liturgical worship starts well…

Most churches have the middle part of their worship service figured out, but often struggle with how the polar ends of worship time…How to start the service, and how to end. It’s no problem selecting the meat for the sandwich, but there’s just too many possibilities for the bread.

Liturgical worship is very clear in how it begins. There’s an anthem, or call to worship, that is generally began by a choir/worship team/whatever you want to call it. There’s a procession, with candles entering the room, representing the light of the world, the presence of God here on earth. The cross follows, representing Christ’s sacrifice.The Word of God follows, in the form of an altar Bible, or Gospel Book. We’re reminded that the presence of God is tangibly among us (the light of the candles); Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, a loftier sacrifice than we could ever make in our own power, and that offering is to be revered (the cross); and God’s Word is holy, and should be honored in our worship, and in our lives (The Gospel Book).

In liturgical settings, there doesn’t have to be discussion about whether to begin with announcements, whether we should whistle or shout to get everyone’s attention, or what method would work to help us focus on why we’re here in the first place. It’s clear from the get-go what is happening. No one has to shout to get the attention of the crowd, or ask grown folks to be quiet. If you want to turn off first-time guests to your church, one sure way is to insist that their children have to go to the nursery. Another is to have someone shouting, “If everyone will be quiet, we’ll get started Quiet down, please!” When the procession enters, everyone knows that something special has begun. No explanation, familiar intro riff on the guitar, nor starter pistol is needed.

9) Liturgical worship has Biblical depth…

Here’s the meat in the middle of the sandwich. As an immature Evangelical attending my first worship service in an Episcopal church, I couldn’t understand why there was so much reading. I was so closed to the idea that this could be a legitimate form of worship, I barely noticed that the service was thick with the Word of God: An Old Testament reading, a responsive Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading.

The entire service was saturated with scripture, much more than I ever heard during a worship service in the denomination I was a part of at the time. In fact, it was a common practice in that denomination for the pastor to read one verse of scripture, then preach on that particular verse for 45 minutes. Today, I look back and question the relationship between the content of many of those sermons, and the scripture that was read in the beginning. In retrospect, I realize that it was almost like I had gone to a football game, watched the kickoff (scripture reading), then sat back and watched that game strangely morph into soccer (the sermon)…and that was on a good day. At other times, what was delivered had nothing at all to do with the scripture that was read, in favor of political and cultural commentary, not to mention fear tactics used to pad altar call numbers.

Some pastors don’t like the idea of filling their one hour of service with a lot of busyness, because they think that they won’t have time to preach. I used to kid my Anglican spiritual father, Fr. George Ivey, that his fifteen minute homilies would be referred to as “devotions” or “sermonettes” in the Baptist churches where I started out in ministry. He responded once with a wink and a smile, saying, “Maybe so, but you didn’t have to listen to any corny jokes, bad poetry, or 3 points that may or may not be related to the text for the day, now, did you?”

8) Liturgical worship gives us spiritual identity…

I left the Anglican Church because the body we were a part of was just too far away for us to be fully involved in the life of the church. I left on good terms, but when I did go, Fr. George tried to convince me to stay. During one discussion, he said to me, “You must remember how we worship. The liturgy matters. Without the liturgy, we may as well just be Methodists.”

Funny, Methodist is what I became. Our particular church doesn’t use the prescribed liturgies from our hymnal, which are rooted in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but I wish they did. I’m not complaining about the worship we currently participate in, but there is a richness in those liturgies that I sorely miss. Using liturgical worship patterns sets your church apart as a unique body, with diverse parts. I’ve grown to appreciate and love the Book of Common Prayer, as well as the Orthodox Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The liturgies of Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic bodies function as tools an individual can use to identify oneself with a tribe, and blesses you with the knowledge that you aren’t alone in this world. I often say that in the age of social media, we are infinitely connected, but relationally starving to death. Liturgy binds us together as a part of a common group, even if you’ve never met the person sitting next to you. Even if you don’t know their names, the words you speak and hear in liturgical worship give you something in common, a point of connection, that transforms you from singular to collective. That being said…

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The following is a great column I came across today in the Huffington Post.  I was especially moved by the idea that this ancient, small church is located in Norwich, since Julian of Norwich is one of my favorite Christian figures.  Julian promoted the idea of “full homely divinity”, that we should treat every moment of life, even the most mundane and small, as divine and holy.  In reading this article about a small group of faithful parishoners, I was struck by the purity and holiness of their love for their church, and for their community.  It’s a reminder to us all that sometimes, bigger is not necessarily better.  This post can also be read  at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katharine-quarmby/redenhall-church-and-a-qu_b_1423811.html .

St. Mary’s, Redenhall

I took part in a very well-mannered, English revolution on Easter Sunday, in Redenhall Church, a beautiful 15th century church in the parish of Redenhall in Norfolk, nestling in the tranquil Waveney Valley, where the barn-owls hunt in the dusk and where I canoed on the river as a child.

The Diocese of Norwich had decreed that there would be no worship on Easter Sunday in the old church — the first time for some six hundred years. A few — 10 in all — local people thought that there should be. And I thought I should join them.

I walked over the fields from Harleston, as parishioners had done, clutching their prayer books, for hundreds of years, before a fearsomely ugly church in the town (St Johns) was built in Victorian times. As I walked out the birds were still calling each other before night fell — starlings, blackbirds, crows and magpies. A rabbit ran out from under my feet across a field and into a burrow in a drainage ditch. And the Redenhall bells rang out — bells that had rang out first as the Armada sailed across towards our shores — as I walked into the churchyard, and saw my father waiting for me underneath an old yew tree.

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