Surveying the Liturgical Scene

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OK, here we go with this blogging lark. I’m going to try and do three per week (#rodformyownback), one asking some questions about the current liturgical scene in the C of E, one with some biographical hints on hanging on to God in bad times, and hopefully something a little bit lighter too. It won’t be deep or scholarly, but I hope it might make people think, and at times be fun too. So let’s begin with liturgy.

Many years ago now I wrote a book called ‘Liturgy and Liberty’, which seems to have become something of a standard text. It was written from the context of a large evangelical/charismatic church which was nevertheless proud of its Anglican heritage, and its these was basically that liturgy and openness to the Holy Spirit were not opposites, but that the two could go perfectly well together. I then attempted to give some practical tips for how this might be made to work. The book was republished as ‘Living Liturgy’, and you can still get it off of Amazon for 1p.

Well, that was many years ago, but as I look around the Anglican church now I see very little evidence that anyone took much notice of it. Of course I caricature, but there are growing, Spirit-filled, disciple-making churches, and there are liturgical churches. (There are of course growing Cathedrals too, but I think they’re a special case. I’m currently worshipping at a cathedral, and it’s very nice, but trying to ‘join’ it is a bit like trying to join a cinema. As to how well it is forming Christian disciples, citizens and leaders I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t know if anyone else has either.)

But visit yer average thriving evo/charismatic church and you’re likely to find that worship = singing songs. This has become institutionalised in the ubiquitous ‘Now we’re going to move into a time of worship’ 20 minutes into the service. If any liturgy at all is used, it is likely to be for the confession, thus proving that unlike Yellow Pages liturgy is only there for the nasty things in life.

At times this neglect of our Anglican liturgical heritage is held up as a virtue, and rhetoric reminiscent of the early House Church days is used to explain that all liturgy is ‘vain repetition’ and a human device to quench the Spirit. But most often liturgy is omitted by default rather than by design. This is reinforced by the festivals of different networks, where what is modelled is essentially un-Anglican, if not anti-Anglican. My sense is that the younger people particularly in such churches have unwittingly accepted the idea that liturgy and life can never go together.

This is of course not without some justification. In the early days of the House Church movement many people from what they would have described as ‘dead’ Anglican churches found new life and freedom elsewhere, and it became easy to believe that the liturgy (usually of the Book of Common Prayer) was responsible for the lack of vitality. The drift towards ‘Anglican’ networks and quasi-Vineyards is the contemporary equivalent, and of course these tend to be the kinds of churches which are growing and disciple-making. But is there a cause and effect thing going on here? is it possible to have a thriving church which is profoundly and thoroughly liturgical? That’s what I want to explore, and I’d be glad of any help anyone out there could give me.

2 thoughts on “Surveying the Liturgical Scene

  1. Go John! Looking forward to seeing this blog develop. My experience of a thoroughly integrated charismatic-and-liturgical church was in the Episcopal church in Florida. Any ideas on why they were able to hold the tension, whilst in the UK this has been completely collapsed?

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