Enchantment in Worship

I’m spending a day locked in a retreat house reading for the research I’m doing into liturgy and culture. A decade ago Keith F Pecklers SJ gave a call to greater liturgical formation for the ‘future of Christianity’ as he looked at worshipping in a postmodern world.

Liturgy in the postmodern world must aim for enchantment, not entertainment… If presiders are to be effective instruments in the enchantment of their congregations gathered together in holy assembly, the churches will need to recognise the fact that presiding is a craft to be learnt; it does not come with the grace of ordination. (p199 Worship)

I wonder what delights I will discover at the ‘Worship Transforming Communities’ conference next week. I’m looking forward to continuing the discussions I’ve been having with colleagues about liturgical formation. #worship2013

Sitting at the Table: A Sermon on Acts 11:1-18

When I was younger there was a church I used to walk past every day in the center of town.  It was called St Thomas’ Church.  And as a small boy what an impressive place it was.  There were huge vertical lines that were accentuated by the spacing of ornately carved pillars.  Each window consisted of intricately cut coloured glass creating beautifully illustrated scenes from the bible.  In one window there was ‘The Good Samaritan’ placing the beaten and robbed man upon the back of his donkey.  He was then shown taking the man to be looked after.  Then little gold coins were depicted as little yellow discs of glass being handed over to the innkeeper for his trouble.  In another window there was the last supper.  A simple shared meal between friends that symbolized the relationship God has with the world.  There was this huge table at which people were invited to come and share the Passover.  Jesus sat with his disciples as he welcomed them to come and eat with the God-man.  St Thomas’ was an impressive place.  It was a spectacular place.  When the summer sun shone through the windows and the incense was wafting between the pillars it created a dazzling sight as streaks of reds and blues and greens danced through the air.

Anybody who was anybody would be found there on a Sunday morning.  The Mayor would be there two rows from the front.  Behind him would sit the headmaster in the next pew.  Everyone was highly polished and neatly trimmed.  Partings were always worn and suits were neatly pressed.  Sunday best was the order of the day.  All of the people from the town we lived in who had any kind of status could be found there.  Everyone was ‘just so’.  As you looked around the congregation each Sunday morning you could see lots of white faces and nuclear families.  Mum and dad would bring the two point four children through the big oak doors each week.  In this congregation everyone was the “right type of person”.  There was no one in this place who could really be called “poor”.  Over the years plenty of people had come in and quickly gone back out because they soon realized that they weren’t the “right type of person”.  Here at St Thomas’, people in need were out of the question.  People with the wrong kind of accent need not apply.  If you are going to grace a pew, make sure your surname isn’t Unpronounceableovic.  Heaven forbid you would have a different coloured skin!

There was one family who attended for many years.  Mum and dad and 2.4 children happily coming to church each Sunday.  Dad had a good job and a company car.  Mum stayed at home and looked after the children.  The cracks started to appear when dad was made redundant.  Gone was the company car. Then one thing led to another and their marriage broke down.  It is hard work going to church when you find out that after ten years you are no longer the “right kind of people”.  Suddenly mum was taking the 2.4 children to St Thomas’ by herself.  No one said anything directly to her but she could tell.  There were conversations that would suddenly stop whenever she approached.  There were cups of tea passed to her with a knowing smile.  After a couple of weeks the energy it required to get the kids out of bed, dressed and ready for church was just not there.  The small nuclear family stopped being the “right sort of people” each Sunday morning.  As you might imagine, St Thomas’ did not receive many new members.  Its members simply grew older.

Years later as an adult I learned that St Thomas’ Church had closed.  There just weren’t enough of the “right type” of people.  They just didn’t exist, I guess.  One time I went back to that town and there I was passing beside the familiar gothic architecture and the ornately carved pillars.  St Thomas’ church building was still standing only now it was a restaurant.  Oddly given the history of the previous occupants of the building it was a curry house called the Indian Cottage.  I walked in through those massive gothic doors and where there had once been pews, now there were tables, waiters, and people eating dinner.  Candles were lit at each table and people were eagerly tearing naan breads and pouring fresh glasses of wine.  The familiar hubbub of community meals was all around as the sound of glass upon glass clanking together and laughter filled the building.  As I looked down the nave of the ancient gothic church to where the altar had once sat underneath the image of the last supper, now there were tables. 

A young waiter came over to us and asked if we’d like a table for two.  My wife and I exchanged a glance as I responded to his question with a simple “yes please”.  We were escorted to a table at the back of the restaurant where the sanctuary had once been.  The young man took our coats and pulled out a chair for my wife to sit at.  He asked if we would like to order drinks and I asked for a bottle of the house white.  As he went to get our drinks I began to unfold my serviette and turned to my wife.  As I pulled myself closer to her over the table with said with a hushed tone “Now, I guess everybody is finally welcome to eat at this table”.

Greenbelt 2012 – U2charist

As you probably know, Ruth and I are involved in a couple of services at Greenbelt this year.  We’ve had details confirmed about when the U2charist will be happening.  It is going to be in the “InSense” venue at 5pm on Monday.  The worship is being organised by Luminous in Lincoln.  Metanoia will be leading the musical aspects of the service with a selection of U2 songs.

It’ll be great to see you there!

Metanoia at Greenbelt

Greenbelt 2012 is fast approaching and Metanoia are going to be involved in two of the services there.  Blesséd  are once again providing alternative sacramental worship and we have been asked to collaborate with Fr Simon and the team once more.  This year we are doing the opening act of worship in the Big Top at 5pm on Friday.  What the organisers were looking for was a ‘charismatic’ service of benediction.  Needless to say it will have a distinctive @metanoiauk feel to it.

There was also a request for a live band who would be able to help Luminous stage a U2charist.  Fr Simon suggested that we would be able to help out as we played a couple of U2 numbers in the big top last year.  Not quite sure which venue the U2charist is in yet or at what time but I’ll keep you up to date!

So who is coming then?

In The Beginning Was The Word

I’ve never posted a sermon before.  I’ve never thought that it would add a great deal to the ether.  However, 80 people of varying ages were all talking about the incarnation in the hall this morning after I blindsided them with this.

I read out John 1:1-14, prayed and then climbed the pulpit.  I then put on a call centre headset (a relic from one of my previous lives) and then acted this out:

Hello, you’ve got through to the Big Brother research office. My name’s Robb and I’ll be taking your call this morning.  Before we go any further I need to inform you that all calls are recorded and may be broadcast in the final edit of the show… In any order…. and…. at any time between now and the year 2059.

At this time I need to remind you that Big Brother is a reality TV show.  That means that we are looking to show people in their entirety.  This means that we may choose to use any of the material that is recorded and that it is the responsibility of the participants for their own behaviour.

If you are prepared to agree to these conditions then we can proceed with the call.

[pause]

You are?

May I remind you that your answer is legally binding.

[pause]

You’re sure?

[pause]

OK that’s excellent.

Before we go any further it is important to establish that it will be practical for you to come down here.  Will you be able to come down here for an extended period of time?

[pause]

So you are able to leave your Father behind and come down here?

[pause]

You will?

Excellent.

Are there any special arrangements that we need to make for your arrival?

No, you are happy to come down here in exactly the same way as everyone else?

That’ll be good.

Have you seen the programme before?  Things are a little different now that we have moved to channel five.

[pause]

You have?  Great!

It is important that you realise the full implications if you are to come down here.

Let’s start with some of the practical matters.

Coming down here will mean that you will be required to do many of the normal things that everyone else does.  There is no special treatment for people.  There will be times for people to eat and sleep as you would expect.

Do you have any dietary requirements?

… ah I see, you want to be treated just the same as everyone else.  That’s good.

As you are aware of the format of the programme, I won’t need to remind you that you will be entering the house with 12 other men.  These people will be your companions when you come down here.

[pause]

So you are looking forward to meeting people.  Great.

In the past we have had some… erm…. interesting people.

So far this year we have already got a banker who would be joining you down here.

We have been a little worried that this may cause some friction.

[pause]

Well some people are obviously concerned about the current financial situation.

[pause]

Well people feel that they have been betrayed by them.

Now that they have received all these taxes as well…

[pause]

So you think that is someone you could spend some time with.  Goood.

We do tend to attract colourful characters down here.  If you remember a few years ago in the celebrity version of the show we had Samantha Fox.  As I am sure you know she had a colourful career in the newspapers.  Obviously if you come down you may well find yourself spending time with people like her.

[pause]

Good… I just wanted you to be aware because people often worry that this sort of thing can affect your reputation.

[pause]

So you’re quite prepared to live with the consequences…

…excellent…

Obviously not everyone is as… erm… exotic as this.

In the past we have found that people often respond well to someone they can relate to… the common man shall we say?  With that in mind we have already signed up a guy from Whitby.  He has spent most of his working life on the trawlers.  He has a really strong accent and he doesn’t take any nonsense.  We’re hoping people will be able to relate to him.

[pause]

Ah, I see… These are just the sort of people you are hoping to meet whilst you are down here.

[pause]

It is our experience that over the time you spend down here you will probably become close to these people.  Obviously some people are more popular than others.

We have found that different groups can form.  Sometimes this happens because of personality conflicts but sometimes over something like race or religion.  Who can forget what happened with Shilpa Shetty.

[pause]

Yes I see what you mean about having to meet people as they are.

[pause]

The problem is that sometimes things can turn nasty.  Sometimes people are forced out of the house.

[pause]

You are aware that this may be a very public experience.

[pause]

Yes

[pause]

So you are happy to follow someone else’s will.

[pause]

Even if it isn’t yours

[pause]

No matter how painful the experience is

[pause]

Sorry sir, I was just wondering if I could take your name?

OK…

Could you hold on a moment.

[Covering microphone]

Christina, Christina. I’ve got another one.

You know…

Come on you know the ones. The religious ones.

This one’s priceless. You should have heard the name he gave.

Perhaps I should ask him if he knows David Ike.

[Uncovering microphone]

Sorry about that sir, I was just having a problem with my computer.

Where were we?

I’m going to need a few more details. It will be really good to have you come down here…

[Leave Pulpit]

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Amen

The Illusive Changingworship

They seek him here, they seek him there….

Many apologies for my apparent lack of presence on the blog for the past month.  I’ve got a note from my mum and this is what it says:

Dear internet,

Please excuse Robb’s absence in the last few weeks.  He had a very busy time with Christmas and then he went on holiday.  Since he has been back he has been back in the swing of things with the parishes he works with.  He has also been having all sorts of interesting conversations about some exciting projects in the future.

We’ve been really busy getting on with things.  During our holiday we decided that we would try to prioritise our time a bit better in the future and try to spend less time on trivial stuff.  One of the things we love is film and television but we’re trying to cut out the nonsense.  It’s one thing dedicating an hour to an episode of Game of Thrones but another watching Home and Away.

There has been a lot going on with Silverthorn under the surface.  With two members of the band having second children there has been less gigging going on but we’ve still been pushing on.  Whilst we were on holiday Ruth and I spent a couple of weeks writing new material for the band and learning some new material.  We’ve been looking at our web presence and should have a new site in the next week or two.  We’ve also been visiting a lot of new venues and sorting out a programme of gigs from Easter.  It’s all up on the facebook page for now.  Hopefully before then we will be able to get some recording done and release some songs.

We’ve also been having some good talks about future events with Metanoia and the Rock Mass.  There are a couple of possible big projects for later on in the year and we will let you know more when the details have been firmed up.  The main thing we’re hoping to do is write a new Eucharistic setting in the next couple of months.

Needless to say, it has all been very busy with Church and also the stuff we do in our spare time.  Hopefully we will have more to report soon.

Rock Mass @ Biblefresh Wakefield – Thanks

From the “Paradise City” cam

Changing worship blogs are like busses.  You wait for over a week and then they all turn up at once.  I want to say a few words of thanks for the Rock Mass at Dewsbury Minster last Saturday night.

The event was great to be part of.  In the six years or so that we have been involved in this sort of worship event it has grown and grown.  To think that an idea I had for an MA essay would grow into this huge event is astonishing.  Previously we have been used to smaller local churches.  All told there were 355 communicants on Saturday night and countless numbers of others.  There was standing room only in the minster – for most of the people who were there!  Lots of people travelled great distance to be there (Liverpool, Nottingham, Newcastle and the Isle of Man!).  Several youth groups came along and many who have never been to church before came out of curiosity!

One of the great things about this experience has been collaborating with people.  The staff at Dewsbury Minster were exceptionally helpful, supportive, relaxed and groovy.  This was a great help because we were describing a concept that no one there had previously experienced.  Thanks to the many people who came from around the country to help set up – Newcastle seems to be a good location for summoning roadies!

The tech support for the service was brilliant.  A big thank you to Pete and Ken who both did an amazing job in exceptional circumstances.  As well as that I don’t particularly envy Julz at trashiitreasure who is currently editing down hours of footage from four cameras into a DVD.  Thanks for that!

The serving team with Revd Rach at the helm were brilliant.  Thank you for getting on with it without the need for too much direction.  Sorry you didn’t get to see the visuals.  Thanks to the Cathedral staff who stepped in at the last-minute when some of our plans fell through and provided some stunning vestments and a massive icon.  Thanks to Charity who preached a wonderfully cheeky and highly inspiring sermon about embracing the gifts of our young people.

As I say, one of the key things with this type of worship is collaboration.  Whilst I made many of the visual aspects of the service from scratch, some of this would not have been possible without Fr Simon Rundell.  He has been producing resources and making them open source for many years.  When one and a half hours of visual material is needed, this is an invaluable resource.  Thank you very much Fr.  Even though you were not present in the minster, some of your images were and for that we thank you!

My last vote of thanks goes to the band and especially my wife.  You guys worked really hard to put together the set and were professional throughout.  You guys also did a brilliant job of keeping me sane!!  ROCK ON!!

All of those who I have forgotten to mention, I apologise.  Thank you for all your hard work.

Timothy Reading Video

This is 1 Timothy 4:9-14 read by a couple of peeps I know.  The images came from YouTube.  The music from a CD.

Under Pressure Intercessions

This is a set of intercessions based upon the Queen and Bowie song Under Pressure.

Rock Communion Methodist Stylee

I have just realised that in the business of the last two weeks I have forgotten to mention this!!  Burton Road Methodist Churchis holding a Rock Communion service in Lincoln.  Metanoia are going to be there two weeks on Sunday at 6pm.  Graeme, Ali, Ruth and I were all at college together with their minister, The Sten (The Reverend Sten?).  Perhaps I should call him Mark now.  He has invited us down to meet his community and assist with the proceedings.

Sorry I have been so remiss and forgotten to mention it.  I also promise that once the Rock Mass and the Rock Communion are done I will have time to sort Metanoia a decent web presence instead of just a Facebook page.