Christianity Church of England & Ministry Sermons & Scripture

Liturgy – what are we missing?

Here’s the final post in a series of three, looking at formal liturgy and the charismatic church (these are the first two):

  1. Charismatic or Liturgical Encounter
  2. Praying in Tongues = praying through liturgy

So something that came up quite a bit in my foray into formal liturgy and the charismatic church is the question, what are we missing by not using it? – if anything.

And it’s an interesting question, because I think many charismatics would instantly answer that we are not missing anything, in fact not using it gives us greater freedom to worship and encounter God. But here’s a few slightly rambling thoughts that have been raised for me…

Familiarity and Comfort

One Bishop I spoke to was keen to stress the importance of inherited words, the things we remember through repetition (which I have written about here), the words that remain in our unconscious. He cited the example of visiting someone who was nearing the end of their life and how words of liturgy that have been recited over the years or even just been said at school or on other occasions, when said back to that person can bring great comfort. More than that, they might engage a person with failing memory or senses as they bring recognition or familiarity that may be gone in other parts of their life.

Of course this is true, if the person has had some experience of church, or of liturgy, or formal prayer then they truly can bring comfort and more. But it’s more than that isn’t it, because they aren’t just familiar words like the line of a song for example. When I did my hospital placement last year one of the first things I did was go into a dementia ward where we sang to the patients some of the old tunes that were familiar to them. Suddenly those who were seemingly listless and glazed came to life with such joy. In fact it impacted a visitor too who had said no thank you to the song sheet but on seeing her relative come alive, began to join in too.  No, prayer is more than familiarity, we believe it is communication with God, so is it then that in praying in a familiar way we are enabling someone to encounter God who may not to able to do so for themselves any more?

Of course one response to the Bishop could be is the bible not enough? Surely words of scripture can be equally as familiar and as profound or moving as formal liturgy?

However none of this addresses one obvious flaw in the argument, which is that fewer people are going to church and experiencing the liturgy for themselves, so whilst we have a generation or two who may have gone regularly, this is decreasing and we will find fewer people with any understanding or recognition of the liturgy, so what are we planning for the future? How will we reach people who have no experience of it, even now? That is a big challenge to us as a church. Prayer may be a comfort anyway, regardless of words chosen, even to those who have no faith or little experience of church, but that doesn’t require specific words. Though in a situation which may be difficult or emotional it might be useful for us as ministers to have words to be read when we may find we have none. Again though, do these need to be formal liturgy?

Beauty Of Words

I also met David Pytches in my research for this essay (which is where the liturgy fascination came in) who, even as a Charismatic leader, suggested that the church might have lost something in not using formal liturgy. I’m not sure we got to the bottom of what he thought might be missing, but we did talk about the nature and beauty of words. Some of our formal liturgy is written so beautifully (note *some), and I know on the odd occasion I have used a prayer from Common Worship, or once I used the Methodist Covenant Prayer, that people have really responded to the words, asking about the prayer itself and where it was from. Is there something about an almost formal beauty in some of those words that reaches us in a different way? Charismatic worship can sometimes be a bit chaotic – that isn’t to say it isn’t planned, prayed through and well thought out, in my experience it usually is – but I wonder if something more formal can sometimes cut through that in a different way maybe? Of course though that is recognising the use of something more formal as an unusual occurrence, so it becomes smelling special, not just the usual.

Something Corporate

Something else that came up was the idea of being part of something bigger, something corporate. When we recite words together that are well known and familiar, we are united together in a very obvious way, and I think there is something really powerful about that. Not just in the physical, in that we stand in a building together saying the same words together, but also if praying by ourselves, for example doing Daily Prayer. For a season I did Morning Prayer every day and was always encouraged and buoyed up by those tweeting about the readings or just noting they were saying it too, making me feel like I was part of something much bigger.

Spiritually too, I think it can unite us with the wider church, just the idea of people across the world saying the same words, the same prayers, particularly on a Sunday, it just feels more powerful!


Lastly, I think there is something about reverence here. I am not a formal liturgy person at all, but the one thing I find hard in a charismatic environment is a lack of reverence when it comes to the Eucharist. I don’t know why, perhaps it is just tradition having been brought up in a more traditional church environment, is it just what I am ‘used to’? I’m not sure how much reverence there would have been at the last supper (& that’s another post), holiness yes, but Jesus was their friend and would have been among that like that. Do we need to create an atmosphere that is more reverential?  I’m not sure but I do find there can be something lacking in the freer environment, with kids running around, people chatting in the queue and after, like we are not taking seriously what we are preparing ourselves to receive.

So, what are we missing and is it important anyway? I’m not sure I’ve got to the bottom of what I think about this but I know it will remain something I continue to questions myself over. I think one of the biggest challenges to us as leaders in the church today is for the future. The idea of being with people in times of difficulty and illness, at the end of life perhaps, how do we engage people, how do we pray with them, sit with them, when there may be little left? Perhaps that’s more about trusting in God, perhaps in that case formal liturgy has been a crux for us to lean on, and it will longer be so in many cases. Perhaps then we need to lean more on God and less on our formulas…

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  • Reply
    Mark Bushell
    May 2, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    It comforts me greatly Jules to know that you’re not sure about things either!!!

    Thing is Jules, I reckon that this particular argument is a little bit borne out of desperation cos we realise that we’ve left the stable doors open and a couple of generations have bolted.

    The discussion about liturgy vs charismatic is just us on the inside arguing amongst ourselves. In the secular world outside they don’t seem to want or need either and have formed alternative communities and don’t need ours or our God.
    A (true) tale of my usual Sunday might illustrate why: Sunday I arrived at my usual church (about two and a half years in this one) was greeted and given a hymn book by the usual lady (don’t know her name, she didn’t know mine). About 14/15 people in. I sit in my usual row (comfort zone!!) Church filled to about 40 people. I say hello to three people in the same row but no one else. Had a lovely service (Liturgy based) and really felt spiritually nourished. Service ended, said goodbye to the same three people I’d said hello to and went home on my own. Felt a bit alone.

    At two a clock I walk into my local pub: 14/15 people in. Every single person looked round and said hello. Went to my normal barstool (comfort zone!!). Pub filled up to about 40 people. Had a lovely couple of hours. During that time lifts were arranged, leaky taps promised to be fixed. Collections for ill people who are off work done. Sponsor forms filled out etc. Had a lovely couple of hours. Took about 5 minutes to get out of pub cos people saying goodbye, shaking hands etc. Walked home on my own. Didn’t feel quite so alone anymore.

    Having written this I’m not even sure what my point is but it just seems that we (the church) are doing something wrong or missing something. I’m not sure what but it bothers me.

    • Reply
      May 4, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks Mark, now I’ve taken time to read your reply properly and think about it, basically I agree with you! I wasn’t really making an argument for either it’s just that I’ve been exploring it through my portfolio for college. Having been brought up in a more liturgical environment, I find it both comfortable and normal and yet frustratingly boring and miles away from Jesus. But having worked with other churches and people from different denominations in my job I know that some people find formal liturgy an enormous comfort and a real access point to God.
      However that is of course people *within* the church and as you rightly point out it usually means little to those outside it, in fact I have found it be a barrier to people who can’t understand it and have no desire to try to, and why should we expect them to?!
      My job (which I’ve just finished before starting my curacy) was as Mission Pastor in my church, so pretty much all I do is reach out to people outside the church in various ways – funnily enough, including through “Church in a Pub” (one of the best bits of my job!). I think you are absolutely right in many cases we are missing what people need and that’s why I am a big fan of Fresh Expressions and pioneer ministry – trying to find new ways of reaching people who won’t or can’t be reached by more traditional church.
      But then that is different to the fact that we also need to help those who are within the church already to encounter Jesus, to learn more about him and help them to worship him. That’s where a discussion about liturgy/charismatic lies I think.
      I think different people have different callings and mine is clearly more to those *outside* the church, despite the fact that I’m about to be ordained (!) but actually if we all try and have some understanding of the various ways different people worship and approach God that can only help us to be better leaders/ministers…

      I think also what you touch on is ‘welcome’ and how we welcome or include people in our churches. ‘The Point’, where I am now is very good at this and has a specific ‘welcome team’ and the Vicar is particularly good at seeking out new people and just chatting to them and including them without being too pushy! I think we need to come over as welcoming and loving without seeming desperate which is often the case in smaller churches. It’s a really difficult balance to get as you can seem overly friendly or not enough and it can depend from person to person which is best for them!
      But then I guess you could also say, why does one go to church? to worship God or for community? years ago community wouldn’t even be a question, it just would be that many people from the local community wold have been there anyway! Now it’s not usually the case so we have to seek out community in the church…
      Anyway that’s enough thoughts for now, hope that addresses some of what you raised 🙂

      • Reply
        Mark Bushell
        May 5, 2016 at 11:17 am

        Thanks Jules for your reply. And yes, you have addressed what I was trying to get at and raised some very interesting points to boot. We’ll put this one to bed now and I look forward to your next blog.
        Thanks again

  • Reply
    Mark Bushell
    May 4, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Many apologies Jules.
    Can you please delete this and my previous reply to your really interesting post about liturgy. I thought that all three posts were really informative and a really interesting debate within the church.

    Unfortunately I chose (wrongly) to have a rant about stuff that had nothing to do with your original blog but I thought at the time was relevant. I realise on re-reading my response that it was at best clumsy and in fact totally irrelevant to your original.
    I love reading your Blog and would love to reply to your posts in the future albeit in a more thoughtful way.
    Many apologies again.

    • Reply
      May 4, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      Hi Mark, oh no don’t apologise! If I didn’t like the comment I would have deleted it sooner! I have been meaning to reply but it’s been busy week, so I will endeavour to do that tonight. I love that people can engage with the blog, ranting or not (and that wasn’t that bad as rants go anyway!)
      Are you happy if I leave them so I can reply?
      best wishes

      • Reply
        Mark Bushell
        May 4, 2016 at 5:44 pm

        I’d love that Jules. Thank you for being so kind. Actually would love your response. Thanks. Mark

  • Reply
    Sally Clifton
    February 17, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Hi Jules
    I have just happened upon your blog and I am very pleased to have done so. I am a reader in a rural ministry doing an MA in theology, mission and ministry. I was really struggling with an essay question – not because it was difficult but because I am too loquacious and could not focus. (It’s been a terrible week!) Your blog has concentrated my mind wonderfully and pointed in the right direction. Thank you.

    • Reply
      February 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Thanks Sally, glad it was helpful! Hope the essay prep goes ok 🙂

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