Hit that Perfect Beat Boy

I’ve been thinking a bit since the start of this week about rhythm of life and worship. On Monday I had my training review with my incumbent and one of the other local clergy, and as part of the reflection on the past year I stated that it’s only recently that I’ve felt that the rhythm of worship at Christ Church is now my rhythm of worship.

All of us when we move house and then move church feel some dislocation with the past and church leaders are no exception. Whether you’re so far up the candle you’ve left the wick behind, or down at the other end in as free a church as you think is possible, in reality we all have a rhythm of worship that we fit into, that guides and shapes us week after week, month after month, year after year. We all recognise don’t we that all churches, even those who style themselves as “non-liturgical”, have a liturgy, a set way of doing things, a pattern of worship that provides a safe space, that demonstrates what those gathered believe.

For some the liturgy is ancient and reverential. It is quite literally a series of steps and motions that are repeated week after week, century after century, a rooting into the past, a continuation into the future. In these high church settings the liturgy expresses its catholicity in its sameness with that which has been before. Here at the High Mass the same offering is made, on the same day as last year the same saint is remembered, at the vigil the same prayers are offered as at last year’s preparation for the feast.

In other surroundings catholicity is expressed in the united truth of different people. While one church may hear preaching on a completely different theme than the one down the road, they are connected in the one apostolic faith they both bear witness to. Yes, there may be a perceived freedom of worship, but in truth the liturgy that is not seen but felt provides a rhythm as stable and fulfilling as in a church where the brocade is liberally applied on all vestments. Most of us “non-liturgical” churches actually have a hard and fast liturgy and rhythm of our own – we just don’t realise it’s there.

Here at Christ Church we have a liturgical rhythm that shapes our spiritual life. While down the road it might be feast days and high and holy moments, correct seasonal colours and meanings, at Christ Church the cycle of services round the year shapes our lives as much as set prayers at set hours. In the months ahead we look forward to a harvest service (this Sunday folks!!!), a Service of Memories the afternoon of the first Sunday of November (as close to All Souls Day as we can manage) and in December Christmas Carol services (both traditional and contemporary). What would Christmas Day be like without the obligatory throwing of sweets at everybody? Are ballistic candies simply frivolous fun or actually on a much deeper level the same kind of shape and structure that elsewhere the daily motions of Mattins and Evensong provide?

Liturgy shapes our lives and provides a rooting and framework for our faith. As I get older I cling onto the older ways of doing things because I recognise in them a connection to the past, to the saints of old, in the same way that Christmas Day sweet chucking in our current church is not just an excuse to rot the teeth of parents and children, but also a way to remind us sub-consciously that once again we are at Christmas and that the cycle of the years has come to this point once more, as it did for our fathers and our fathers’ fathers. Our faith is their faith. The truths we sing about are the truths they sang about, even if the songs are different. The God we worship is the same God who revealed himself to them.

This is why the current furore in the Anglican Church over some American Parishes being permitted by their Bishops to conduct same-sex blessings is so important. “Ah yes”, go the leadership of TEC, “We don’t have any official Same-Sex Blessing liturgies and we’re not about to. Anything that happens at a local level is simply local pastoral practice and doesn’t affect our doctrinal position”, because as all good Anglicans know, our doctrine is shaped by our liturgy. The problem with this though is that all of our worship in church is a doctrinal statement. The fact that the church down the road follows Common Worship (the Church of England prayer book) to the jot and tittle and we don’t (hurrah for “A Service of the Word”) is not an excuse for us to go off on any old doctrinal road that we want. A liturgy that isn’t centrally authorised is not therefore automatically something that doesn’t affect our doctrine.

The liturgy that we all individually use at a local level affects our corporate rhythm and becomes a proclamation of our doctrinal basis, even if the Diocese hasn’t authorised it. For example, here at Christ Church we only baptise on the first Sunday of the month, but that service is a united service whereas on all other Sundays there are two morning services. The point being of course that Baptism is a mark of entry into the community of disciples, so the whole community of disciples gathers to mark it. What to the outsider (and many inside as well) is simply a nice convenient way of doing church (“let’s all be together once a month”) actually has a deep, profound, doctrinal statement embedded within it. Having Baptism once a month is liturgical and it speaks volumes about who we are and what we believe, not just Christ Church but every church.

In the same way, a parish that undertakes same-sex blessings, however infrequently, is making a clear doctrinal and spiritual statement that should not be in contradiction to other churches. More than one blessing and you have created rhythm of life, a sequence of repeated events that tell us who we are and who God is. The fact that the Diocese hasn’t authorised it doesn’t make it not affect everybody else or mean that it’s simply a matter of “local pastoral provision” – on the contrary, the creation of a liturgy and a rhythm has made it a public expression of faith and in doing so that expression of faith must either be in concord with the catholic apostolic expression of faith, or be cut out as contrary to it.

The more canny amongst you will have noted that the title to this post is taken from a 1980s Bronski Beat of the same name. Bronski Beat of course were the first openly gay act to make it mainstream in the British pop scene. Watch the video below:

Did you notice how the video and the words of the song had no connection? While the video was a clever play on Jimmy Somerville being replaced as lead singer (he’d gone off to form the Communards with Richard Coles – hence the “sailor leaves on Russian ship / USSR flag” theme – the song was also used in the film “Letter to Brezhnev”), the lyric is simply to do with being lonely and wanting to go down to the club to pick up a partner for the night. While the video might have disguised the meaning for a naive 80s audience, now we can see the “straight” pretence for what it is. The song is definitely about just getting what you want (in this case a shag) regardless.

And that ultimately is what Resolution B033 is – it’s a pretence, a disguise behind which the real intent of TEC is masked. In it’s disavowal of formalised liturgies, B033 pretends that the doctrine of the church isn’t being changed, but in practice it is. Every single same-sex blessing, whether authorised or not, creates a liturgical rhythm that creates doctrine. It beats out the message that truth has changed, that sin is no longer sin, that the rhythm of the church is fundamentally altering.

Some of us are criticised for wanting things too perfect in the church, for demanding too much and not allowing freedom and leeway. But in reality there are two types of freedom – one that is bounded by the rhythms of the apostolic past and another that liberates itself from them and in doing so tears apart the oneness and the holiness. So on this subject I’m very much with Steve Bronski – in the rhythm of life there is only one beat to play, and that for us is the perfect, apostolic, catholic beat. Anything else, however well disguised, is a path away from truth. Hit the perfect liturgical beat boy and you can’t go wrong.

7 Comments on “Hit that Perfect Beat Boy

  1. Peter,

    Why do you have to talk about homosexuality all of the time? I began to read your posting with a sense that, at last, there was something not about homosexuality and the Anglican communion. However, I was wrong. Do you think a little perspective might be in order? I wonder why so much of your online identity (I do not know of you in any other way)has to be so bound up with this issue. Surely, even in your list of priorities, there has to be something else worthy of more time than homosexuality.

    You also seem to have a strange notion of the continuity of tradition. It would have to be a short-sightedness liturgist or church historian who convinces themselves that tradition works in the way that you describe it. It seems to me very difficult to maintain as you do, of past Christian generations,that:

    ‘Our faith is their faith. The truths we sing about are the truths they sang about, even if the songs are different. The God we worship is the same God who revealed himself to them.’

    I am intrigued how a this could have been so in the first three centuries as doctrine and practice were very fluid and congregations often ignorant of the doctrinal orthodoxies of others. I hardly think also that a 5, 10, 12, 15, 18th century Christian would find it at all very easy to connect liturgically or even doctrinally with much that goes on in the average evangelical, charistmatic church on a Sunday morning. Additionally, if we know anything of the faith of previous Christians, we have it refracted to us through very narrow, educated, clerical eyes – hardly representative of the mass of Christendom. Maybe, we need a little ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ to be at work in our understanding of all of this.

    Lastly, I am intrigued that you want to move away the debate from the word ‘authorised’ and onto the nature of the liturgy in shaping who we are. Interesting, but before you do that though, I think the word ‘authority’ is important in that there are many Anglican priests who weekly break their ordination vows in that they use forms of service not authorised by canon. Many such priests are those who are their most vehement in their anger against the episcopal church. I just wonder what liberty that they had discovered that the episcopalians seem to have missed out on. I do not know if you can help me on this? I ask you as I do not know of any clergy who do this, but I am told that there are many people in your tradition who do so, and I wondered how they justify this?

    Thanks, Winston.

  2. Hi Winston,

    You wrote

    Why do you have to talk about homosexuality all of the time?

    I think you’ve probably already spotted this. Need any more explanation?

    I also had a look at the ratio of posts on homosexuality / other things I made over the past few months. Here’s the results:

    October – 1 : 4
    September – 15 : 8
    August – 10 : 14

    So 26 : 26 overall – 50% gay stuff, 50% not. Hardly “all the time” is it?

    I am intrigued how a this could have been so in the first three centuries as doctrine and practice were very fluid and congregations often ignorant of the doctrinal orthodoxies of others. I hardly think also that a 5, 10, 12, 15, 18th century Christian would find it at all very easy to connect liturgically or even doctrinally with much that goes on in the average evangelical, charistmatic church on a Sunday morning.

    I think you’re factually and ecclesiologically incorrect here on an number of points. Your idea that there is no doctrinal connection with Christians of the past is really a non-starter. We have the creeds and we have the Fathers and what they say hasn’t changed (even if others try to twist their words). As for the argument about liturgy – I think you’re using this in the form of “formal liturgy”, but the practice of using formal liturgy has never been universal in the catholic church. The point of my post is that all forms of rhythm of life are liturgical – even Vineyard churches have strict liturgies (though many attending wouldn’t ever realise it).

    I think the word ‘authority’ is important in that there are many Anglican priests who weekly break their ordination vows in that they use forms of service not authorised by canon.

    You’ve obviously never looked closely at Common Worship’s “Service of the Word”. It allows a flexibility in approach while maintaining a catholic ethos. Wonderful thing the Service of the Word and totally compliant with the obligation to only use authorised services.

  3. Statistics – we all know how dangerous they can be? I wonder what a word for word count comparison would look like. As someone who still includes ‘gay’ in one of your labels Peter, you should be aware that length is important.

    Whatever though, the statistics, ‘homosexuality’ has to be pretty low down on the top ten list of Christian concerns – poverty, justice, racial and sexual equality, the environment surely are worthy of more time. Surely, sexuality was as significant a factor in people’s lives in the New Testament era and, yet, there is so little about it in Scripture. I seem to remember that Jesus speaks more about ‘money’ and ‘hell’ than anything else, often joining the two together. Now, that would make for some great posting.

    With regards to the past, I did not say ‘no connection’. What I am questioning is the purity of the continuum that you suggest. Creedal statements may have looked good to the bishops in council, but they were late in their formation and the level of diversity at work in the first three centuries of Christianity was immense.

    I like the words ‘flexibility of approach’. I think the Episcopalians are moving in a similar direction when they try to draw a distinction between ‘authorised’ and ‘pastoral’ at a local level with regards to same-sex blessings. It seems that these two sides have something in common after all. Of course, we both know that both sides are playing with words, and that they are using semantics in order to disguise what is actually the reality on the ground. Is there anything wrong with this? What should be the limits? I guess it depends where you are coming from. It will be interesting, if Sydney, for example, moves to lay presidency at the eucharist in that it would be, for many sacramental Anglicans, a greater stumbling block than homosexuality – ‘surely a gay priest is better than no priest’, they would argue. In fact, in the list of priorities, ‘same sex blessings’ would pale into insignificance in terms of ecumenical relationships in comparison to a move away from priestly presidency at the eucharist – ‘flexibility of approach’ might allow it though.

    Much to think about, pax, Winston.

  4. Don’t run away from the fact that my posting is 50 / 50 on the subject by muddying the waters over statistics!! I have a degree (and a career) in hard sums so I’m not terribly keen on people making arguments about numbers that they’re not prepared to back up.

    As for the flexibility of approach question, you know as I do that the original Anglican approach was to articulate the eternal creedal truths in a vernacular, local-cultural context. That idea of “broad church” has been corrupted to include broadness of doctrine which is actually an abuse of the original idea.

    As for Sydney Diocese, you’ll find that they’ve been remarkably restrained (including Archbishop Jensen) on the matter. Despite a vote in Synod to move forward lay presidency, Jensen has said “no” because such a move would be outside the mind of the Communion. He doesn’t even permit “local pastoral practice” on this issue. A good model m’thinks.

  5. Peter,

    I asked a question about statistics – argument would be too strong a term for it. I was keen though for you to explain why this was such a priority in the scheme of things, which you did not do. As a gay man, I find it rather tedious how this issue is given such paramount importance in the scheme of things. Even in the sexual arena, if its practice were to be included amongst sins (something I would not support), it should be low down in Gospel terms in comparison to prostitution, forced abortion, wife abuse, child abuse, prostitution, female circumcision, the spread of AIDS because of lack of contraception etc. In fact, energies devoted to ending these have to be more important to me than homosexuality in the church – in that this does not lead to death in an English context, while some of the others do. I would also particulary be interested in discussing with you the affects of patriarchy on the women of the Global South.

    Secondly, as a keen historian of Anglicanism, I am intrigued by your use of ‘eternal’ and ‘creedal’. The vast differences between Anglicans, over history, in doctrine, practice and liturgy outworked in their local, cultural contexts is immense. It would be fascinating to get into a room an Anglican Puritan in the sixteenth century, an Anglican of the Oxford Movement from the 19th and an Anglican Charismatic of the 20th. In the doctrine of the eucharist alone, their understanding of the eternal nature of this would be vast. It was enough for some of their forefathers and mothers to go to the stake over. Also, both the Purtian and the Anglo-Catholic would have no understanding of the contemporary Charismatic understanding of the ‘gifts of the spirit’. They would why it is stressed in these churches so significantly when they is such little reference to it within the creeds. In fact, I think they would want to ask serious questions about the pneumatology of many Charismatics within a Trinitarian framework.

    For the sake of clarity, could you locate for me the origins of the concept of ‘broad church’ within Anglican history and the criteria that you are using to ascertain whether ‘broadness of doctrine’ is an abuse of them? As a historian professionally, I am always keen for people to cite their historical sources when making bold claims.

    Politically, the diocese of Sydney might be behaving in order to the hold the ‘Orthodox’ together. However, I wonder though if this robs them of their prophetic edge. Surely, within their low understanding of the eucharist, it makes perfect sense for them to push this issue. Additionally, is not to hold/believe such a view an example of the corrupting of the ‘broadness of doctrine’ that you hold to – ‘lay presidency’ would to most of Christendom rob us of our claim to be Catholic Anglicans and scupper our ecumentical relations with the Orthodox and Roman Catholics. If our Lord is right that we should not draw a distinction between thought and action, many in the diocese of Sydney are in a difficult position doctrinally with regard to the eternal and creedal truths outworked in the context of Anglicanism.

    Fascinating discussions, yours Winston.

  6. Winston,

    As a post-gay man, for me talking about issues of sexuality is what God has called me to do. My experience, and the experience of many. many others is that “gay” wasn’t the real us, even though at one time it seemed to be the defining thing in my life. I guess that’s why I spend half my time (looking at the last three months worth of posts) talking about it.

    I guess homosexual practice (apart from the much higher rates of HIV, Hepatitis and rectal conditions) doesn’t count as a physical killer in the UK, but it is a spiritual killer. That’s why understanding how God has made us to worship him sexually is so important. False worship is idolatry and idolatry is a one way ticket away from God and everything he brings.

    As to your second point, the one thing that united all those different kinds of Anglicans that you mentioned was (is) what I’ve been banging on about on this thread – the creeds and the basic frameworks of faith. If you look at the creeds they don’t arbitrate on whether the elements are a transubstantiation, consubstantiation, transignification or simply a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. They do however say that Christ was God from God and Light from Light, True God from True God. There are plenty of clergy who don’t belirve that and (unfortunately) they are often the ones at the vanguard of the liberalisation of sexual ethics in the church.

    On the subject of Charismatics and Pneumatology, check out Simon Ponsonby’s “God Inside Out“.

    Broad Church stems from Hooker’s ecclesiology in “Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity”. Check this link for an intro. You’ll see that broad church was always about churchmanship and never about key doctrine.

    As regards lay presidency at communion, as an evangelical catholic I think it’s a big mistake and, as you rightly point out, if introduced would place us outside the bounds of catholicity. But then I think that female presidency has done the same thing (I find the Forward in Faith argument on this much more persuasive then the Reform one). The Priest is the ordained locus of the local ekklesia and as such he is the one who represents them at the table. As far as I can see the Sydney argument would be that they would have proper training and licensing before permitting laity to preside. Well we have that already – it’s called ordination to the priesthood.

    Sydney have the double problem though that they only ordain Presbyters those who are ready to be the leaders of a congregation, whereas in the UK and the USA we ordain presbyters after a year or so. This means that in Sydney, with it’s amazing church planting and growth (they must be doing something right) they simply don’t have enough people to lead the Eucharist. The answer of course is simple – have a more catholic understanding of the delegated episkopos in the priesthood and ordain as presbyter a few more “assistant curates”.

  7. Dear Peter,

    Of course, we could go back and forth on this one – I guess it is the nature of correspondence like this.

    However, my last points:

    Again, it seems to me that the list of things I gave you earlier are much greater physical and spiritual killers than the supposed dangers of homosexuality. In the light of our limited resources, time, and people-power, I struggle to see why God would call people to forms of work whose significance is not reflected in scripture nor the creeds. I am not doubting that there may be some justification for them, but in Gospel terms little priority.

    On an experiential level, I am also aware that I do not have any close gay friends who have any of the physical conditions that you describe. In fact, in terms of promiscuity, my heterosexual friends are much more profligate than my gay friends. I guess that they are in spiritual danger as well, but I wonder who isn’t according to your criteria?

    Peter, you do persist in your black and white statements – if only Anglicans throughout history could have been as sure as you. With regards to your comments on creedal statements and practice (churchmanship), I would not want to separate the two out as you do. How on earth, does one test the authenticity of the validity of people’s belief, in relation to the creeds, if it is not through how they express them in their Christian life? As a result, surely what one believes and does at the eucharist arises out of, and connects back to, what one believes in the creeds. The Reformers clearly saw this; if they didn’t, why did they attack Rome and its practices? Likewise, the Iconoclasts saw this in relation to images, if not why destroy the icons?

    Additionally, why do you place so much emphasis on the creeds anyway? I wonder if it is because you feel that they are less problematic than the interpretation of Scripture? It is interesting in the early church that sacramental unity predated creedal unity.

    I am also concerned about your comment:

    ‘They do however say that Christ was God from God and Light from Light, True God from True God. There are plenty of clergy who don’t belirve that and (unfortunately) they are often the ones at the vanguard of the liberalisation of sexual ethics in the church.’

    There have been throughout history plenty of Christians who do believe these things, but have done some pretty evil things. The Pope happily says the creeds every day and refuses to relax the law on contraception while thousands of African children die of HIV as a result of unprotected sex. Surely, saying something or even cognitively believing does not guarantee authenticity nor holiness of life – something Jesus seems to emphasise a lot.

    ‘Hooker’ – my good old friend. I think you need a much more complex thesis on the ‘broadness’ of Anglicanism than just the mention of one name. I think as well that when you say ‘always’, you mean in relation to your particular interpretation of Hooker and not ‘always’. I do not think those who deposed the non-Jurors (in their thousands) because they refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the new king. Or those who ensured that clergy went to prison during the ritualist controversies would have accepted that being a ‘broad church’ demanded that they tolerated those who said the same creeds with them, but whose polity and sacramental practice was at odds with what they understood to be the basic tenets of Anglicanism. Maybe, they disagreed with Hooker, who said his voice is the only worthy of Anglican authority?

    Lastly, in relation to Sydney, numerical growth should not constitute the criteria for ‘doing something right’. Islam remains the fastest growing religion, but I am sure you would not want this to be a marker for its authenticity spiritually. Likewise Pentecostalism, which has none of the indicators of Catholicity, as understood by the majority of creedal Christians in the world, is the fastest growing Christian denomination. I know you like numbers, but we are disciples of the man who reminds us ‘that the road to the kindgom is narrow and that there are few upon it.’ Maybe, the episcopal church has it suffers as a result of its Christlike stand for justice, possibly with some significant losses, might be a better marker for Christian authenticity then – I am sorry, I could not resist!

    I guess I do not have much disagreement with regards to ordaining more people etc – unity at last! I could have a lot to say though about Sydney and ‘headship’, but that is another story.

    Best wishes in your ministry, I will think of you when I lead the people of God in their creedal affirmations on Sunday.

    Yours, Winston.

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