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.