Wednesday, 10 December 2014

More than 'Just a service' - Sundays

There is a great danger for those who are engaged in the delivery of church services to find oneself caught in a trap whereby Sunday becomes the  'must do' focus of the week. Add to this the triplet that is the rotating basis of services set by the liturgical calendar (we've just started year B) and there is a great temptation to not only make Sunday 'The show' but to look back to four years past and draw on that!

As a teenager I found myself sitting through services delivered by an extremely old cleric. At each and every Remembrance he would regale us with combat stories and of how he'd shot Germans (not sure whether it was first or second world war to be honest) but it was one particularly amusing anecdote that I'd heard before that made me realise something: I'd heard it all before!

I wasn't aware of the three years cycle until then but over the coming weeks, as I listening more closely, I realised that I was hearing the same sermon as before. It had been reheated and there were some topical references, but there was no doubt about it, it was 'same again' sermons. So, naively, I mentioned it to one of the Wardens who told me that the Vicar had a set of card index boxes with the readings, hymns and sermons on them. All he had to do was look at the liturgical date (i.e. Advent 3), pull out the 'Advent 3' card and that was everything done!

The problem with the whole thing then was that although all the boxes were ticked and  Church appeared to be done, it wasn't; and this is as much a problem for us today as it was then.

For most of us Sunday is still the main service of the week and this requires - no it demands - our fullest attention. We need to be reading and studying and thinking about the scriptures before us (and more besides) and working to open them to those who will be hearing our sermons. First and foremost we need to be opening the scriptures to our congregations, not delivering party political broadcasts or campaigning for whatever cause defines us - after all, it should be Jesus doing that!

Then knowing what we are looking at in terms of the Word, we need to make sure that the musical bits (all of the service is 'worship') are building something congruent. Now in my ancient Vicar's day this was simple because all there was on offer was a psalm (remember them, they seem to have vanished from many services), an anthem and a few hymns but not today. Today we have so many songs and other musical offerings that choosing what we will have for the service is perhaps the most challenging thing Sunday brings.

And then there's the shape of the service. Liturgy is something to be worked at and thought about. The trap that sees us doing the same old, same old, each week because, 'It's the right way!' with the rationale that the familiar gives the people the opportunity 'to see past the familiar'. This doesn't mean change for changes sake or the introduction of novelty items but it does mean we can vary the Eucharistic elements and can engage creatively with the intercession and prayers.

The danger of 'just' doing Sunday rather than working towards it as the pinnacle of our week's Christian walk and presenting something crafted and purposeful is ever present. But we have to remember that Sunday is more than 'just' a service.

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