Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
While I was a parish priest in Sussex, I was once invited to speak to the local history society about the parish vestry minutes. Someone had faithfully transcribed them and typed them out. It was a challenging gig because for most of the 1920’s and 30’s every PCC meeting minutes were virtually identical. They essentially said, “a discussion took place about church affairs and then we adjourned to the Kings Head. I thought it was going to be a very boring talk until I came across the minutes from one meeting in the 1930’s which inserted the intriguing phrase – a discussion took place about replacing the English Hymnal with Hymns Ancient and Modern. A faint pencil asterisk above this phrase had an even fainter pencil explanation at the bottom – a bloody dogfight ensued!
It may be humorous in retrospect, but I’m sure at the time the conversation was unpleasant. Because our faith is so important to us, passions can easily flare when we disagree about matters that sustain it. Some are more nourished by traditional styles of worship, other by more contemporary. Neither are better than the other, they simply reflect differences of taste and personality. I observe that churches that worship in all sorts of ways can grow. No style of worship is intrinsically off putting if its done well, and is authentic to that worshipping congregation. The problems arise when we confuse something that nourishes us according to our personal taste with a universal requirement of faith. A congregation clearly connecting with God through the Book of Common Prayer can be a missional community, just as much as one with a worship group.
What unites diverse congregations is a preparedness to sacrifice our own preferences for the good of another’s faith or to make worship more accessible, and a common vision of what we are here for. This vision is less amenable to debate than differences in musical taste. Jesus’ Commission to the disciples, and by implication to the church they were to found, was fairly clear. In John 20, at a post resurrection appearance, Jesus sends them as he was sent, breathing on them the power of the Holy Spirit to enable that sending. In Matthew 28, the content of the message and task is also clear and unequivocal – Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It was this common vision that allowed the Gospel to spread from its Jewish cultural captivity to the many and varied cultures of the Roman empire. These cultural differences were far greater than mere differences of taste. Jesus formed a group of twelve from terrorist zealot and quisling; from impetuous activist and airy contemplative; from the hot-tempered and the placid, and even found space for a betrayer. Similarly, the early churches had many and varied corporate personalities, each one trying to work out the imperative of disciple making in their own cultural context. If you could get in a time machine and go back 2000 years you would be surprised by the fact they were so different.
Our revised diocesan strategy is seeking to acknowledge a similar diversity of taste and outlook even in the narrower confines of the diocese of Hereford. However, we are calling on a common vision to proclaim Christ and grow disciples. We’re seeking to foster faith communities living by the values of Christlikeness, prayerfulness and engagement. What we aren’t saying is that everyone should worship in the same way, or engage in the same activities, or develop a common corporate logo. I’d love everyone to work out what that looks like in their context and be content that it may look different from the church over the hill. The central resources of our diocese will seek to support you in that unfolding vision. I hope we will also shy away from unhelpful comparisons churches sometimes make to other churches. It may be helpful to embrace the truth that a small church is not a failed large church. It’s a different community seeking to be faithful in its own context.
I hope too that the more we focus on the task in hand that the Lord has set us, matters of dispute and disagreement, whilst not being supressed, may achieve a more measured perspective. I’ve been gratified that at our two recent Celebrate events this pattern of church life seems to have resonated with the diverse group who gathered at each one. I pray the Lord would continue to encourage us in his service and empower us with his Spirit to become the people he needs us to be for this task.