Sunday, 19 April 2009

Worship, Liturgy and In Depth

I won't here reveal the place of worship I attended this morning, but it was a crowd much more huge than I am used to and a different presentation. A group of people I know went as well, so there was something of a conversation afterwards.

The worship involved a lot of CD based music, and audio-visual being apparently tried out, and centred around some baptisms so that the crowd was largely of the unchurched. So what happened was equivalent to Fresh Expressions and may have been inspired by that.

The audio visual came after some music, and then as text on a screen with visuals and there were no formal prayers except the Lord's Prayer. What also struck me was in such a large number how quiet was the hymn singing. These hymns would have been encountered in school and yet no one sang. I'm told since that's because they don't - such is the gap now in England between the few church insiders and the mass of those who don't even look inside the doors for years and years. But the folks were dressed up, the baptisms followed the given Anglican script, some stayed for refreshments and a core of us discussed.

One of us had left for a walk and came back, and there was this discussion about what I called the disengagement of the worship. The audio-visual might have been tweaked for better effect, and I have no argument against the use of technology. The principle was to engage the unchurched, who'd come for baptisms.

I was reminded of the music played and chosen at secular and also some religious funerals at crematoria; that these laptop driven unstated audio-visual prayers were backed by the playing of 'Bridge over Troubled Water' by Simon and Garfunkel.

Rites of passage are dispersing these days, but some still prefer the Church for funerals, weddings and baby-namings, and there are a whole host of secular, superstitious, magical, even residual-Christian reasons for having a baptism of a baby. It clearly is meaningful at some level or other. That isn't the issue, though it does suggest that the service can be cut down to the essential that is the baptism service.

The rest of it was to show an outside crowd that the Church is potentially contemporary. A couple of people said to me, however, that the worship was too subjective in its lack of engagement for them, that it swas ultimately because it lacked objectivity, though they supposed I would not agree with that. Indeed I didn't.

My reference point here is the late nineteenth century and liturgical changes and justification for them when Unitarians of the broad Church party came to the view that worship was not centred around the book or even tradition but that these were only vehicles for what matters, and that's the conscience. I'd change conscience to the mind, and thus what matters to me is whether worship either generates conversation in one's mind or deliberately sets out to empty the mind towards a goal of inner peace. Liturgy does these jobs, and there is a distance between liturgy and theology.

It was understood that collective worship was going to be more conservative in form than conversations in a diverse group of minds in any worship, and that individualist subjectivity was clashing with collective forms. Yes, and welcome to the earliest expression of postmodernism in the late nineteenth century: that is language doing its thing as a collective inheritance, engaging as a conversation, with a mass of individual responses. When objectivity is presented but undermined by subjectivity, then the result is not subjectivity but postmodern narratives.

My conversation partners were theology objectivists: that worship and its liturgy is a down the line presentation via established tramlines of ordered theologically sound worship. They can engage with critical debates like I can, but conclude along the Anglo-Catholic direction of the Anglican pole (from fairly centrist to journeying towards its end) that sound theology delivers sound worship. That orthodoxy I don't follow; I follow a far more postmodern view. Mine can be orthopraxic, that is to say a liturgical pathway comes first and does its job and theology follows but not precisely the same. Or indeed may be rather different.

Since I've stopped taking Communion I have relaxed my orthopraxic view: in other words, that on the one hand the collective interpretation of the liturgy is still too historicist and truth-bound, so the collective impression of my participation concerns me, but that having stopped taking communion I am free to think that there can be all kinds of engagement that generate worship conversation or a stilling in the mind.

Theologically I'm moving towards, again, Don Cupitt and his language of the everyday, and his Above Us Only Sky. I argue, and I will at next week's In Depth Group, and my presentation will lead me on to reflect this, that theology in secular institutions is in something of a muddle, but it ought to open out as in the late nineteenth century towards accessibility with other disciplines rather than preserving Christological space and being ignored by other disciplines whilst it uses them.

My presentation is obviously prepared and ready: of itself it is fairly neutral for people to come to whatever position they wish as it discusses confessional Theology and neutral intending Religious Studies, and the approaches of Religious Studies, and the relationship of Theology with Science, Social Science and the Arts.


Erika Baker said...

Sound theology delivers sound worship - of course.

The question is what "sound theology" is.

If it means a centrally approved, "you must believe this or else" theology, then no.

But if it means theology done with integrity and a genuine grappling with the Christian faith, and a coming to honets conclusions, then yes.

Although I would add that sound worship also has to include an element of recognising and accepting the kernel we have so often talked about.
Without that, you can still do sound theology, but I don't see how you can do genuine worship.

Erika Baker said...

I didn't mean to say that you could not use religious practice for a deepening of awareness, useful meditation, personal growth etc.

But is that still what is generally understood as "worship", which is conventionally defined as the adoration, praising, loving of an Other?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think if you take this line, then it is very exclusive of people who worship in different faiths and indeed who pray without reference to any faith in particular. My own view is that 'objective theology' is a mirage.

Erika Baker said...

I agree, objective theology is a mirage.
But you said sound theology.

If you like, Cupitt, from within his own parameters, writes very sound theology. It is also very personal and not one little bit objective.