January Services

Today has been another 3 service sunday!! A covenant Service, an Epiphany service and then Cafe Church.  Many of my friends are blogging about their experiences of these services and so I want to join that crowd!

Covenant
The first thing that has to be done is to point you to Jessica‘s blog where she reproduces a sermon she delivered at her Covenant Service! (take a moment to be amazed by her preaching prowess to do the ministry of the word at service so dear to many Methodists – beyond that, I shall save her from blushing by abstaining from any further praise).

In Bishopthorpe, where I spend my holidays, there is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Methodists and the Anglicans, so it was a joint service.  This year, in particular, we had 3 people leading the service; the Methodist Superintendent, the Anglican Curate and a Student Deacon on placement in the Circuit, which was really nice.  The super did another fabulous sermon (they are often superb) Julie, the Student Deacon has a lovely way of leading worship and her prayers were lovely and the Curate lead the beginning bit well, handling a confusion in the order of service very graciously, so all in all a very nice service.

I now move to share some reflections on the covenant service.  They are not particularly new, or complete.  They are the ones that spring to mind!  Any number of Methodists could tell you this and a pile of more profound things beside, but I shall have plenty more Covenants to bore you with other observations.

The things that stuck me most keenly today was the interaction between the corporate and the personal throughout the service.

Some elements are personal bits.  In the liturgy the word “I” is used; they are between God and the individual saying it.  Most notably this is true in the Covenant Prayer; the commitment that we remind ourselves of during this prayer is a commitment to sacrifice our entire lives to God.  Rach make somes very good points that I think are almost as relevant in my life over at her blog.  As Jessica says it is an act of obedience. It is also an act of love; our love of God.  When fulfilled completely it is our offering of everything we have, and are, and will be, or might be, our gifts, our talents, or pet-hates, the whole shebang, our nature, our self, our character to God, for God to do as She wishes.  No one else can make that commitment for us.  It would be wrong, cruel barbaric for them to do so, and also, I would hope inefficacious.  Our lives our not for someone else to offer up.

Other elements of the service are corporate; they whole congregation do them together.  The call to self-sacrifice outlined above, is ultimately a call to discipleship, and discipleship happens in community.  (something those of us who are products of the reformation can easily skip over).  We need friends around us, the teachings of the Church, mutual support from those also trying at this discipleship gig and advice from those who’ve treaded the boards before us.  This was most clearly highlighted in communion, when the bread and wine were distributed to everyone where they sat and then we took them together.  I cannot think of a more “together” way of taking part in what should be a communal event.  And as my father said over coffee, the service was a nice reminder that the two denomiations, and indeed Christians as a whole, share more in common than divides them.  (disclaimer: That is in no way meant to belittle the differences, which I do hold to be very important)

Epiphany
Was next.  At this point I ought to say that Epiphany actually happened 2 days ago, but this is the sunday Bishopthorpe chose to mark it.  Epiphany is when we commemorate the coming of the wise men/magi type people to visit Jesus.  I point first to Simon who does some good myth de-bunking. Always helpful.  And then to Bx who writes a very potent reflexion with much that can be learnt from them, and finally Richard Hall over at Connexions uses a lovely quote.

Epiphany in Bishopthorpe is a very “High Church” event.  There are lots of robes, and processing, it is even one of the few services that the incense in cracked out!  Interestingly I quite like the smell of incense, but I can find it too much, and have to say it does not enrich my worship experience that much.  The service did raise some unfinished pondering in me; mainly around the use of symbol, or re-enactment in services.  In the order of services (although not in actual fact) the choir, a person carrying a cross, the person carrying the incense, the priest and “3 kings” process around the body of the church; this procession (which did occur with the priest, the incense, the cross-cum-King-1, and 2 Church-Wardens-cum-Kings) represents, re-enacts and symbolises the journey of the wise men.  We as the congregation are joined in this symbolic journey, just as our lives can be seen as journey of faith.  I enjoyed it, but was saddened that no explicit mention of this was made in the liturgy or the sermon.  (The sermon, in fact, missed many of the joys of Epiphany and seemed to act more as a coda to Christmas than a celebration of a feast in its own right).  For me this was a shame, there is much that can be said at Epiphany; about the Magi, about manifestation about all sorts of things, and no doubt I shall mull over these more.  But as for symbol, I found the symbolism of the service lovely and thought-provoking, but I come to the conclusion that we must be careful. It is entirely possible to forget to explain or contextualise our symbolism and then it appears to be ridiculous ritual and that is of little help to anyone.

Café Church
Café Church is the entire opposite; no symbolism or ritual there.  That is not to say it is an entirely culture-free zone, or that it is neutral in anyway.  Those at the Epiphany service would have felt very intimidated by the informality, the use of a game that required quick mental reactions and speedy physical movements, to be honest the use of a game in an act of worship at all would be new and possibly off-putting, and many other features of the service.  This is not meant as a critique but as a general tonic to the assumption that Fresh Expressions are neutral, and have stripped way all that off-putting churchy culture.  This may be so, but if it is, then they have replaced it with their own different churchy culture.

There was however, a nice sermon on the risk the Kings too and the risks we are called to take in our lives.  It was a nice culmination of the two major themes of my day!

Rev.

I have just watched Episode 6 of the BBC’s Rev.  For the time being it is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b018jmkb/Rev._Series_2_Episode_6/.  For a general review of Rev. check out http://therecognitionscene.com/2011/12/17/what-rev-is-doing-right/ (cheers for @Sarah_Richards) for tweeting about it I love Rev, it is funny, so funny a laugh my way through most of it. It is also honest, those of us who’ve hung around churches long enough have been in most of the situations depicted.  I thought the series couldn’t do much better than Adam’s assembly at the end of Episode 5, until I saw episode 6! The Christmas Special was pretty good too!  Hopefully we’re now well enough past the airing date most who want to see it have done so, therefore I want to look at this lovely episode through a series of “snap shots”.

Alex leaves for the weekendAlex goes away for the weekend to reconsider her life with Adam

Alex, the Rev’s wife is desperate for kids with him, but time to make this happen is scarce; Adam is very busy!  As with all of us, he is also far from perfect; forgetting things she tells him, not spending enough quality time with her, focussing on the things he thinks he needs to do not the things she thinks he does, etc. etc. I am not married, nor am I ordained, nor am I an Anglican. But Adam is a London vicar in response to a call on his life, by God.  I believe each person has a calling that each person must respond to.  But that calling, my calling (whatever that/they might be) does not exist in a vacuum.  Being obedient to God in my life has an impact on the people around, the people who love me and the people whom I love.  We need to be aware of this and consider how our calling affects other people, and also, I would argue, those most affected should be included in the decision making process. Finally from this image, I would say that following our callings is not a valid excuse for neglecting those around us and other responsibilities we have.

CoffeeHaving a natter over coffee after the service

 The particular situations of this episode bring us a scene where everyone is chatting over coffee, aspirations to “greater things” and some juicy gossip seems to bring them together, but nevertheless I felt a real sense on camaraderie and “fellowship”.  A genuine bond between these people and interest in each others lives.  Churches should be so much more than a social club, but I do feel that sense of connectedness and of being in a loving community is vital, and it is something that I really love about the church I go to.  I felt the BBC captured it quite well.

Adam and Archdeacon Robert discuss gay bishops

Adam and Archdeacon Robert discuss gay bishops

 

This is a key scene in the episode, it confirms Archdeacon Robert’s supposed partner is his actual partner and succinctly highlights the Anglican position on homosexual bishops.  It also reveals Robert’s concerns about how sexuality and his private life might affect him being appointed a bishop and how it might be seen/used by elements of the church. All denominations have groupings of similarly-minded people in them.  Some people use the word “factions” but this seems a bit harsh to me, Methodism included.  I am sure I belong in some (I don’t like re-affirmation of baptism and I support the principle of allowing lay people to preside over communion far more freely to name two!).  It is sad, but inevitable that in uneasy ground people’s lives become case-studies and test points. This chat in the back of a cab is a reminder to always consider the humans affected by our deliberations and our decisions.

The heart-stopping momentThe heart stopping moment. The Archdeacon is asked is he is in an active gay relationship

Which leads to this.  Robert is before the panel interviewing him to decide whether he should be appointed as a Bishop.  The tension, aided by some glorious choral music (the music in this episode has been utterly delightful!) is almost palpable, and I felt nervous and sorry for him.  What a terrible position to be in.  Does he deny the truth about his partner, lying about a significant element of his life, allowing him to pursue the path he might believe God has put him on, or does he tell the truth about his relationship, being true to his feelings, his partner, his private life and deny himself the opportunity to become a bishop.  What a terrible situation to face.  One that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and that make me glad that the Methodist Church fully accepts practising gay ministers in all roles. It is also a situation that I doubt I will ever understand.  I have yet to have a long-term partner, and I have yet to fancy a guy but if heterosexual couples were asked these sorts of questions I am sure they would talk far greater offence at the situation than they do when their gay counterparts are put under this scrutiny.

Nigel rejected by the BAPNigel after he has been rejected to train for the priesthood by the Bishops Advisory Panel

Two “themes” stand out to me at this point, but the dialogue surrounding this still is worth writing out in full: A: Nigel? N: I got my letter. A: From the Bishops Advisory Panel? N: How can they say I wouldn’t be a good priest? How can they say that? they know!  How can they say that they know what God wants?  (sounding more hurt) how dare they pretend that? A: You won’t feel this now … but I bet in time you’ll feel relieved you haven’t been accepted for ordination because … God wants you to do other things. N: I want to be a priest; that is all I want!!  And those B*s*a*ds are telling me that’s not who I am.  But … that’s who I am. A: I’m sorry Nigel N: If I can’t do what I want to do, then what  do I do? A: Many are called, but few are chosen. N: sobs A: come on, may I buy you a drink. The first theme seems to be a recurring one for me, and that is the role of personal experience in discerning God’s call.  Nigel is convinced of his call to the priesthood.  He thinks he can do nothing else (despite being in invaluable assistant to Adam), it is his highest aim.  The line “How can they know what God wants” is very telling to me, the implication being that Nigel does know what God wants for himself.  Should we be as certain as Nigel about our callings?  One thing seems clear to me; there seemed to be an imbalance in Nigel’s attention between his own sense of call (vital) and allowing the final decision to be made by others (a part of the process I feel to be vital).  I do not believe that to acknowledge our calling may not be realised, in any way detracts the conviction that we hold as to what our calling is.  And ultimately it helps us deal with the process better.  It is easy to say from here, but had Nigel reminded himself the BAP might say no, the rejection would have been mildly easier to bear.  Expect a post at some point to elaborate on this! But essentially a personal sense of call is simply not enough! The second theme emerged out a conversation with Jessica of Liturgies and Jolliness fame.  She pointed out, quite correctly, that Nigel attaches too much importance to being a priest.  More generally we could say, it is possible to think that some callings are better than others.  A calling to Church Ministry is superior to a calling to secular work, a calling to be a Presbyter is better than a calling to be a local preacher, a calling to be a teacher is better than a calling to be a dustbin collector, etc etc.  We shouldn’t over-emphasise, or elevate some roles over others.  God calls different people to different things and the more we recognise this, the better the church and wider society will be. Finally (this is neither of the two themes) Adam’s offering of sympathy struck a chord with me.  “Many are called but few are chosen” he offers, as a form of sympathy.  Adam, Nigel and we know that this verse isn’t really talking about the process of a church choosing priests, and if I were Nigel I wouldn’t find any comfort in it.  Partly because I struggle to find single verses much use in situations and because, really, this verse is of no use anyway. Adam’s tone whilst offering this “nugget” is hard to read, but personally I interpreted it at resignation that none of his words at that time would be of much use to a heart-broken Nigel who has seen his life goal destroyed, but it does speak of Adam’s solidarity in the situation.  That he was there beside Nigel in the pain, not trying to work a theodicy out of it, or offer some perfect reasoning or comfort.  I find that far more loving in the situation than great words of wisdom. For me this really was a beautiful episode that showed the highs and lows of Church life, and very movingly too.  It also gave me lots to think about too, which is always nice.  Having looked at different still images I close with a youtube link.  To a beautiful song, worth listening to in full!