Letter to parishioners, 17 September 2021

Friday, 17 September 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

Over the years I have heard many people get very exercised about the language in which Church services are conducted. This is acknowledged in the authorised forms of worship that are now in use in the Church of England. The services of Matins and Evensong are included alongside more modern versions of Morning and Evening Prayer. The 1662 service of Holy Communion is also in our Common Worship books alongside the modern version for celebrating The Lord’s Supper. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the modern service is available in ‘traditional language’, just as the 1662 BCP service is available in ‘contemporary language’. The subject of traditional versus modern continues to divide people, even though whichever version is used, our acts of worship are meant to unite us in Christian love and peace.

One important feature of our services, a feature which is often overlooked, is contained within the rubric silence is kept. We struggle with the notion of silence. Where silence is kept people begin to feel uncomfortable, they look around to see what is going on, sometimes they try to move the service on by launching into the next prayer. This attitude denies everyone the opportunity to use that moment of silence, and it is rarely more than a few seconds, to offer their own private prayer to God. Perhaps they wish to say sorry, or to pray for a loved one or some critical situation in their own lives or in the lives of others. Whenever I come to the rubric: silence is kept I offer a brief prayer: for Forgiveness, Renewal and Hope. I do not offer that prayer for myself but for the Universal Church and for the churches in which I am called to minister. Sometimes I will add another brief prayer: for Wisdom, Patience and Strength. My six word prayer acts as a reminder that no matter what issues may be burning away in our hearts and minds at any given moment, there are bigger issues to bring before God.

Congregations struggle with another instruction that occurs in our service books: all respond boldly. We do not respond ‘boldly’, do we? It is as though we consider it too vulgar to declare ‘Amen’, or any other response, with enthusiasm and commitment. We like to hedge our bets by joining in the liturgy in a decorous and muted fashion. An example of this occurs at the end of the modern version of the Communion service. The priest says: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. This is an injunction to use the nourishment we have received in both Word and Sacrament to further Christ’s mission in this world. The response: In the name of Christ is often barely audible, and certainly is not offered boldly.

All of this, the issue of language, the use of silence, the manner in which we offer our response, is a challenge to all of us. We gather in worship, as a community of faith, in response to Christ’s call in our lives. In our coming together in Christ’s name we are being invited to participate in the most exciting party. But, we struggle with daring to show that Christ does excite us. We allow a sense of reserve and withdrawal to overshadow the way in which we worship and, therefore, the way in which we take the light, life and joy of Christ into the world.

This weekend we begin our round of Harvest Festival services. Let us join in those acts of worship with a renewed spirit of boldness. Then, let us take our newly re-invigorated faith into our daily lives and let others see what a difference it can make.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen