Liturgy or the Spirit?

Worship at a Hillsong event. Image: Mark Beeson

Sometimes odd coincidences occur that make one think one might be onto something. On Thursday I did a seminar asking “Does Anglican liturgy help or hinder charismatic worship?” which, if nothing else, sparked a free-flowing discussion.

One question provoked particular debate: “What would happen if someone gave a word of prophecy in the middle of choral evensong?” Clearly it would be highly disruptive of a form of service which is intended, in part, to be a polished performance. By contrast, if it happened at a charismatic church, such as Trinity Cheltenham, it would be likely to be received as something which enhances the spiritual atmosphere, enabling people to deepen their relationship with God.

Anglicans do have a love of liturgy which is often perceived to be a barrier to the deeper experience of God which charismatics seek in a worship service. A key question, then, is whether this necessarily needs to be the case. Can liturgy be used as a springboard into charismatic worship, as opposed to being an obstacle or a barrier?

Later in the evening I went to the annual Vasey lecture, given by Steve Croft, Bishop of Sheffield and former Principal here. Curiously, his talk ended up covering similar territory to my seminar – apart from being from the mainstream side. He complained about large Charismatic churches which have essentially dispensed with Anglican liturgy, so his plea was for its virtues to be appreciated. He gave five reasons for this:

  1. it provides a balanced diet;
  2. it offers a deep engagement with scripture;
  3. it allows expression of deep emotion;
  4. the liturgical year is beneficial;
  5. it’s the work of the people.

I agree that, on a given Sunday, a liturgy does provide a more balanced diet than a New Wine service. I also agree that it can offer a deeper engagement with scripture, although – as with any service – this depends on the preacher to expound the scripture with simplicity and clarity. However I have serious doubts about whether liturgy allows the expression of deep emotion: for that, little else can beat Spirit-anointed prayer ministry at the front of a charismatic church. I’m not convinced by his last two points but do not think they are major issues, either way. 

Overall, though, I am looking forward to trying to use liturgy as a springboard into charismatic worship, largely for the first two of Croft’s five reasons…

Golden plovers and a lapwing - not a great pic but better than I expected when I took it!

Today I went with James Menzies up Weardale. There was much more snow on the top than we’d expected, some of it quite deep – each step you’d sink about a foot into it! But the scenery is magnificent up there. On the way down there was a birding treat… a mixed flock of lapwings and golden plovers! Then just as we were about to move on, a black grouse flew across: spectacular!

A bleak Swinhope Moor, with James Menzies

p.s. amazing football score from my home team: Burton Albion 5 Cheltenham 6 – and we came back from 4-2 down!


I need to start this post by saying something that may cause shock and surprise to some of you who know me: I enjoyed Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer on Wednesday this week. Yes, that’s the version published in 1662. There were reasons for this: Andy Stinson had completely re-done the music in a contemporary style, and Phil Morton spoke the words in a manner which made it easy to pray along with him, so it wasn’t just any old recitation.

An early(ish) printing of the Book of Common Prayer, from 1771

This is the season in college for doing the daily acts of worship using the Book of Common Prayer – and it is safe to say that, despite Wednesday’s high point, most of us find this a frustrating experience.

This is not to deny the beauty of the language, or for that matter the deep reverence of Thomas Cranmer, who wrote most of it in the 1540s. Indeed, there is a danger in modern worship (of which I am generally an enthusiastic participant) of there being too much emphasis on the friendship of God. We try to be too familiar sometimes. Cranmer’s style does the opposite, stressing our sinfulness in front of an awesome and majestic God.

The problem is that there is an awful lot of emphasis in Anglicanism on maintaining the traditions of the past. If this were the right thing to do, the  Church of England would be booming, instead of shrinking and closing churches. The churches that are growing now are the ones that speak and worship in today’s language, not hanging on to some mythically wonderful past.

Clearly the college here, like other Anglican colleges, is constrained by the requirements of the Anglican hierarchy – but it is a pity that this leads to so much emphasis on maintaining the past rather than developing new styles that communicate to people of today. After all we believe that Jesus Christ is good news for all time: the 21st century as much as the first, tenth or seventeenth.

Jacksons Landing

Since returning to college I’ve made a couple of trips down to Jacksons Landing, aka Hartlepool Marina, which has become a temporary home to a couple of unusually interesting bird species, including a great northern diver which was showing well on Friday. Last week I saw a large number of mergansers, attractive and eye-catching saw-billed ducks that come complete with punk hairstyles! Here’s one of Jaybee‘s images.

The long arm of the Tudors…

I seem to have given the impression that I’m spending my time tripping round the north-east, with the occasional lecture thrown in for good measure. Sadly, that is not the case… it’s just that not everything in the lectures is worth sticking on a blog.

One of the ‘delights’ of the last week has been reading some of the Tudor Acts of Parliament which led to the separation of the Church of England from Rome. Reading from the vantage point of the 21st century, it’s hard to see how the imposition of so much state control could have been thought ‘enlightened’. Alan Bartlett, our lecturer – a man who combines a penetrating intellect with an extraordinary degree of niceness laced with Irish charm – described parts of this as ‘stalinist’.

My memory of this particular lecture is tarnished  by the realisation that I was losing the battle against the cold/flu I was trying to stave off. I spent most of the next 24 hours in bed. I hasten to add that as I have not degenerated to oinking or rolling around in the mud or snuffling for truffles, there may not have been much of the swine about it… Joking aside, though, my friends here have been wonderfully kind and supportive: Andy – whose career prior to coming here was in the army – even brought a lunch tray up when I was at my lowest ebb.

Interior of St. Andrew's, Haughton-le-Skerne

Interior of St. Andrew's, Haughton-le-Skerne

Having church buildings that are modern with a flexible seating area is a natural desire of many growing churches… but what if your church is a Grade 1 listed building? Such is the case with my placement church in Haughton-le-Skerne. The main building dates from 1125 but the particular feature of this church is the Tudor pews. Look carefully at the photo on the left and you will see that they are all gated! The novelty wears off quite quickly as the nuisance value becomes obvious, but as these were installed around 1640 they are, from a heritage perspective, untouchable.

David Bryan, the present vicar, was determined that this should not prevent the modernisation of the interior. It took 6 years of negotiations and battles with various organisations (such as English Heritage, the Tudor Society and the Victorian Society), who were all required to approve the renovation. The result is a remarkable blend of antiquity and modernity. There are now modern sound and projection systems, and some of the pews have been re-arranged to clear space in front of the arches for a much less formal style of worship. The church is now fit for worship in the 21st century rather than being a museum piece from the past.