Dear Malcolm i

I’ve ‘taken up’ C S Lewis for Lent.

They’re a couple of books that I found when we moved, and thought ‘I must have another read of those one day’.  Well in an effort to do something productive during Lent, ‘one day’ has come.

I started with The Screwtape Letters and now I’m moving on to ‘Prayer: Letters to Malcolm‘ , first published 1964.  It must be about 25 years since I read it – and a lot of water has passed under this bridge since then.

I’ll share just some of my random thoughts as I work my way through it – hoping they might spark some thought.  Feel free to comment!

C. S. Lewis starts this book, the letters to Malcolm, by saying he is going to be writing about private prayer and not liturgical prayer, but then launches in to what he thinks of the liturgical.

The context seems to be in attempts to change the services of The Church of England.

Lewis well and truly sets out his stall.  Referring to Anglican clergymen (which they would have been then!), he says:

“It looks as if they believed people could be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplification and complications of the service.”

Now there’s a subject I’m passionate about!

He continues,

“Novelty, as such can only have an entertainment value – and they don’t go to church to be entertained but to use the service.

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.”

I’m with him so far.  But then he goes on,

“It enables us to do these things best, when through familiarity we don’t have to think about it.”

Whoa, wait right there!  Yes I agree with

“The perfect church service is one we are almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”

But I don’t agree that necessarily leads on to his conclusion that,

“Novelty fixes our attention on the service.  Thinking about worship is different to worshipping.  Novelty may fix our attention on the celebrant – ‘what on earth are they up to now?’.”

Valid points to be aware of, but not a case for never changing anything. I suppose as a Methodist I am coming at it from a different place.  Part of the reason I became a Methodist is because I like the variety in worship.  I like to hear different preachers and their thoughts and emphases.  I suppose familiarity in me, if not breeding contempt, does bring a certain boredom and taking for granted.  If I am not having to think about the words I’ m saying I can be easily distracted.

Yes, I like some liturgy.  I love the covenant service.  I find a beauty in some of the set word we have.  But I don’t want them the same every week.  I need to own them, make them mine.

And much more importantly we have to make what happens in worship relevant to those who need to worship.

New ways of worship should never be about, ‘Look at me, what I can do, what I’ve thought up’, but they should be about getting alongside people and “scratching them where they itch” – not where we think they are itching, or even where we think they should be itching.

For something new to become that safe place, that place where we can receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore, the structure has to fit.

We have to know where people are at – and that means not assuming but finding out.  Spending time, getting alongside, in order to help them get alongside God, together worshipping him.

When I was involved in starting a new service, I spent time in the schools – I was fortunate to have the access, and people willing to talk to me.  We shared how the children were learning in school, and tried to translate that into church.  It was new, and different.  It upset some.  But it also opened up new ways of receiving the sacrament, supplicating, repenting, adoring God, and worshipping together.   Sometimes we need to take a risk.  Sometimes we need to change something – especially if what we had is no longer meeting the need.

Lewis’ final comment that, “The business of the layman is simply to endure and make the best of it”, is a really sad reflection.  We do not want change for changes sake, but we do need to enable a changing world to meet and worship the unchanging God.

~ by pamjw on March 8, 2010.

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