D-Bm

I keep getting asked to play guitar for the 9am service that we have started to go to. I am not a great guitarist; in fact I am a barely competent one.

‘Contemporary worship’ is not really my bag (in fact I think ‘worship’ is one of those words that is best without an adjective preceding it), but I go, I take part because it is local and we know we have been loved much.

One of the great things about the type of music played is that it can be simplified for one such as me: open tuning and mainly 3 fingered chords. However, today I have no option but to use B Minor on several occasions and then leap back into non Barre chords; sometimes whilst fingerpicking.

I am immediately out of my comfort zone. It would have been easy to say ‘no’ but it was too late and I didn’t have time to simplify the changes.

On every other level, however, it is really helpful- in church you are supposed to be ready to go that bit further and go to the edge of your comfort zone, rather than sit there mired in familiar comfort.. Far easier to have that reminder in such a little thing as (for me) complex chords….

Bad guitar worship.

This is (so far) the only Sunday in my life where I am going to provide the music fro the whole of an act of worship.
The minister of the church I go to is very good in asking people to volunteer to try something just a little bit ‘beyond’ them.
My guitar playing has gone from ‘appalling’ to ‘poor’, but all of the songs today I can just about manage with practice. Perhaps one or two may even reach the level of ‘serviceable’.
It it good to do something different; to be involved and to grow a little bit more, without being ‘in charge’ or on show- after all, worship is not about ‘you’, but an offering.
There are many things that 2 years ago I never thought I would do and this is one of them. For that reason I am making it number 4 on my list of ’50 things to do when 50′ (1: changed job, 2: I read ‘Falling Upwards’ (more of that sometime) and 3: go on a long circular cycle ride around my favourite stretch of river ever).
I had better hurry up- I gave myself 2 years: the first year has nearly gone and I have reached no.4. 
Worship is not about those who lead: it is something much, much more: I’m looking forward to it.

One day we will go to mass…

We are on holiday for a while. When we first went to this place, we found a church that did services in English for the 6 weeks of the holiday season. We liked it: being out of our culture, it was lovely to go to worship together without being a ‘professional Christian’. Then the agency that ran it stopped the funding.

Someone told us about a Roman Catholic Church nearby that had services in English once a month so we went, just to experience a church: if you get paid for going, sometimes you need to go when you don’t have to. I won’t say it was ‘vibrant’, ‘dynamic’, ‘praise filled’, kicking’ or any of the unnecessary adjectives that some apply to a church, just to show they are different- it just was what it was.

There was something about the frailty and honesty of the people, the liturgy and the after service wine and buffet (yes really) that was enough. It put the holiday in sharper focus- just to have a holiday without the chance to say ‘thanks’ with others makes it somehow ‘less’. The French RC bishops also have the sensible attitude that as there is no English protestant church for miles, anyone can have mass. That last bit for me also rendered the endless ecumenical meetings filled with hot air in Britain almost meaningless.

This Sunday, or maybe next, we will go again- the children will protest, but we will have an hour in the same place, with no electronic devices, no TV and experiencing the same thing.

I will love it..sometimes being away and being quietly thankful is enough..

Whatever shape and size

There was a time as a minister that I was concerned about who was preaching at a particular church each Sunday. Maybe that had validity: I still remain of the opinion that there are some who preach/lead worship who perhaps shouldn’t have got the nod or who could use some coaching/mentoring.

Now I am not so worried: it doesn’t matter really. At the moment that I stood up, preached the house down (or whatever egotistical phrase you choose) and felt good about myself, I probably got in the way. Likewise the moment I dragged myself to preached, missed most of what I intended to say, the light maybe shone through.

Cos when I go to a church, I am mostly just glad that someone bothered to lead and it doesn’t matter what shape and size they are or how articulate they are, just so long as they let the light in and don’t stand in the way.

Worship

I haven’t really got a regular place of worship yet. So much of life is in flux and things have not settled down yet.

A couple of months back, I had intended to be at home whilst my wife took the children to something called ‘The Sunday Breakfast’. This was something I helped set up a few years back. It has waxed and waned but somehow kept going. It is about half an hour of interactive worship, all ages, around breakfast tables in the local village hall. I used to lead every one.

Except, my wife could not take them: a sudden family illness meant that she had to be elsewhere. So I took them, thinking that I wanted to be elsewhere: I don’t want to be Banquo’s Ghost.

The funny thing was, after being initially nervous, I felt at home and no one put me in the spotlight. I could worship quietly doing all the low key interactive stuff that I used to lead. The noise and the mess was somehow strangely stilling and restful.

I went back the next month and will be there today- the 9th anniversary and the last in the village hall before it moves to a new community/church space.

If I feel anywhere at home in this time of uncertainty, it is there: short, simple. less words, all together, without artifice or preacher’s ego and warm.

It is good to recognise an oasis in the desert from time to time.

..seeing…

I was in a parade service. They are never the easiest things to lead or to sit through.

Behind the flags, on the wall, I spotted a cheap brass relief copy of DaVinci’s ‘The Last Supper’.

Time was that I would have seen that and thought/preached with suppressed anger about how Jesus was obscured by ‘civic religion’ or ‘this world’. This time I smiled inwardly, just seeing a glimpse of Jesus in a confusing world was enough.

I have changed….

The Last Parade

I remember chatting with a Rev a few years back about ‘all age’/ ‘family’ services. He didn’t like them and did not feel able to do them. I immediately admired his candour.

I have gradually grown to like them. I don’t like ‘gimmick’ for the sake of it and a sizeable minority of books that give advice I haven’t found helpful. Children/ young people are people (the clue is in the breathing…) and most can spot being patronised/talked down to and not being engaged. Similarly: if you want to have a kids funtime- don’t do it in churches- other places do it much better.

Actually, more than ‘like’, ‘love’- they take so much longer to prepare than other acts of worship (mainly as I am wary of the aforementioned ‘gimmick’ for the sake of it), but the sense of engagement…and even of worship is huge.

This morning I am to do my ‘last’ parade service. The ultimate all age service- you are there as your Beaver/cub/scout/rainbow/brownie leader tells you to be (and you may not want to be). You are not really sure about ‘church’ and you don’t want to hang around. Children and their families, having to work hard for a hearing and miles away from church? What’s not to love?

And I may never lead one again whilst being in pastoral charge of a church….

Remembered irrelevance

I bumped into them at the weekend when I was away.

We got talking and worked out that I had done a funeral for a relative 14 years ago. They remembered me and I remembered then.

What I remembered most was the Sunday after: they wanted to come to church & could only come in the evening. I went with them: I wasn’t preaching.

I can still remember the acute embarrassment I felt as I sat with them. I didn’t expect perfection, just some feeling & a sense that what the preacher was saying connected with God and with life- perhaps some sense that the prayers were sincere or allowed space.

Maybe I was over sensitive to this couple who felt Christian, but had not been to church for years. but I felt embarrassed by the irrelevance of what I experienced. I think this was magnified by sitting through another service that morning when I had felt that it was a waste of an hour.

However they experienced it, they never came back.

Even now l remember the week that followed & the slough of despond I entered into: was this really what people sat through?

I do not claim to be fantastic & some of the things I say make me cringe on the Monday after, but after that Sunday I resolved never to ‘phone it in’ or stick to going through the motions. There always has to be reality, feeling or connection with life as it is and with God. Even if sometimes it is a crying out of ‘I just don’t know any more’.

 

Remember

A softer, slower day than last Sunday which is good.

Tonight I share in a service where we remember those who have died. I was not bought up in this tradition: when you are gone, you are gone: move on.

Except, the older I have got, I have come to realise that whether you have faith or not, you are marked by those who have died. Who they were still influences you & sometimes, when all seems ‘healed’, their memory hits you and you can find yourself mourning again.

So each year, I have come to value this service more. It seems that the village does as well; increasing numbers shuffle silently into the parish church to be still, to remember and light a candle to piece the darkness with light.

They leave, usually silently, or maybe with a mumbled greeting: words often seem difficult on this night.

I was going to have this Sunday off: I am glad I didn’t- it is essential sometimes to come face to face with mortality: others’, but ultimately your own.

Written words

I was raised in a tradition of extempore prayer: prayer was freely said in acts of worship without following a formula. I still use it: I value the (sometimes) raw nature of that. Also: to be able to say ‘can I pray with you?’ and then do so is essential.

I used to find traditions that used written prayers somehow ‘wooden’ or ‘not real’. When I used the words, they seemed awkward as they were not my own.

However, I have started to use this form more myself and a little more in public. I think there are several reasons:-

(1) I am sometimes tired of reinvention and cautious of gimmick. To have words that have stood the test of time is more nourishing to the soul.

(2) I speak a lot. I can stand up in front of most audiences- sometimes with no or minimal preparation and talk. I am wary of this: it is hugely flattering to the ego to be able to do this and to see people respond. To pause and let someone else’s words be used is a way of standing back and putting the ‘pause’ button on your own ego.

(3) I value tradition more. If I am going to improvise a lot (and I do), I want to do so from a bedrock of tradition and ‘faithfully improvise. I metaphorically buried my head in my hands recently when someone got people to sing ‘The Hokey Cokey’ in an act of worship, but I am sure I have done worse (I am trying to think if I have…can’t think yet...)…. This struck me as one of the weaknesses of my tradition; we can improvise so much that we forget what we have improvised from.

(4) I was starting to overuse cliche and became aware of the ‘thinness’ of my words and the excessive number of them.

I am not, I hope, idolising this approach, for most images/approaches to God are idols that need to be smashed-at least periodically, but this is just where I am at the moment.

Thanks for reading.