Friday, 25 March 2016

Some Brief Reflections on a Good Friday Service

On Good Friday last year, I wrote a short poem about what was then my state of mind. I shan’t be writing one this Good Friday, because Steve Holmes has crafted one that I can make my own. So I’m going to write about something else instead. Be still, your beating hearts.

Today, the Wrights worshipped at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey. The service was the 10.30 am Matins and Litany. I wanted my almost-eight-year-old son to experience a different kind of Church of England service to the one we’re all used to as a family (Common Worship’s Holy Communion Order One), and I don’t think our home church was putting on a service as such. So we hopped on a No. 3 bus and, complete an Italian family behind us chatting away loudly, made the relatively short trip from Crystal Palace to Westminster.

The St Margaret’s Matins and Litany followed the Book of Common Prayer. There was very little vocalised participation required from the congregation, as the officiant, other clergy, and the choir did most of the speaking and singing. The congregation only joined in with the confession, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the single hymn at the service’s end. But notice I wrote ‘vocalised participation’; the service book we were given pointed out that ‘we participate through our presence and our listening, that the words and the music become a prayer within us and lift us to contemplate God’s beauty and glory.’ And for me, that certainly was the case. I’d never heard the Litany sung (or even said) before, and its measured chanting by the officiant and the choir provided me a liturgical space to think about what I was hearing. Indeed, the words and the music did become a prayer for me, and I was able more deeply to contemplate God’s beauty and glory. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for old old-time religion, or perhaps the sung liturgy simply communicated something of the solemnity and the grandeur of the occasion.

There are three specific things on which I’ll add further comment. First, the preacher did a good job communicating some connections between Genesis 22 and Psalm 22, and included some thoughts about this week’s Brussels bombings. But there were too many references to other people (‘so-and-so once said’). Some people might appreciate this, but comments such as ‘No wonder Kierkegaard spoke about this in terms of fear and trembling’ to me are superfluous. Preach the Word, not your bookshelves!

Secondly, I asked my son afterwards what he thought about the service. His response suggested to me that while he appreciated the liturgical space given by the singing of the Litany – even at his young age, and in spite of his infectiously enthusiastic personality, he appears to value silent or quiet prayer – he found it difficult to pray using the language of the BCP (too much ‘beseeching’ going on, I guess). I suppose that liturgy is one of those things people can appreciate regardless of their age, but the language used within specific liturgies has the potential to include or exclude. This doesn’t mean I’d advocate using simplistic language for liturgy, but a case could be made for using non-archaic language.

And finally, on arrival at St Margaret’s, I needed to make use of the facilities. But these were only for the choir and clergy, and I was persuaded to use the public toilets a short walk away (and spend £0.50 for the privilege). The sidesperson was (nearly) very apologetic as she convinced me I had enough time to get to the aforementioned lavatories, but I couldn’t help but feel all this was less welcoming than it could have been.

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