Sunday, 7 March 2010

Authentic Worship - The Third Sunday in Lent

As an Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in Canterbury Diocese, I produced a questionnaire for potential ordinands to help them reflect upon their experience of worship in a different tradition from their own. It contained questions like: What helped you to pray ? Did anything hinder your worship ? What surprised you ? Where did you sense the presence of God?

These questions have helped me over the years since moving from a charismatic evangelical setting to an anglo-catholic one in Hull in my twenties. This major transition taught me that no one tradition has a monopoly on God. I discovered Christ, not only in lively praise and worship, but also in the Eucharist, in silence and contemplation, in the lives of the saints and in gestures and symbols. This all helped me too to work out as a parish priest what opportunities I would create for others to worship, therefore St Paul's Maidstone was a mix of the Eucharist, All-age worship, periods of concentrated worship marking Holy Week and Easter, and developing new ways for contemplation like 'Sacred Space' with prayer stations and a labyrinth, and Cafe Church.

Now, without worship to create for others, I have to return to my questions for myself. I could be anywhere on a Sunday morning and worshipping in a variety of traditions. Last Sunday it was Sung Evensong at an Oxford College Chapel, this week I will be at a theological college, on another occasion I could be at Matins, or a lively praise service, or, more often, at a Common Worship Order One Holy Communion led in a variety of ways. Yet I continue to discover Christ in new ways.

In each service my questions help me, not analyse each experience, but to personally enter into it. The worship experiences vary greatly, yet I am often surprised by God, whom I discover in unlikely way and unexpected places. Authentic worship is a matter of heart rather than a matter of form, therefore it can often be through the simply scripted prayers led by a member of a congregation or the enthusiastic young drummer leading worship, rather than the familiar liturgy, that I find myself being drawn into and becoming part of a worshipping community - even if only for a short time.

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