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Causing traditional churches to grow - by Peter Toon

Dignified & simple worship [in the Anglican Way] leading to mission and ministries of compassion in the U S A

by Peter Toon

BIDDULPH,UK (12/31/2004)--The pendulum swings this way and that. Right now the pendulum that swings at the heart of American evangelicalism is in motion away from the programmed mega-church, committed to evangelism and involved in a general dumbing down of historic Faith and discipline. It is apparently moving towards a type of church that takes seriously the public and private reading of the Bible and its application to life, the basics of the Christian Year, a recognition of the value of ordered worship, and a sense that mission is more than evangelism and includes ministries of compassion to needy people.

Importantly, the pendulum’s movement is indicating that for the first time in a long time the “evangelicals” are beginning to recognize that the basic and real purpose of “a service of worship” is simply to offer worship – as praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition and intercession, but chiefly praise – to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Further, to see that all genuine ministry & mission flow from and surround such holy, God-centered, corporate worship.

In the recent past, “worship services” (often like a show or a concert) have been promoted and seen too much as a means to an end – e.g., evangelism or church planting or community-building – and have appeared to be (by the evidence of the way folks dress) a special kind of leisure activity.

Now the possibilities are opening up for traditional churches to attract younger people not by gimmicks but by an obvious, serious and sincere attempt to read the Bible as God’s Word and to apply it to life’s journey, needs and questions, to engage in worship which is directed wholly towards the Father in the Name of the Son and with the Holy Spirit, and to participate in mission which takes the real needs of the world seriously. [Of course in the USA there will be the standard need for a decent building and car park with childcare etc.]

This situation provides a real and vital opportunity for Anglican churches either to be planted or for existing churches to be revived (retooled!) to catch the movement of this pendulum. Whether they will rise to the occasion is doubtful (based on what they have done in the past) but one must seek to be optimistic, as one notices how the Orthodox Churches, for example, benefit from this situation.

I fear that the way that much traditional Anglican worship as is conducted and presented now in small churches will not catch the flow of this pendulum. Indeed it will not notice its movement or the breeze that it creates, for it is locked into a kind of 1950s type of experience and model. And neither, I fear, will the generic, charismatic-type of Anglican worship, which has parted company with the basics of liturgy and the Church Year since the 1980s and which is so committed to using “worship services” as a means to an end, be it that of personal fulfillment or evangelism or community building.

What I think will probably succeed (by God’s blessing) to catch the pendulum’s movement is a local parish that:

1. On Sunday morning has simple, dignified worship, using the classic text of the BCP as is, without additions from other books (e.g. Missals); has good music, and uses minimal but well executed ceremonial and ritual to accompany the words.

2. takes the public reading of the Bible seriously as a means of grace and also takes expository preaching of the same seriously as a further means of grace (15-20 min well prepared sermons).

3. open to the use and development of modern (dignified) forms of music to accompany psalms and canticles, alongside the creative use of traditional music.

4. places emphasis upon real fellowship in Christ Jesus between people not only of the same generation but across generations

5. teaches the habit and discipline of Daily Prayer using the Offices in the BCP along with the Bible, and offers such daily in church.

6. teaches the value of the Church Year as a means of grace and ordered piety and keeps its major Feasts reverently.

7. has provision mid-week and on Sunday afternoons/evenings for Bible Study, fellowship, serious discussion and questioning.

8. has definite outreach ministries to the locality focusing on needs that can be addressed.

9. has clergy and lay leadership which, while highly esteeming the heritage of the Anglican Way, is keen to find appropriate ways to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and to serve him in his world, in this generation and in this culture.

10. is open to the presenting of the texts of the services in attractive booklets in a modern typeface and with suitable illustrations and explanatory comments – and even open to projecting the text on to a screen if this is necessary and useful.

11. which distinguishes between being simple and being simplistic and which learns to major on majors not on minors (e.g., does not major on the minutiae of ceremonial or of clergy dress).

12. that advertises in ways which reflect the ethos of the church (rather than imitate modern advertising of goods) and which is not afraid to go into the public square to make itself known.

13. that is geographically situated in a place which is easy to access and which has the basic facilities (or the potential for them) for activity outside the worship area.

14. that has a bishop, clergy and leadership who are sensitive to the movement of the Spirit in the Church and world and who are men of God, first and foremost!

One could continue. The point is that the classic Anglican Way has sufficient within itself by God’s grace to address and meet the need of those young people today who look for an attractive yet substantial way of worshipping the Holy Trinity and serving Him in His world. What is urgently needed are dedicated, wise and gracious persons to become engaged (or in some cases) to continue to be engaged in the MISSIO DEI as it presents itself at this time in this place.

--The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon is vicar of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor & St Anne's, Brown Edge. He is president of the Prayer Book Society.

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