Archive for August, 2008

Chasing Change

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 27, 2008 by cockett1

I am tired. It may be to do with my being a busy parish priest with a busy parish or that life in general is just too fast and living on the outskirts of a city means that I get sucked into it’s rather frenetic life every now and again. But it’s more than that. It’s about getting caught up with this 21st century’s obsession with change where only the new is  relevant and only the recent is cool (apart from a little retro now and again – but even then it’s ‘new’ retro rather than old). It’s about trying to help the Church which I serve ‘keep up’ with what is going on around it and the fear of being left behind. It’s about trying to find ways of helping the church – known and criticised for it’s obsession with the unchanging message of the gospel – keep up with a society that is obsessed with change by embracing change itself? Or is it? That is the question that haunts me at the moment. That is what is making me tired.

Now no-one is arguing that we do not need to “keep up with the times” in terms of keeping informed about what is going on, after all as a priest I have to speak into that through sermons and articles etc.. But when that obsession with the new and the now affects the way in which we worship, well that is when I get tired. I get tired because i can’t keep up.

I am 52 years old and I have never been ‘contemporary’ in the way I relate to young people, fashion and the various trends that preoccupy people from time to time. In fact when I first met my wife, such was my old-fashioned dress-sense (and ways – I was good-mannered, very un-cool) that someone jokingly remarked to her: “You are not going out with him are you – he’s forty!” Yet such has been (and still is) my zeal for spreading the gospel that I have willingly –  and at times enthusiastically – used any method or means that lay to hand in order to make the church, and therefore the gospel, relevant. In fact one of the things that has most stung me is the criticism that the Church is out of touch with society and failing the younger generation which is hemorrhaging from the church at an alarming rate. So in my panic and sense of failure therefore I have responded by trying to embrace every trend and change, introducing modern music and modern worship wherever I can, using powerpoint, alternative worship, you name it I have/will try it.  I have introduced so many changes and embraced so many new movements, ‘waves’ and methods of evangelism that my poor congregation has not known what has hit them. In fact such was the frustration of one parishioner that in an anonymous questionaire he/she stated that the Vicar thought more of people outside the church than those who faithfully attended it week by week. Okay there may have been more issues behind the statement but the comment still bit and has some relevance to the subject at hand.

The (rather laboured) point I am trying to make is that maybe I have got it wrong – all wrong. That in trying to follow the tide of change I have been cast adrift spiritually from what church and worship is essentially all about. That by focussing on the why and what of worship I have taken my eyes off God. The problem with chasing change – which always changes and never stays still – is that it becomes God, an idol, to which all is sacrificed. Instead of becoming a means to an end – that of honouring and encountering God – it has become the end. Maybe that is why the Orthodox Church so attracts me. Okay I still struggle with chanting, the volume of scripture readings and the length of the services. The Liturgy (Eastern Rite at least) seems so complex and so full of odd stuff – processions, crossings, kissings, standing for long periods, comings and goings – that it is the very opposite of the simplifying process I have been trying to introduce over my ministry. And what happens behind the iconastasis and why is it out of sight? So many questions about why it is all so mysterious when surely the thrust of our calling is to communicate the faith not enclose it in mystery. And why make the clergy so distinct and other when surely we are creating a distance between the church and society. And Mary and the saints and confession – the list goes on. And yet..and yet..it seems despite all that so right??? It’s very changelessness makes it an oasis in a desert society where more has become definitely less.

And there is the whole argument about when does worship cease to become worship and instead become entertainment? At what point does what goes on become something that focusses on me – my likes/dislikes, what interests or titillates me – rather than on God? If I don’t get anything out of worship is that a reason to change the worship? Or is it another way of evading the whole question about my own personal need to change?

No one is saying pop music is demonic or that films can’t have a teaching value but maybe there is a line somewhere which we should not cross? But who lays down that line? And shouldn’t worship be to some extent enjoyable in the old meaning of the word i.e. giving ‘joy’? Should it be solemn, mournful, serious, sombre and all about our own sinfulness?

So you (whoever you are) can see where I am going. Or can you? If not I am just casting these questions into the ether. I don’t know if anyone can answer them or wants to. But if all words and questions end up being heard by God anyway then this is a kind of prayer, ultimately, to Him. I need help.

Making disciples

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2008 by cockett1

I have long been preoccupied by the Great Commission of Jesus which comes at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, and throughout my ministry have used it as a kind of personal mission statement to guide me. In fact it has taken on almost ultimate importance in my ministry and been the driving force behind almost everything to the point that even worship has become a means to that particular end. However reading a lot of Orthodox material over the past few years I am beginning to question the basis of my whole ministry over the past twenty plus years and wonder if I haven’t been building a house of straw? For example just lookng at Orthodox liturgy there is a point at which, historically at least, the service comes to a temporary pause and those who are being instructed with a view to baptism or chrismation are asked to leave so that the mysteries of the Eucharist – reserved for those who are part of the church membership (i.e. disciples?) – are not shared with those who have not been fully initiated. This is the complete opposite to the kind of Willow Creek approach where everything is brought down to the lowest point so that everyone can step into the church and be an immediate part of what is going on! It is also at odds with the kind of approach I have been espousing where church is open house to all and the liturgy has become simplified almost to the point of banality so that those from the outside will know what is going on and not feel excluded. So rather than the worship becoming the pinnacle point of what discipled disciples do it has become dumbed down and made so accessible that it is no longer worship but one step removed from a sort of enlightening form of entertainment. Mystery is avoided (because it does not ‘communicate’) and everybody is in (because to be too demanding will put future prospective disciples/converts off).

Perhaps this is an oversimplification of what either goes on or needs to go on. For example catecumens are no longer asked to leave during the Orthodox Liturgy anymore (I stand to be corrected) and liturgy is seen by orthodox to be part of the discipleship process because when you ask questions about orthodoxy the usual response is, I am told, “come and see”! However I just wonder if we (I) need to revisit the whole notion of discipleship and try and understand it more within the context of an awesome liturgy where the mysteries of God act as a kind of draw to go deeper rather than an open book that all can easily read without too much effort or commitment?

Some answers?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 3, 2008 by cockett1

With regard to the unchanging Liturgy of the Orthodox Church here is one possible answer as to why it doesn’t or shouldn’t change. The following is a quote from a letter of resignation written by a Lutheran pastor who left his denomination for the Orthodox Church. Here he (John Fenton) talks about the importance of the Liturgy as he writes to his former congregation:

“Your new bishop recently asked me what core issue motivated me to embrace the Orthodox Faith. It is this: The liturgy never changes. I don’t mean that chants or prayers or feasts are not added or subtracted gradually over time. What I mean is that no priest or bishop or congregation can decide to cut the Eucharistic Prayer or go with a new style of worship or change things to suit his convictions or the times. Why? Because the liturgy is not something smart men have created and so can modify. The liturgy is from the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Scriptures are from the Holy Spirit. In the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit rightly instructs us in Holy Scripture and His presence transforms us and the gifts set forth in the Holy Eucharist. So the liturgy is the way the faith is given, confessed, prayed and proclaimed. As the liturgy goes, so goes the Faith together with your certainty and surety.”

The question is, is he right? First I am not entirely sure about his claim that the Liturgy is on the same level as the Bible? I suppose if you believe that the Church wrote the Bible then it’s a small step to saying that the Church is able to create a Liturgy that is of equal inspiration. But is it right? And second, what Liturgy? The Eastern or the Western Rite which both are recognized? Am I right in saying that one is later than the others?

More objections?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2008 by cockett1

Isn’t Orthodoxy Eastern? That is, isn’t it too wedded to a particular context or culture? And what makes a worship style ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Some of the books written by converts to Orthodoxy criticize the ‘pop’ culture of a lot of today’s modern worship songs but doesn’t that reflect the tastes of the individual rather than some real and objective right/wrong? I love classical music rather than pop music but that is not the ‘taste’ of the general public who get a lot out of some of todays music. Isn’t it wrong to impose my own preferences on others? Wouldn’t it be better to use the culture in order to win it? When I take a funeral I often have a request for music to be played that is very definitely not my idea of what is appropriate but who am I to decide that?