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Liturgy: Love it or Hate it.

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Liturgy is boring, repetitive and dead.  It lacks an emotional warmth and immediate reality.  It is an ecclesiastical strait-jacket limiting the expression of our faith.

Sadly this rather grumpy view is not entirely unfair.  In far too many churches liturgical words are not the heartfelt expressions of faith, but merely the form of going through the motions.  The words themselves are often completely ignored, even by those who know it by heart.

But it doesn’t have to be so.

Well-written liturgy is beautiful, poetic, dramatic. It has rhythm and pace. There are well-crafted sentences and phrases that stick in the mind.  Much of the beauty of liturgy comes from its preparation. In much the same way that the text of a Shakespearian play exceeds that of a sixth-form improvisation, so liturgy prepared by a gifted liturgist will outshine the words of a worship leader worried about the next chord.

Words composed on the hoof can seem more heart-felt, but are not necessarily so. Sometimes it can feel limiting to have a script, but within the liturgy there is often scope for digression or particular emphasis.

One of the great advantages of liturgy is that it does not change (at least not easily). Thus an ordination service today will sound very similar to that of 30 years ago. Hence all my supporting clergy at my ordination in October were challenged as the service reminded them of their own promises and the charge given to them at the time.

One of my old vicars used to re-read the ordination service each year on the anniversary of his, to remind him to stay on track. I read my marriage vows each anniversary to remind me of the covenant I have made – and I find the same encouragement and challenge in each wedding I take.

If it is the same, then it can be learnt. This is a major benefit of using the same liturgy time after time.  I have been to visit elderly people who are losing some of their capacities, but who can still join in with prayers. In places without a book: out and about or when you’ve forgotten your glasses, if you know the service you can still take part. If you know it by heart (at least approximately) then you need not keep your nose in the book, but instead think, pray and listen once again.

Liturgy is uniting.  It unites us with the church across the world and throughout time. I remember at theological college when we were shown how parts of the Eucharistic service we use today were used in the first centuries of the Church.

The best bit of liturgy we have came straight from the lips of Jesus himself.  “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father…’.  The Lord’s Prayer can be said by almost all Christians.  Have you ever been part of a service when many different people have all been praying the same prayer in their own language? It’s very special.

So, I’m not exactly advocating a wholesale return to the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, but I would like to encourage us all not to throw out the baby with the bathwater and enjoy the inheritance we’ve been given and take it forward creatively.

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We are part of the Church of England and of the Deanery of Burnham and Slough. We seek to play an active part in the wider church. We are also keen to encourage good co-operation across denominational boundaries as we seek to be part of God building his kingdom.