Catherine writes the vicar’s letter this month
Exploring the Mystery…
Over the past few months, a number of people have expressed an interest in finding out more about our liturgy: to know the ways we can find meaning and faith in worship; and to deepen our spiritual understanding of the words and actions we offer to God each week.
As some of you may know, the study of liturgy is rather an enthusiasm of mine, and I spent some time over the summer attending conferences which looked at two of the aspects of liturgy which can affect people who may not usually come into contact with formal worship.
The first conference was concerned with bringing people and nations together for services of reconciliation, especially where there are deep divisions, and both of the examples we looked at were situations where a nation had undergone the powerful searching process of a truth and reconciliation commission. Helping people to speak honestly to God and one another, without pretending to have false feelings, can provide the beginnings of a journey towards healing and forgiveness. Here making space for God to speak, hurt to be acknowledged, and love to grow is often achieved through the mutually acceptable language of the Bible, formal prayer and shared silence.
The second conference was an academic conference was about the way in which we worship can help us to grow as Christians. Many of the talks and lectures I attended were concerned about the way in which young people and those rediscovering Christianity or coming to faith for the first time find an encounter with God through liturgy. This encounter is a lifelong process and there were many truths there for those of us who have been engaged in formal worship from the cradle. As this was a conference which included people from all over the world and from many different denominations it was interesting to realise how much are different traditions can have in common in this respect.
One of the most interesting developments we shared was the renewal of an ancient practice of intergenerational sharing of faith: put simply, more church communities are getting together as a family, young and old, to share insights and teaching about the mystery of faith they have discovered through the liturgy. The results have been exciting and affirming for those taking part and have helped church communities to grow.
The best way for this sharing to happen is through informal discussion for half an hour after a service over a cup of tea or coffee. Traditionally three questions are raised: what have you noticed about the service: what may have puzzled or excited you? Where have you felt close to God? And what difference will this encounter with God make to your Christian life? This gives an opportunity for shared understanding and an exploration of the many different ways we encounter the mystery of God. For the early Church, this was a chance for teaching and theological development, which was known as mystagogical catechesis, whose insights led to many of the prayers we still use today. Teaching can still play a part where needed, but the most important aspect for us is to grow in joy and confidence in our faith.
We hope to make ‘exploring the mystery’ part of the life of our churches soon. Watch this space!