In todays reflection (First Sunday in Lent) Maggi Dawn highlights the fact that in Luke 5:33-39 it becomes really obvious to those who see Jesus interacting with his disciples that as a community of friends they do not make a particular habit of fasting as was normal for the Jews generally, unlike other teachers of the time.
She goes on to talk about the value of old and new, in worship styles, and in churchmanship. As a songwriter and past chaplain of a Cambridge College (now at Yale Divinity School in the USA) Maggi is in an excellent position to say that with authenticity.
For me, it’s really interesting how this idea of old and new interacts with some of the things my colleagues and I have been talking about at the weekend. Each of us final year ordinands had to give a presentation about our (all too brief) parish placements, and reflect on a critical incident within them. It proved a fascinating journey around Anglican churches in southern England, featuring some Bollywood dancing (taught to a student on placement in Slough), a 9 parish benefice in a very wealthy area of Wiltshire, a couple of Local Ecumenical Partnerships functioning with various degrees of success and diocesan support on infamous estates, a church with no building to call it’s own and ghastly orange seats but good pastoral outreach, and varieties in worship that included BCP, charismatic evangelical, anglo-catholic Eucharistic, and some that were just middle of the road Common Worship with few frills. In the other group our final year pioneer ordinand stretched the worship context still further I gather. Some were old, some were new, some used borrowed buildings (or lent them out) and one was sadly blue.
All were church. Each provided worship in at least one form, some several. They were meeting different peoples understandings of God, enabling the Christ-light to shine in their communities, and feeding different spiritualities.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m moving from an open charismatic evangelical context in my ‘sending parish’ to a high, Eucharistic choral tradition in my title parish (the choral element being the one I’ve experienced very little of till now). In both, other forms of worship are used at some services, including styles like BCP and Taize. I know I meet God in a variety of worship styles, in Word and more recently in Sacrament, in creation and in creative acts, thus my expectation is to develop the skills that mean I can serve communities by being flexible and competent at a whole variety of worship styles that can draw different people closer to God.
There was a lot about context too. I can’t see learning Bollywood dancing being particularly relevant to the worship of every parish in the CofE just yet! One parish in my own diocese featured, a place where the image of ‘tent stretching’ was highlighted, stretching from a very traditional building through a congregation planted into a school, homegroups, house communions, Costa-pastoring and youth groups, and more. The apparent success of this (measured in contact points between church and people, not bums on seats) seem to somewhat belie Jesus’ teaching in this passage that you shouldn’t sew new bits into an old garment, and am erring towards the heresy of disagreeing with the Biblical portrayal of Jesus.
But, before I’m excommunicated and barred from ordination, what I think is at the heart of this is the need to seek to make Jesus come alive in a way that is authentic for the gathered community, both those who know God, and those who are yet to make that encounter. For, at the heart of this reading is the suggestion that Jesus is the bridegroom, the one to whom we are drawn to spend as much time as is possible. To me Jesus exemplifies the practice of a patchwork ministry, that is just as comfortable teaching on hillsides and in temple courts, challenging the authorities, and healing the sick in the streets and their homes. To be honest, worship styles weren’t something he really focused on, what mattered was about the honesty and authenticity of peoples encounters with him; where they being true to themselves, and simply being attention seeking or trying catching him out. My reflections on the churches I saw presented this weekend was where worship or pastoral practice is simply designed to draw attention to church, it wasn’t drawing local people into an encounter with God. Where worship and pastoral practice were authentic to and seeking to meet the needs of the local community, it was.
So that’s where I am tonight, following a patchwork Jesus, and looking forward to encountering him in old and new alike.
If you’re looking for Graham’s reflections on this reading, they’re here, and I’m off to read them myself now.