Yesterday some of the group attended the sung eucharist at a church in Oxford that will remain unnamed. The singing was beautiful, as it was at St. Paul's two weeks before, but the sermon was as bad as the singing was good. It was nearly heretical, in fact.
Afterwards, as we were discussing the sermon, I learned from some of the Anglicans in our group that the more orthadox group within the denomination had split off from the rest, claiming to be the real Anglican communion. One of the girl's brothers was actually able to attend GAFCOM in Jerusalem. The conference of the more liberal Anglicans is going to be held this week or next here in Oxford. Here's a link for an article for those interested:
In light of our discussion, the sermon made much more sense. Clearly, it was directed towards the Anglican separatists. I don't think he realized that he had a large group of them in the congregation that day- our group. Some of them did not say "hear our prayer" at times. They were excited about this- the potential purification of the Anglican church and movement back towards what is biblically sound under new leadership.
Before we left for England, Dr. Ryken talked to us about the decline of the church in Europe, the old churches falling into disrepair or turned into museums, with falling numbers of parishioners. My experience in church attendance here has been more encouraging. I loved St. Paul's, but how could anyone not love it? It's saturated with tradition, the inside is beautifully adorned-- the walls sparkle with gold and silver, deep blues and reds. The raw light coming in from the dome creates pockets of heat and light while other places stay cool- this natural lighting increases the old feeling of the church. You feel totally transported and want to cry as the voices of the choir echo against the marble walls. Here was a beautiful tradidtion and a sound sermon.
Last week also in London, we attended All Souls Church. I have never seen a more multicultural congregation. After one visit, this was the dominant impression I got from this church. The sermon was about 1 Cor. 9 and being multicultural. I enjoyed the music and the sermon and thought their message was right also.
In church yesterday, I was struck that this is a critical time for the church. There has to be more than Sunday morning. Maybe Sunday morning alone was enough once, but it's not now. To impact the world, there needs to be movement beyond Sunday. Sunday morning is for meeting together and worshipping in community and learning from scripture. But that is not all that needs to happen in the Christian life.
The sung eucharist we attended yesterday was sharply contrasted to a small meeting we had last night. We used the Book of Common Prayer, we read the Collect, the passages of scripture for evening prayer, sung the doxology at the end. There was no choir, but there was prayer. And I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit more than in church. Praying together does something in a community- it creates unity and love and recoginition of a shared purpose- the thing that is most important to all of us is the same, and even if we sometimes debate about poetry or semantics or learning or comedic conventions, this we all share.
Mega churches claim this setting in their small groups as the vindication of their large production Sunday services. And there is real value in it. The small group setting most closely mirrors Jesus' interaction with the disciples, and the closeness that would have been present in the early church. Now I feel like things are so spread out. In the early church- the body was their primary community. Acts says that they lived together, sharing everything they had.
How can it be alright to have reduced our conception of church to a Sunday morning experience? There needs to be more, especially if the church will impact the world. I'm not arguing that churches stop meeting together by any means, quite the opposite, they need to meet together more. The church needs to take action- to live service in the local community, to go out like George Herbert and help the man whose wagon had overturned. I guess I would like a refreshing in the church- for all the members to know the power of the Holy Spirit and rediscover that gospel means "good news" that changes people's lives, that the body would have this joy in their lives and it would be evident to the world through action- service, outreach, having an others-centered view of life. There cannot only be maintenance on Sunday, struggling to hang on Christianity. There must be lifeChristianity, action, reality. There is struggle present here as well, but the church needs to try. It cannot sit in the pew any longer.