A little liturgical problem

by Richard on April 28, 2008

We had a ‘Circuit Service’ tonight for the dedication of the Easter Offerings. British Methodists will know what that’s about and I don’t suppose it will make any difference to those who don’t know. An order of service, or liturgy, for the worship is provided by Network and the service was organized and led by women of the Circuit, so I’d anticipated having a night off. However, when I arrived at the church my colleague felt it would be fitting if I were to lead the blessing at the end of the service. That’s OK, but this is where the problem arises.

This is what the order of service said: (bold type is to be said by the whole congregation)

BLESSING
Mahatma Ghandi said, ‘ Be the change you want to see in the world.’

Jesus said, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses’.

Let us go in the power of the Spirit, to make a difference in the world, for the glory of God. Amen

I was immediately troubled by this. It took me a moment to realise why, and I’m not certain that I wasn’t being over-sensitive. I’m not a liturgist, but it seemed to me that the pairing of ‘Ghandi said…Jesus said…’ at the close of the service was not very appropriate. On the other hand, everyone had a copy of the order of service, so would know if I made any changes. And I don’t want anyone getting the idea that I’m agin the idea of quoting Ghandi.

My solution was to keep the structure, but add a couple of ad libs, something like as follows:

Mahatma Ghandi spoke to the highest human wisdom when he said…
But as we have heard, the desire, even the determination to be changed and be an agent of change is not enough. Our transformation only becomes possible in and through the power of our creator God. So we end our service with the words with which we began:
Jesus said, …

What do you think?

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Earl 04.28.08 at 1:00 am

No matter who organized the service, the liturgy was fundamentally flawed. You found a good way to handle a inexcusable situation.

2

John Meunier 04.28.08 at 2:58 am

I like your solution.

I used the Gandhi quote as an example of something we don’t believe in a sermon recently. My daughter was outraged, and we had a good talk about why.

3

jim 04.28.08 at 3:22 am

If you were to strip that quote of it’s author, many western Christians would have trouble discerning whether it was a Christian quote or not!

Your restructuring looks good. A responsible choice, in my opinion. I only wish others were as attentive.

4

J 04.28.08 at 3:25 am

You weren’t being over sensitive, and you handled it perfectly. Actually, this is a pretty good “Holy Spirit at work” story.

5

Kim 04.28.08 at 7:02 am

Really agile thinking on your feet: excellent preface, theologically right and pastorally sensitive to the women who wrote the service. Now: who gives them the private bollocking so they don’t do this sort of thing again?

6

Methodist Preacher 04.28.08 at 9:37 am

Richard, I was really pleased to read of your discomfort on this point and your creative and instinctual response.

I don\’t have a problem using extre Scriptural or non-Christian material in Sermons, after all some quote Shakespeare, I occasionally quote Marx and Robert Tressel.

The problem with litergy and responsive phrases is that we are often asked to signify agreement to something we may know little about. I rarely join in the responses on such occasions, sometimes even refraining from \”Amen\”.

As to the use of the words of Ghandi: we had a local Indian pastor who didn\’t have a good word to say about Ghandi. It was quite a shock. Until then I thought everyone had admired Ghandi both east and west.

The pastor explained that, despite repeated requests from India\’s Christian community, Ghandi had never denounced temple prostituion with its associated trafficking and ill treatment of young girls. Given Network\’s prominent campaigning on this issue, it may be that they need to consider this before billing Ghandi alongside Jesus in future litergies.

Finally a comment about the Network. I think they are really off the rails and have moved onto some sort of non-Christian spirituality. A few years ago they were \”circle dancing\” at one of their conferences - you know the dances our ancestors did just before torching a human sacrifice and long before they had heard of Jesus.

7

PamBG 04.28.08 at 11:39 am

I like your addition and I think it was appropriate.

I remember once using a Kahil Gibran (sp?) poem in a service and I prefaced it with the statement ‘Of course, this is not a reading that we take with the same authority as Scripture, but this poem does illustrate the same points as today’s reading’. A number of people came up to me after the service and said that they were glad I’d said that.

There is ’something’ about being the minister or preacher and speaking from the front at an authorised service that causes people to give heavy weight to our words. Sometimes more weight than we’d want them to!

8

PamBG 04.28.08 at 11:49 am

Finally a comment about the Network. I think they are really off the rails and have moved onto some sort of non-Christian spirituality. A few years ago they were \”circle dancing\” at one of their conferences - you know the dances our ancestors did just before torching a human sacrifice and long before they had heard of Jesus.

I don’t actually know about the circle dancing ‘incident’, but given that Network includes all Methodist women, I question the idea that the organisation has gone into ’some sort of non-Christian spirituality’.

Are you suggesting that because ancient Britons danced in circles before engaging in human sacrifice that this means that no Christian can ever dance in a circle?

Personally speaking, I think that the Blessing Richard cited is a great example of what happens when we keep chanting the mantra that theological training is unnecessary for those who preach and lead worship. (I mention this because it has been a recent discussion in ‘The Methodist Recorder’)

9

Dave Warnock 04.28.08 at 12:44 pm

Pam,

I guess David H does not celebrate Christmas as that was a pagan festival that was Christianised.

Personally I was just reading a good book on worship “Tools for transformation, making worship work” by Peter Craig-Wild. Makes me look for opportunities to engage people in worship in ways that include more participation, more senses, basically just more :-) For example I have been using rather more enacted prayer recently.

I could imagine some creative people coming up with some circle dances that could allow many of us with challenged coordination to worship in Spirit and Truth, to engage more senses. Imagine using one of those dances where you move onto a new partner all the time and using that to share the peace. It could be very powerful. Or as a way of praying for people, pray for someone by dancing with them. For many who find prayer in words difficult it could be a hugely powerful moment.

10

Paul Martin 04.28.08 at 1:34 pm

This suggests that Gandhi was against Temple prostitution

11

Richard 04.28.08 at 1:56 pm

A useful link - thanks Paul.

It isn’t really about Ghandi, though. I’d have been unhappy with the parallelism whoever had been quoted.

As for Network, every Methodist will be aware of their recent troubles but I think David H is way off the mark. Personally, I’d rather stick pins in my legs than go in for circle dancing, but some find it helpful, and good luck to them.

12

Paul Martin 04.28.08 at 2:02 pm

Totally agree re Gandhi point. I just wanted to clear the air re his stance rather than make a point re this liturgy. I missed the Easter Offering service in my circuit due to a Church anniversary elsewhere but I’ll be asking how they handled it tonight.

I don’t have a problem with circle dancing of itself. We have a history of taking over non Christian pratices and adapting them. Sorry that you are not up for the circle dancing, Richard. I had been imagining David, you and myself having a twirl together - Kin could join in as well!

13

Paul Martin 04.28.08 at 2:09 pm

Should have read Kim!

14

Methodist Preacher 04.28.08 at 2:29 pm

Thanks Paul, next time I see the Pastor I’ll mention this to him.

Busy earning a crust today so can’t get involved further in circle dancing though I think we should have a Methodist Mosh sometime - FP and I will take the lead as our children wince while we slug it out to be the most embarrassing Dad in Methodism.

Dave, won’t respond to the post about that Victorian invention called Christmas - I personally feel that religious people go on too much about “the real meaning of Christmas”. Easter and Pentecost are much more important fesivals.

Personally I need a good knees up in the middle of winter - but no circle dancing.

Back to work

15

John Cooper 04.28.08 at 2:54 pm

MP

I am intreigued to see you think that Easter and Pentecost somehow outplay Christmas when it comes to ‘important’ Christian festivals. Why?

I can’t see how the birth, the potential, the humble beginnings, the fact that all around people saw goodness within such a baby isn’t worth celebrating…

With Regards

John

16

Dave Warnock 04.28.08 at 3:58 pm

It comes as no surprise that when push comes to shove we see Richard supporting change and being pastorally sensitive and supportive while David H criticises from the sidelines.

Network are in the throws of very significant change in a search for efficiency in the Church, yet all David H (who has spent hours accusing Richard and others of being uninterested in change and efficiency) can do is mock them.

By their fruits …

17

Kim 04.28.08 at 4:45 pm

Desmond Tutu said never trust a bishop who can’t/doesn’t dance. Hey, and if we can “spoil the Egyptians” we can surely steal the dances of pagans, whatever their geometrical shape - and show them how to do it!

Btw, I acknowledge that Easter is the Christian festival, but I am puzzled why Pentecost should be “much” more important than Christmas (assuming that as Easter celebrates the resurrection, Christmas celebrates the incarnation), particularly as St. John collapses Pentecost into Easter (John 20:22). Having said that, I am sympathetic with David’s (MP’s) jibe at folk who go on (and on …) about “the real meaning of Christmas”, at least when it’s part of the annual tirade against secularism, materialism, consumerism, etc., etc. There are better sermons to preach at Christmas than the shooting-fish-in-the-barrel variety, particularly when they are motivated by the horrible thought of people having fun.

18

James 04.28.08 at 5:05 pm

This is probably a discussion you guys have in your sleep but I’m intrigued as to why you believe other religions should be used at all. I don’t think the quote is even that Christian as it suggests we should do things in our own power rather than through Gods grace (which is something distinctly Christian).

The reason I think Christmas is more harmful than it is good is because almost everything to do with Christmas seems to be fiction (the date, the stories etc…). It’s just made up.

Theres also another possible conclusion to take from this story but I don’t think I’ll bring it up just yet.

19

PamBG 04.28.08 at 5:35 pm

I don’t think the quote is even that Christian as it suggests we should do things in our own power rather than through Gods grace (which is something distinctly Christian).

Which was exactly the point that Richard made to the congregation rather than reading the text as it was given.

20

PamBG 04.28.08 at 5:45 pm

Network are in the throws of very significant change in a search for efficiency in the Church, yet all David H…can do is mock them.

What’s happening with Network is truly difficult and they could use everyone’s prayer. But it’s the accusation of heresy that gets me.

21

Kim 04.28.08 at 6:42 pm

Hi James,

The short answer to your question about the use of non-Christian sources is Philippians 4:8. Christians do not have a monopoly on “whatever is true …” What we do have is the criterion - Jesus Christ - for assessing them. But wherever they be found, the response should not be mean-minded suspicion but “God be praised!” After all, even heretics can be paragons of compassion (the Good Samaritan) and pagans paragons of faith (the centurion).

22

Methodist Preacher 04.28.08 at 6:55 pm

John - we’ll pick up the point about Christmas at a future date.

23

fatprophet 04.28.08 at 8:48 pm

A couple of points I felt I need to pick up on the first one being about theology training for those leading worship - there is a fair amount of this in Faith and Worship already and it is a fact that many people are turned off training as local preachers because of the current course. I suspect increasing the theology in it would put more people off and in reality may not make those who do take the course any more likely to use what they have learned.
The other point is in relation to the celebrating of Easter, Christmas and Pentecost and the relative importance of them or not as the case may be. I note comments were made about whether Christmas happens on the right date but surely the same could be said of Easter and Pentecost - it has been ridiculously early this year and of course moves about according to the phases of the moon. I would have thought the important thing was to celebrate these events,not when we celebrate and I think there is a lot of sense in having Easter and consequently Pentecost as fixed dates. In my opinion we can celebrate Easter every Sunday when we gather to worship the risen Lord. I also think that in some ways we can remember our Lord’s death every time we have a meal and break bread. It has always seemed to me that what happened at the last supper was essentially a normal meal that became something special because of what Jesus said on this occasion. He did say every time you do this do it in remembrance of Me - can that not be every meal we share as long as we do it in remembrance of Him?

24

Richard 04.28.08 at 9:45 pm

I think Faith & Worship is an excellent training course. It is demanding, but training as a preacher should be demanding. I’m afraid I simply don’t understand those who say that they want to be preachers, but aren’t prepared to train. I don’t think there’s any need to increase the amount of theology in F&W, though it should always be open to review. But recent conversations in the MR have implied that there’s no need for those leading worship to be bothered with all that theological stuff. The truth is, there is.

25

fatprophet 04.28.08 at 10:07 pm

As a connexional assessor for faith and worship I agree that there is much in there that is good and helpful to those who are ‘In Training’ and I agree that any training method should be the subject of periodic review.
I have followed the debate in the Methodist Recorder in respect of leading worship and I have to say that speaking from purely personal experience I have been preaching and leading worship for almost 20 years and up until 10 years ago was a visiting preacher on our plan. I have only been fully accredited since 2004 but theoretically have been preaching in the circuit for around 14 years. I was not entirely sure about faith and worship while I was studying it but my son reckons it has sharpened my preaching and that I am a far better preacher for having gone through it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to assess other preachers work and encouraged by the level of commitment and quality of work being submitted which can only bode well for the future of preaching in the Methodist Church.

26

PamBG 04.28.08 at 10:18 pm

I think Faith & Worship is an excellent training course. It is demanding, but training as a preacher should be demanding. I’m afraid I simply don’t understand those who say that they want to be preachers, but aren’t prepared to train. I don’t think there’s any need to increase the amount of theology in F&W, though it should always be open to review. But recent conversations in the MR have implied that there’s no need for those leading worship to be bothered with all that theological stuff. The truth is, there is.

I agree completely. I’m not calling for an increase in theology in the existing course.

I also realise in hindsight that I’ve assumed that the person who wrote the liturgy wasn’t trained, which was an assumption on my part and I probably ought not to have made it!

We’re sort of on to a different topic now, but I have some limited sympathy that F&W could be beyond the reach of some potentially good preachers. However, I heartily disagree with the attitude of ‘I don’t need to be trained because I’ve been called by the Spirit’ (and that was expressed in one of the letters.)

27

Dave Warnock 04.29.08 at 12:05 am

Going slightly back on topic.

Pam wrote “But it’s the accusation of heresy that gets me.”

I agree that some people in this room are far to free and easy chucking terms like that around. Yes David H, it is you I mean.

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