I am just back from a visit to Lincoln and the cathedral which I took with the crowd from the parish. We had a wonderful time, welcomed as we were by so many people, including the Diocesan Bishop who just happened to be wandering past us when we were in the great Edifice.
As I had a little spare time and didn't feel inclined to bankrupt my family in the cathedral shop, I paused a while and reflected on all that Lincoln Cathedral represents in a Christian context that is fast changing (or fast developing the appetite to change). Change is good, don't get me wrong, but not wholesale change. Whilst I consider it laudable that we have churches that seek to be messy, one-size-fits-all nuture courses for the 'un-churched' masses, play that is Godly, I wonder where the past and all that we have as a rich heritage fits into the funked-up world of the twenty-first century church of Christ.
Lincoln Cathedral's offering to the worshipping people was this:
- Simple structured liturgy done well
- Beautiful music sung ably
- Pastoral flourishes done with an open heart and outstretched arms
- Dignified worship that wasn't self-centred but a vehicle for the adoration of God
- A proper acknowledgement of the rich inheritance of the past that we enjoy (and take for granted) today.
- ...and all done to be inconspicuous so that we all may gaze on the Cross of Christ
Informality and its companions are good, but are only part of the story. If all of Christendom were funky and spontaneous I think it would all become uniform and mute. We would quickly become immune. There are those who condemn the worship at the catholic 'end' as 'old hat', 'disconnected', 'boring', and 'irrelevant'. I suspect that they have never been to a cathedral to witness its worship because to see it is to know that it is still very profound, connecting and wholly relevant. And yes, worshipping the Lord in the same place that a millenium's congregations have poured our their hearts and souls to Christ is itself a humbling and wonderful thing. The stones are like sponges; you can hear the music in the place many hours after the last soprano leaves the building; you can feel the prayer ricocheting around like so many atoms. The Spirit is palpable in such places.
Amen to the future; amen to moving forward; amen to new advances and new intiatives in worship. However, I can't help thinking that when the messy church is finally tidied, the godly play comes of age and the one-size-fits-all nurture course is found to be terminally restrictive - at that point I sense that Lincoln Cathedral will still be doing simple structured liturgy well, singing beautiful music ably and with a pastoral heart and arms. To move forward without regard and respect to the past inheritance feels a little like the antics of the Prodigal Son!