“The times they are a’changing” is certainly true regarding “Family” participation in our worship and it is clear that traditional ways of incorporating families are failing.
One factor is that when I was first ordained in 1952, we were dealing with a population who, having been taught in our Sunday Schools had some smattering of the Christian Faith; that generation has died out and as evangelists (something we should all be), we are starting with a clean sheet.
The tendency has been to regurgitate what was done in the past, forgetting that today many have no idea who Jesus was, or indeed any contact with worship, except in the most limited form.
We have an “All-age” Communion, to which rarely do extra come, apart from the normal congregation. The problem, is, that if they come, they are presented with a service where they will be excluded from the essential heart of it as they are not confirmed.
“Messy Church” has its advocates, but if they are not intended to lead to full participation, then you have the danger of creating an “alternative” congregation who will go their own merry way.
I was surprised to read in the Diocesan magazine from one such leader that their activities were designed to form another congregation, apart from the main worship. Yet in the Bible Reading Fellowship bulletin (which is the main source of Messy Church), it is stated quite clearly that its goal is to feed participants into mainstream worship. As long ago as the 1950s.when I was part of the Children and Family Worship Section of the Education Committee, we had realised the dangers of avoiding this need to incorporate newcomers, of whatever age, into mainstream worship.
We decided to launch a new approach, where we encouraged our children to come (with their parents if possible) to the Parish Communion. Any lone child would be accompanied by a member of the congregation, and they did so.
Instruction in the Faith was done on a weekday evening, and followed the then Methodist practice of dividing them into groups according to the level they had achieved.
Annually, certificates for progress were presented by the Bishop at the Cathedral, when the nave was full of excited and happy children.
A new Diocesan Director of Education decided to abandon this, and unhappily as a result our numbers of children in church were reduced.
However this has recently been revived in a new way and is spreading where much the same set-up is established, but this time, including the parents as well, so that families learn and worship together.
Imitating Alpha groups, often there is a simple meal (befoere or after) so that the Social and Spiritual combine.
Two years ago, I watched the (recorded) Easter Communion from St. Alban’s Abbey, where among other parishes they have adopted this new approach. I was astonished to see large numbers of parents and their children join the Service at the Offertory having had teaching elsewhere. Obviously the Bishop approved. with children of about 8yrs.old and over, receiving Communion with reverence.
We were told at a meeting about “Mission” that half of the parishes in our Diocese have NO children worshipping with them.
How Jesus must weep. Our ministry to families should be a priority, so talk about it, pray about it, think about it and then see whether this might be the way forward.
Working for four years side-by-side with hardened Durham miners was one of the great “turning” moments of my life; not that I had led a sheltered life, for together with living in a working man’s pub, “The Brewers Arms” since I was 13, had realised how completely the average man (and woman) was divorced from any experience of worship and The Church.
Thinking (as I often do) about my life experiences, it confirmed what a wise priest had told me some years previously that “The Church of England hasn’t lost the working class, but since the Reformation, it never had them”.
He was referring to the fact that with the desire to abolish anything that was tainted by Roman Catholic teaching and practise, the “old ways”, had to be condemned and eliminated.
A study of Eamonn Duffy’s book “The Stripping of the Altars” shows how the life of the community was centred around the parish church and involved the congregation in the performing of its worship.
The various crafts often had a side chapel or an altar (for which they were responsible), dedicated to the patron saint of their craft and there were processions within the worship, in which the whole congregation took part; not just the robed clergy and choir as became the norm when these were revived in the Oxford Movement 1800s, which itself led to the reawakening of the Church of England.
Processions taught that the whole Christian community was a “moving” Community, such as at Candlemass, when the whole congregation proceeded around the church, carrying their lighted candles to the four corners of the building, signifying their missionary role in taking the Good News to the four corners of the world in response to Jesus’ command (Matthew 28,vv16-end).
Sunday Schools were very much a Victorian innovation; the Prayer Book states that the children are to be taught within a normal service, that is at Prayer Book Evensong, presumably attending with their parents.
The modern “after-church” coffee had a forerunner in the “Churchyard Ales” that were provided by the Churchwardens after Mass to which medieval parish accounts bear witness.
Homemade wine that I brewed in the “Six Pilgrims” (in the absence of any available water or facilities for coffee making) was instrumental in binding the six communities together, so that they regularly worshipped together something about which the Archdeacon had said “They’ll never worship and work together”, but they did and still do.
The key to that benefice’s revival was the eating and drinking together after worship which ties up with the practise of the Early Church that met socially prior to the Lord’s Supper.
There was no separate “Children’s Church” or other gathering for different age groups, but families joined in the one Christ-ordered commemoration, learning together. Not only by what they were formally taught in the sermon, but in the participation.
During the two-plus years I struggled at Swanmore, the introduction of a Carol Service at Christmas, of which a part involved a procession to the Crib, attracted four times the usual Sunday numbers (i.e. 50 instead of 15). The following Christmas brought even more, that included many Dads.
“History repeats itself” we are told and perhaps if we looked back to pre-Reformation times, or even to the 1st century, we may find inspiration to revive a flagging Church?
You will hardly believe this, but when I first announced that we, at Holy Trinity, Taunton in 1957 were going to hold a “Family Service” on a Sunday afternoon, it provoked criticisms and queries from officialdom.
“What’s the problem?” Simply I was diverging from the fact that anything that wasn’t in the Prayer Book was technically “illegal” and so we were breaking the law. Had I not promised to “use this Book and none other, except that permitted by “Lawful authority” (i.e., The Bishop)?
None of the official services were immediately understood by a newcomer, hence the enquiry from the Palace (at Wells) as to “What was George Rayner up to?”
A “Family Service” hitherto, was only provided in a tiny number of parishes, one factor being the difficulty in producing something imaginative, but helpful regularly, particularly if they have no goal to which they lead.
The Palace replied that the Bishop would so allow, provided that they were limited in number and required that at the end they were designed to enable newcomers to understand the Communion Service, enabling them to graduate to the Parish Communion.
In my training parish, the morning Sunday School, taking place at 11 a.m. attended the Sung Mass monthly, during which one of the 3 clergy stood in the central aisle and talked them through the service.
With the rules prevailing at that time, only the elderly and infirm, together with the priest, received Communion. This wasn’t very successful, for to receive Communion, one had to be confirmed and come at the 8 a.m. Said Mass
Asked by Archdeacon Caroline in 2011 to see if we (hopefully with the Holy Spirit’s help) could breathe life into the failing parish of Swanmore, St. Michael’s, we tried the same technique, but although widely advertised, it was an abject failure.
Sunday morning football, or shopping at Tesco (or wherever) were now the claimant for attention on a Sunday, and God was forgotten (that is, if they ever knew Him) and this is because The Church has since the War failed to communicate the Faith to its parishioners.
Enter a Dorset priest who launched a “Family Concept”, designed to reach out, not to individual children, but to whole families and planned around the Communion Service.
Following a light meal (something familiar to “Alpha” groups) the meeting works around the Communion itself, and is proving efficient in teaching the faith through the only worship ordered by Our Lord.
Of course, initially they won’t understand it (but, do you?), taught carefully and in simple language even very young children can take the basic ideas on board. I have witnessed such a gathering in a Care Home for Down’s Syndrome children and the rapt attention that they gave, showed that we are able to “apprehend” the meaning if not “comprehending”.
The Early Church’s worship was centred round two meals; first the Supper which enabled all to meet as a community (something that is being done monthly at St. Mary’s) and then after a pause (during which extra lights were brought in to signify that something vital was to take place) continued to the Eucharist.
The Roman Catholics can worship on Saturday evening (which might be a good time to institute a gathering on those lines) for in The Church Calendar, Sunday begins at evening on Saturday.
I’m chucking out ideas, for the truth remains, that unless we consider drastic changes, and this Jotting is designed to invite you to think about the future, for the world is changing fast, and The Church and its worship must do so too.
“I didn’t enjoy that service for one moment. I shall never come here again”; the lady was furious as she came out of St. Edmund’s, having attended the first Sung Communion held there since, probably, the Reformation.
“Why?” I enquired. “Was it the vestments and servers?”
“No, when I come to church I expect my books to be handed to me by a gentleman, and it was a young girl that did so, and I cannot accept that!”
I tried to explain to her, that we were trying to encourage the youngsters by giving them a job to do at the service, but she was having none of it.
“Children should not do important tasks when there are men to do it; I resent having my books handed to me by a girl and I certainly won’t be coming here again!” So, off she flounced, red in the face with indignation. However, at least, she didn’t threaten to complain to the Bishop.
This illustrates how some people see children in church; they are lesser beings, but a book published to great acclaim in the 1950s suggested that children were a “Church in waiting”.
It was entitled “Tomorrow’s Church” and was designed to encourage a new approach to Children’s Work, which we had never treated so seriously and methodically as our Methodist friends,
It wanted to make the way we approached the subject more important and the theme was that these youngsters were the “Church of Tomorrow” when even then the average age of congregations had risen, something many thought dangerously low.
It was seized upon by many clergy who seemed to think that it would bring a new approach to Children’s Work. When ordained, I was heavily involved with the Church’s Education, and so this had been a relevant factor in my approach, but I was not alone in thinking that the whole idea was wrong.
Together with like-minded students at College, we criticised the book because we thought it had the wrong approach.
If the youngsters were baptised, and therefore Christians, surely, they were as much “Today’s Church” as the oldest and most important.
At that time, it was still customary for youngsters to be excluded from Communion until they were confirmed at about 14yrs of age. Anyone who has really tried to understand youngsters know that at that age, they are subject to many conflicting emotions with puberty, and almost incapable of making a solemn decision of this nature.
Despite the “Ely Commission” agreeing that it is Baptism that makes you a Christian, when General Synod finally agreed in 2005 that children, baptised but unconfirmed may, (after suitable instruction) receive Communion, nevertheless it was left to individual Bishops to make the final decision for their Diocese only.
The Methodists admit young children to Communion when they are deemed suitable, The Eastern Orthodox administer Communion (with a spoon) at Baptism, the Roman Catholics at about 8 yrs. old. It appears it is only the Church of England that treats young worshippers in this rather dismissive manner.
“All-age” Communions would be more pastorally satisfactory, if they were in fact truly “all-age” Communions with young children being treated, not as “Tomorrow’s Church”, but as they are by baptism “Today’s Church”, enabling whole families, young and old, to share in the “Great Feast” rather than simply having possibly, a pat on the head and a prayer.
This will prove relevant in next week’s “Jottings”.
It was July, 1994 and the Devil rubbed his hands with glee! His surprised assistant enquired, “Why?” The Devil replied “You’ll never believe this but wonderful news; the English Parliament has passed a law to allow shops to open on a Sunday and you can bet that within a few years, everything will be open on Sunday; Shops, Cinemas, Horse Racing, and Football. Oh, there’s endless attractions that will eventually come gradually into place and Sunday will never be the same, thank goodness!” To take place in August, 1964.
It was rumoured that the Prime Minister had suggested a compromise to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but apparently he had refused to accept the idea of a Continental Sunday, where nothing should commence before noon. However, it seems The Most Revd. George Carey was not disposed to budge and so it was “All or nothing” and in the end, it was “Nothing”.
The floodgates have opened and with every manner of activity open to people of all ages all day Sunday (except the limited hours for large superstores) is it any wonder that congregations suffered, without any positive fight back from the Established Church.
This added to the impact that the explosion of Family Cars on the roads in the 1950s had made, (So much so that when as a curate at that time, children would come at Easter, telling me they wouldn’t be in church on a Sunday as “Dad has just licensed our new car until the Autumn and we shall be off to the seaside until October!”
Trouble was that they didn’t return; the bond had been irrevocably broken.
Now, moving to my first benefice, Holy Trinity, I discovered that there was a Sunday School run by a very uncooperative elderly lady in the afternoon at 2.30 at which little else was done but read Bible Stories to the children. She would never allow them to come into the church from the nearby Day-school, “They were too young!”
Our partnership (or lack of it) ended when she departed in high dudgeon with the parting ripost “Interfering young Vicars” leaving me and her charges.
At the time, the Diocese of Bath and Wells had an imaginative scheme called “The Guild of St. Michael”, designed to inculcate in our children the habit of attending the normal Parish Communion. This was proving a great success which we adopted, but this brought the cry “Apart from the sermon, the children won’t receive any regular teaching?” However, we had plans for that.
Simple. We held Sunday School on Wednesday evenings, when we taught them in as helpful a way as we could; at the end of which they joined in singing the Evening service of Compline (plainsong) followed by suitable refreshments. They loved it!
Under the Guild’s membership rules they were required to promise to attend the Sunday morning service, encouraging their parents to accompany them, which gradually together with other endeavours, they did.
The Pope, when he allowed non-fasting Communion, enabling Communion Services to be held in the evenings opened the door for the Saturday Evening “Vigil Mass”. Now growing encouragingly.
When I introduced regular Evening Communions in the 1950s (long before the Pope!) my fellow High Church clergy suggested that I had “Gone all Evangelical” until the Supreme Pontiff said it was OK, then, so did they! I did it for pastoral reasons and there are no Fasting Communion rules in the Book of Common Prayer.
There are ways in which the Devil can be dealt with, but it will require imagination, readiness to change and perhaps recourse to the Early Church History to establish new kinds of good habits to do so.