Sursum corda

5 01 2010

With my colleague’s permission, I’ve posted a copy of a brief email exchange we had over the liturgy for Christmas Day. As we had no Christmas Day service in the Sunday Sanctuary, I was presiding at St Peter’s. We were discussing the opening lines to the Eucharistic Prayer, known as the sursum corda. It is optional in Common Worship, the Church of England’s authorised liturgy whether to start with either:

  • ‘The Lord is here’, to which all respond: ‘His Spirit is with us’; or:
  • ‘The Lord be with you’, to which all respond: ‘And also with you’.

Here’s wot I writ:

I’ve generally preferred ‘The Lord is here’ because I’ve wondered whether the repetition of ‘the Lord be with you/and also with you’ through more catholic liturgy that I’ve experienced doesn’t focus attention on the priest and the people responding to her/him rather than on God and her presence with us. Any thoughts?

Alex responded:

With a catholic theology of the sacrament, to say ‘The Lord is here…’ immediately before the prayer of consecration seems a little previous…! That’s why I guess Protestants prefer to score the opposite point by saying that the ‘Lord is [already] here’, because they think that nothing actually happens to the elements in the eucharistic prayer (there is no ‘consecration’). Though of course all agree that the Lord is here always.

I think for me ‘The Lord be with you’, usually used at the start of the mass, before the reading of the Gospel, before the Eucharistic Prayer, and before the blessing, has an almost contractual – or better ‘covenental’ – function in establishing that the Lord is present in the whole community of God’s priestly people gathered for worship, but who collectively acknowledge the particular role of the ordained priest to preside on behalf of all in the Lord’s name. The ordained priest begins, as it were, by saying that the priesthood belongs to everybody, then everyone passes it back, so to speak.

Why should any of you reading this be interested in the finer points of Anglican liturgy. I guess if you are, you are and if not, then this isn’t going to set your heart-a-racing! And why am I posting this on a blog that puports to be about mission at the cutting edge? Well because that mission, as far as I am involved in it, is still Anglican mission. We can’t escape questions of liturgy, even if we’d like to. Personally, I wouldn’t like to (escape questions of liturgy). If anything they’re all the more pronounced when we’re outside the familiar territory. Because as much as I’m not in the business of fostering worship-shaped church, but mission-shaped church, that doesn’t mean there’s no worship!

Anyway, this little exchange helped me to understand the eucharist and priesthood from a more catholic perspective. Something I’ve explored quite a bit in my training but there‘s always more to learn. I’d welcome anybody else’s thoughts on this…





Can I stop being a Christian now, please?

18 07 2009

It was Constantine what messed it up. I’ve heard it said. I’ve said it myself. Perhaps, if he hadn’t Christianity wouldn’t be a world faith. But I think there is something in the idea that the way he brought the church and the state together kind of changed Christianity and made it something different to what Jesus had been about. And so maybe the world faith that Christianity became wasn’t proper no more.

I think the problem might go back a lot, lot further though. I think things might have gone askew in Antioch. Because it was in Antioch that ‘the disciples were first called Christians’. Before that, as I’ve said on this blog before they were called ‘followers of the way’.

The problem I see with the switch is that it changes from something dynamic to something static. It goes from a description of your direction of travel to a statement of your arrival.

And it opens up that whole notion of conversion. One minute you are not. The next minute you are. You’ve reached the end point.

‘Metanioa’ — repentance — on the other hand is the word used for bringing a boat about. It’s about a change in direction. It’s about the way you travel being different than it was before but it leaves open the possibility that you may come about again. Maybe travelling on the way is, as Richard Passmore says, about tacking — moving in a direction but tangentally, repeatedly coming about to bring you back on course.

Christian means little Christ. That’s not something you can be. It can only ever be something you’re becoming.

If we’re followers on the way, fellow travellers, it’s much harder to determine who’s in and who’s out. Because none of us has arrived. Even baptism becomes a waymarker on the journey. So maybe that encourages us to be more humble.

The other question though is whether there is only the way. But that’s a whole other can of worms!





Isn’t this just what a good parish priest does?

26 02 2009

One of the local clergy at a recent social gathering asked my wife what was so different about what I am doing. Why call it ‘pioneer ministry’? Isn’t it all just what someone might do as a parish priest?

Well my answer to that question is somewhat fuzzied up by my involvement with St Luke’s – a parish church.

But a difference has been crystallising in my mind in recent days.

I have seen more than one  model of parish ministry. I have seen someone operate as pastor/chaplain to a fair-sized congregation. I have observed another trying to grow their fair-sized congregation by moving into more of a chairman-like role – leading the leaders (or serving the servants if you prefer!) Those models are more prevalent, I think it’s fair to say, in more evangelical settings.

I’m not here to dis’ those approaches. They work to an extent if by doing so you can motivate your congregation for the work of mission. But you need a fair-sized congregation to start with. And it tends to result in an attractional model of mission. All well and good if you’re focused on the open dechurched. But if you’re attempting to make church happen out where the unchurched and closed dechurched people are at, it may well not get you very far.

Another model is a more incarnational one. Often, in more catholic leaning parishes, the priest sees her/his role as focused on the parish directly, not the parish through the congregation so much as in the previous models I’ve mentioned. That form of ministry places the priest in the community. It’s a ministry of presence. That’s perhaps closer to what I’m about in the pioneer role I have.

The difference, I think, is that those sorts of parish ministry tend to be about breadth of presence. You just are seen about in lots of different settings and so the community gets to know and trust you. Brilliant. But not the same as what I’m doing. I will be in a variety of settings over the next six months. But in order to identify/choose the one that will be the focus. A lot of what I do may well be about presence. But it will be sustained presence in one place. I will be looking to make *church* happen. But church as sharing a journey of spiritual exploration with all sorts of people – certainly not just those with a christian commitment. So it’s about depth of presence.

Now as I said that is complicated by my dual role, because it may be that one or two of the things I leave aside in making a choice about pioneer ministry, I pick up in relation to my parish role. But even that may well involve a new form of church community that doesn’t look quite like what church has traditionally been expected to look like. The St Luke’s post was advertised as requiring some form of fresh expression. We (the community at St Luke’s) don’t know as yet what form that will take, but we’re certainly asking the question…

ps. Sorry, this is a very Anglican post. I am an Anglican priest, and the language I have for exploring this topic is Anglican, but I know these issues are not being faced by the Church of England alone!