The return of the lapsed Anglican

 

Recently I posted a blog encouraging us to carefully consider how we might change the substance of our Sunday gatherings in order to accommodate outsiders who may find our formalities to be a barrier to them joining the congregation.

In the midst of the debate that unfolded, one of the commenters drew our attention to a Sydney Morning Herald article from a few months ago, entitled “’Our father’? More like oh, brother”.

In this article in the ‘Heckler’ section, (which regularly publishes rants and tongue-in-cheek contributions from readers), author Louise George told her candid, outsider’s perspective on how she visited an Anglican church that had become far more informal than what she had previously experienced when she attended as a child.

In her entertaining, and often raw-nerve-hitting piece, she gives a voice to many of the silent visitors who lament the loss of the traditional forms of worship she found familiar and comfortable.

In essence, her main objection is that by removing the form and structure of the traditional Anglican service, we have lost the sense of importance and occasion.

In other words, she felt like the people at church didn’t really care about what was happening because it looked like the whole event was not properly planned and presented.

There’s no excuse to be sloppy

In my own experience of visiting a variety of church gatherings over many years, Ms George’s comments resonate strongly.

Too often, our gatherings just seem to be thrown together with little or no regard to the aesthetic or emotional dynamics, nor the theological flow of the meeting.

Maybe this comes from an attempt to communicate a “she’ll be right, mate” informality, so that those who choke on traditional liturgy will feel right at home in our laid-back churches.

Instead, we often communicate an “I don’t really care for anything except the sermon” attitude, which means that all of the rich ways in which the Word of God might dwell amongst us (cf. Colossians 3:16) are marginalised or disregarded.

It’s fine to look relaxed, but it doesn’t mean that we have an excuse to be sloppy in what we say and what we do, whether it’s the music or the Bible readings, the words of welcome or any prayers we might say together.

We are not called to be a museum

Yet, the objections in the SMH article also give us a valuable insight into the way that many ‘lapsed’ Anglicans feel about what we have done to the divine services they remember from their childhood.

They feel that the Church of England they grew up with should still be just the same it was when they were young, almost like a museum or a time capsule.

However, despite these objections, we have every reason to make changes in order to keep current with our ‘customers’, just as most organisations will regularly refresh their branding and their customer interface in order to maintain and increase market share.

If we don’t keep changing, then we will become a heritage artefact in a religious museum.

Responding to lapsed Anglicans

Yet, how should we respond to those who, like Ms George, find they have returned to a church where they no longer feel at home?

In one sense, we should be pleased that the return to the church has caused a sense of disequilibrium, which if handled well, might lead such lapsed Anglicans to peel back the layers of style and structures to engage directly with Jesus, in his Word.

Indeed, a church that no longer speaks to modern people with a 1662 English accent might cut through the religious packaging to the heart of the matter.

However, in another sense, we would be very wise to hear the legitimate objections raised to our sloppy, careless gatherings that, to quote Ms George, does “a disservice to everyone, particularly the young.”

Our church gatherings should be the highlight of the week, and whether or not we put on our ‘Sunday best’, we and everyone involved should at very least treat them as a slice of Heaven, as we join to meet Jesus in his word, by his Spirit, to the glory of the Father.

If we act like we don’t care about the gathering, then what does this tell the world about how we care about Jesus?

 

Jodie McNeill is a Word minister with Youthworks.

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