Sunday, 5 April 2009

Liturgy, informality and remembering water

I could tell this morning at Oullins that I wasn't in Switzerland. We didn't start the service on time - in a Geneva Protestant Church this would not go down well, it's quite a big difference when you cross the border.(Think Swiss watches and clocks and you begin to understand why!)
Sometimes we talk about the "liturgy after the liturgy" but this morning we had a great lunch after the service but before the service we also had a sort of "gathering before the liturgy". It was spring time, the sunshine was out, the garden was in flower, people were having fun chatting and meeting up, and it was difficult to get people to move in to the worship space. In the end we managed to gather in the worship space and the worship flowed between formality and informality. Holding that together is quite a challenge for a visiting worship leader but it was fun remembering water in the Bible with them and reflecting on Jesus washing his disciples feet.
When I first started working in the French Reformed Church I sometimes used to feel frustrated at the inability of anything to actually start - not entirely suprising given that I trained at the more high church end of the low church spectrum. I used to feel the need to shape things and get things going - these days I just try to make sure that the notices don't last twice as long as the sermon!
Nowadays I understand better that the informality comes from the community gathering, the chatter and noise is part of the holy preparation and I imagine that in Jesus' time it was not so different. The synagogues and sycamore trees were almost certainly informal community times and not ritualistic well-behaved occasions ressembling middle class dinner parties with people being on their best behaviour.
In Switzerland where Protestants don't feel in a minority they seem to like things to be on time and not last too long. In France Protestants are in the minority and tend to be willing to take a bit more time.
I'm still not sure what Calvin would make of any of this - nor how any of our churches today would cope with his style of preaching and leading worship! Back in the 1600s Sunday worship was not supposed to be the perfect 55 minute pearl of poetic perfection which "busy" professionals seem to impose as a norm on the Genevan church.