Lucy Moore wonders how to incorporate liturgy without compromising messiness.
The question of appropriate liturgies, usually for a proposed Messy Communion, often comes up at training days for Messy Church.
There's a divided reaction. The Anglicans take on a hunted air, while those of other denominations just look smug or slightly baffled that such a question should be any sort of a problem. I was chewing floorboards at the question raised at General Synod about Messy Church, which was not along the lines of 'How can we encourage and equip churches in this growth area?', but 'Has the Liturgical Commission considered whether it should produce guidelines or materials which would enable those leading Messy Church events to bring the worship into line with the principles behind Common Worship?'
Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The answer given suggested that as the Liturgical Commission was in touch with Messy Church, it was fine not to make us compromise our messiness. I did get in touch with the Liturgical Commission some years ago to see if there could be permission to try out different communion liturgies. It was then that I (a lifelong Anglican) learned that what makes Anglicans Anglican is our liturgy: a revelation to me.
Liturgy means 'the people's work'. Its roots are linked to the words for 'public service'. When a bishop recently led a Messy Church confirmation service, it caused the diocese to see that this different congregation needs a different form of liturgy from one eminently suitable for services in cathedrals. The church then has a choice: either she decrees that the new form of church has got it wrong in its attitude to church behaviour and must learn to conform to existing liturgies on formal occasions at least (or do without them altogether 'until it learns some manners'), or she sees an opportunity to grow liturgies appropriate and meaningful to the new congregation.
This does not entail dumbing anything down. It involves reimagining what liturgy can do at its best: providing 'portable poetry' that seeps out at home, at school and at work, in our contented bathtime warblings and our arrow prayers of despair – the articulation of porous grace osmosing from the gathered church into everyday life to make a difference to whole communities.
It might also mean encouraging local churches to recognise the best liturgy for their own idiosyncratic congregation. In other words, become a resource rather than a requirement. This is the sort of liturgy I could get excited about.