Tanworth-in-Arden is a small rural parish between Birmingham and Redditch. Paul Cudby, vicar of St Mary Magdalene church, explains what they are doing to reach those who don't 'do' church.
There is a large commuter contingent here and in many ways there is a sense of suburban-church-in-the-country about the place. We recognise that in a diverse culture we need to meet a wide variety of needs and so the pattern of worship varies across the month.
Rhythm of God (RoG) is a monthly evening service which we subtitle 'Contemplative Prayer Drumming'. Our aim is to use rhythm and the natural rhythm of words to aid us in a form of Lectio Divina – meditating on a short passage of scripture or a creed – in which the rhythm of a phrase can be played by the drummer as a way of taking the words down deeper into the soul, and as a leaping off point for worship. At the end of the session we sit in silence for a time and then anyone can share what they felt, experienced or thought during the service.
The numbers attending are fairly small but for some of them this is their only experience of church, which is fine because this is church. Specifically this refers to a number of teenagers who I initially met because they attended a weekly drumming class I run at the neighbouring church primary school. When they move up to secondary school they are invited to start coming to RoG, some of whom now do regularly. For most of them this is their way of seeing church and my co-leader (Tim Scarborough) and I recognise the missional nature of the service.
We have now got six or seven lads on the books with usually four of them there at any one time. One now helps us with our standard all age services but he finds that Rhythm of God is the place where everything 'joins up' for him. We are gradually evolving our own liturgy and also seeing some interesting outcomes. One of the lads is aged about 12 or 13 and when we ask for any responses after our silence at the end of the service, he comes out with some things that are amazing – quite profound and mystical.
For me, this is something that has grown out of a personal passion for music. I started playing drums when I was 16, later getting involved with percussion and I now play folk clubs and pubs across the area. Anyone coming to a Rhythm of God service will arrive about 20 minutes beforehand so that we can just play to warm up.
The Well, also monthly, is a service of contemporary night prayer and meditation with musical contribution from celtic harp, piano and percussion. Once again there is a strong missional element in providing a contemplative place to explore our relationships with God for those who are either uncomfortable in traditional church or not available on Sundays.
In each of these cases the numbers are small by city standards and some query the need for these services but that is the nature of rural work in my (limited) experience and there's no doubt they have become church and a spiritual lifeline to people.
We're also in the process of developing a contemplative Eucharist under our 'Soul-Space' banner (a name derived from Greenbelt and an explorers group we run) for those attending our youth group. Five or six had decided they wanted to be confirmed but for most of them, Sundays are not a good time. I said I would be very happy to have a youth group communion service in the vicarage for them once or twice a term – very quiet, very reflective, lots of candles and incense. At this point I have given them a reflective outline to consider what they would like to do with it. They are excited at the prospect and so am I.