Visions and Transcendence

Sue Wallace reports on the development of Transcendence, an Ancient-Future mass in York Minster.

Going to Transcendence has been compared to stepping into a medieval painting, bathed in light and moving images. It's a place where you can sit on a cushion and watch the incense smoke curling through the projector beams, lighting up the futuristic technology, and journey around an ancient building by night, kneeling at a creative prayer installation.

Transcendence is a collaboration between York Minster and Visions, who have been doing alternative worship in St Cuthberts in York since 1991. In 2005 Sue Wallace did some MA research into the cultural and spiritual journeys of some residents of central York and all the respondents cited York Minster as a sacred space to them, even confessed athiests. They also felt that classical and ambient music was the most spiritual for them. Later, in 2006 Visions hosted some services in York Minster crypt while roof repairs were carried out at St Cuthberts.

Visions - robesOut of these elements an idea was born. What if Visions teamed up with the Minster once a month and created a new fresh expression? One that combined the best of what Visions and the Minster had to offer: beautiful singing; creative prayer; colourful visuals; liturgy with depth and passion combined with futuristic technology and a transcendent atmosphere of powerful approachable-otherness. An Ancient-Future Mass.

So after some time of talking, waiting and prayer a plan was hatched to try two of these services in November and December 2007. It was hard in a sense to imagine what this new service might be like, unless we actually tried it. Sometimes you just need to learn how to do something by doing it! The response has been completely wonderful!

A continuing element of Transcendence has been mixing up the old and the new. Using some quite ancient chants (some of which are older than most of the minster) and new elements such as live video mixing, beats and DJs. We named the service Transcendence is because we wanted that awesome atmosphere. We wanted to be able to go into a space where someone would want to fall on their knees and say 'Wow! God is amazing.'

Visions - screenYou could compare our video stuff to stained glass its just that it moves,  and its the same with the music. You could compare the DJs to the organ. They're doing basically the same job but in a different way. Yet the music and the images are the ones we listen to every day. There is a link there between our everyday lives and God, and  yet when we offer it in worship it is transformed. Every time we plan a service it feels like a completely new thing, a blank sheet of paper, and yet there's always a sense of familiarity. The journey is recognisable to those who want that sense of continuity.

We have had visitors from far and near and a huge age spread too. Old friends making a tentative return through the church doors and tourists from far-flung places who saw the publicity. God has been deeply touching people during the worship, especially during the creative prayer.

Each Transcendence we have tried has been different, and we are very much learning as we go along. It is exciting and scary and new territory for us all. The first time we had four wonderful minster choristers come and sing a stunningly-beautiful mass setting for us in the candlelit atmosphere. The second service included a world class cellist and a group of singers with Taize chants.

Visions - kneelingAt others we have had specially written new settings of ancient hymns and a chance to explore the space and interact with prayer installations. With gold, incense and myrrh for example, praying for world leaders, those far from God, and the broken-hearted.

Yet each time the climax, as ever, has been in bread and wine, connecting us to Christ and each other, but also across history to the hoards of Christians who have worshipped in that place across the centuries up to one and a half millenia and more. It makes me realise what an amazing  privilege we have, and yet what a huge responsibility, singing the next verse of the Great Story and Song to those who have not yet heard the tune, with a certain freedom to improvise, but in such a way that the Word is still heard. Exciting stuff!