We were all in the chancel with the lights dimmed as the associate priest and the robed choir processed in with a Taize chant. Taize-rs on stun!
It's not all about theatre of course. I was interested to hear Ella the associate priest (her husband is the rector) pray at the outset, 'Lord, we don't seek theatre but an encounter with you ...'
Theatre can help. I'm no tat-queen but I do like a bit of a show, a bit of choreography as someone I met on a train once put it.
I'd defy anyone not to get goosebumps in a candle-lit 14th century chancel as the choir chanted the Nunc Dimittis ... 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant de -| part in | peace: ac - | cording - | to thy | word ...'
Afterwards, I chatted briefly to Ella about current trends in worship and liturgy. She and her husband used to be involved with an independent evangelical outfit and we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of that particular scene - and how some of both are entering the Anglican bloodstream through the New Wine conferences and networks.
There's a balance, of course. Many of the people they're now getting at the 10am service aren't familiar with the Anglican formularies at all, and it's debatable how many they really need to become familiar with. But is minimalism where it's really at? People like me who were out in full-on independent charismatic evangelicalism for many years are approaching some of these things as I would a long lost friend. Wannabe hip and trendy vicars look at me daft (as we'd say in South Wales) as they can't wait to sell off the family silver.
|'I go from a corruptible crown to an incorruptible ...'|
I've outgrown my adolescent penchant for the Puritans, some of them wouldn't have been out of place in a Taliban cadre ... but still believe that poor old Charles I made things worse for himself and for everybody else with his Divine Right malarkey.
He certainly faced the block with dignity and courage, though.
Perhaps T S Eliot put it best:
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
(From Little Gidding)
That's where we're all headed. At Candlemas, as Ella reminded us, we turn from Christmas towards the cross. Ahead of us lies Lent and Passiontide.
I'm sure Charles I would have approved of aspects of the service last night. I'm not sure what he'd have made of a female priest, but the liturgy itself would have struck a chord, I'm sure. The Puritans too, might have had an issue with a female president and I don't think they'd have liked the 'theatre' much ... although they weren't the kill-joys that they are often portrayed. Both are folded in a single party.
For all their faults, both, I'm sure, could have said, 'Mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.' Lord have mercy. In the face of our own faults too, let us aim to say the same.