Today we celebrated 100 years of Anglicanism at Tweed Heads at St Cuthberts, and it got me to thinking, what will Anglicanism look like in 100 years time?
As I looked around the church, with the exception of the choir from Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School (founded 28 years ago by the parish), I wondered who would be in the church with us in in the next 20 years, let alone 100 years from now. And what would their experience be of God, spirituality and worship? How different all that is today from those pioneering days and the glory times of big numbers when going to church was the accepted norm.
Events of the 20th Century have changed that norm. The horrors of wars, the fading optimism of the post-war era, the so-called moral ‘revolution’ of the 60’s and the increasing pace of change brought on by technology and consumerism has indeed changed the place of church and worship in our society.
No longer do we participate in the communal life as we, as a society, once did. We are now passive consumers looking exclusively for ‘what is in it for me’. We are focussed on our individualism, pragmatism and rational thought. We seek to explain all things and leave little room for wonder, surprise and transcendence. We are bombarded by information, entertainment, choice – noise – which simply entices us away from the mystery of life. We seek answers and are uncomfortable with questions, we want solutions not the untidy process of life, and we want it all, now.
So, what do we as the church do to ensure that we are in fact still here, actively engaged in worship, in 100 years time? For the purpose of the church is to worship God and to do so in all actions it is engaged in. It is worship first, action and activity second. Worship is our core business, all activity grows out of that worship.
Richard Neuhaus defines the purpose of worship: “The purpose of worship has no purpose other than the worship of God. While worship has many benefits, we do not worship in order to attain those benefits. The simple and radical truth is that we worship God because God is to be worshipped.”
It seems to me that worship is what we do, authentic and connected worship, worship that grows out of Scripture, tradition and contemporary life. Worship in the Anglican tradition is solid on the first two, and challenged on the third. Contemporary life, with all its accoutrements, asks questions of who we are, what we do as worship and how we do it. It is fair to say that we must remain attached to authentic Anglicanism in it’s worship model of scripture, sacraments and community worship.
Yet it is how that responds to the push and pull of a modern faith experience which is less about religious form and more about spirituality, and less about denominational allegiance and more about discovering a spiritual journey which connects you to your self, others and God, how ever God maybe perceived.
I have watched over more tan 40 years as the church has moved through a number of phases in its engagement with change, from maintaining the tradition, to chasing every whim and marketing ploy available, to retreating into a walled fortress seeming to accept the inevitable while railing against all and sundry for the predicament it finds it self in.
Yet, God has survived greater catastrophes than this and will survive this one. And it’s God’s unending faithfulness and presence which we need to follow as our model for the future church. That is, let us not be stampeded to chase relevancy as the key to our survival, let us re-mind our self of the purpose of the church and its worship – “The purpose of worship has no purpose other than the worship of God. While worship has many benefits, we do not worship in order to attain those benefits. The simple and radical truth is that we worship God because God is to be worshipped.”
If we remain faithful to the purpose of worship we will rediscover a Triune God active in our modern world in places of unexpected enchantment and we will wake to find ourselves involved in a church worshipping in new ways within an old tradition.
Hang in there.