Yesterday, in a context I don’t quite remember, Canon Condry mentioned a statistic from the Church of England that was quite surprizing. Namely, while regular attendance at parish churches continued its long decline again last year, in 2011 alone, attendance at Cathedral services was up 20%. That’s impressive! It got me to wondering why.
I’m sure this doesn’t account for every reason, but I wonder if it is because the services are so enchanting, by which I mean, they actually try to take the worshipper somewhere else. They are self-conciously unlike other experiences currently on offer. They are not relevant. They are not up to date. They don’t have brilliant, rocking worship bands. Could it be that modern secularized Britain actually contains un- and de-churched people who actually want a church that is, well, church?
That was the question that intruded upon my worship today at Canterbury Cathedral. Here we were in the Quire wafted repeatedly by an eager thurifer who had, it must be said, a little too much going on in his thurible! We were led in worship by a university Choir from South Carolina and an organ. Archbishop Rowan presided. And I was taken by all of it to the very threshold of heaven, to the place where the veil between time and eternity was at its thinnest, and there bidden to feed on Christ in my heart by faith with thanksgiving.
As I pondered this question in the Quire, another memory intruded. During my D.Min. module this year one of my students asked me why I stuck with the Book of Common Prayer when “young people don’t want it. They don’t understand the language.” To which another student replied, “He likes it because he thinks church language should be Church Language. It’s not everyday. It’s different.” Even as the responder agreed with the questioner–modern language all the way–he really got why I like the BCP. Some young people–and not necessarily Christian young people if what I’m told about the Cranmer Conference is true (I’ll find out since I’m the speaker this year)–certainly the young people I met at St. Margaret’s, those who went to st. benedict’s table and a couple who have started to come to the Epiphany feel similarly. They want church to be different. They want its worship to actually take them somewhere else.
And here, it seems to me, is an evangelistic opportunity for those churches that either will not or cannot go with the megachurch model. Perhaps an evangelistic model for a church liturgically trapped in 1962 is not to try to get up to 2012 but to get back to 1662. Of course, there are other ways in which this hypothetical church (just so we’re clear, I’m not thinking about my parish) might need to modernize–accessibility, child-friendliness, creative ways of engaging the community between Sundays. But just maybe it’s ok in worship to rest on the conviction that worshippers really do come to the very threshold of heaven every Sunday and embrace those practices that really do foster an experience of transcendence, an experience that is ec-static.
Maybe–just maybe–that’s one reason why English Cathedrals are doing relatively well.
I don’t know whether this is a Spirit inspired intuition or just a flight of fancy. I need to pray about it more. What do you think?