Isn’t there something more enjoyable you could do on a Sunday than go to church? Clearly, many people think so. Sometimes, when you visit other churches, you feel they might be right. Imagine sitting through an hour or more of underprepared worship: lessons read without understanding by people whose first acquaintance with the text seems to be that morning; no sense of the mystery of God (or ritual masquerading as mystery, done for its own sake); a sermon that lost the power to live (and certainly to change anyone’s life) after a few minutes; an erratic sound system; and a congregation well-versed at making newcomers feel frozen out by its bands of cliques. Imagine a Family Service where those leading the worship appear to see themselves as akin to holiday camp entertainers, offering religion-lite for those they see as philosophically-challenged by anything more complex than a word from Simon Cowell. And to round it all off, tepid coffee which has barely glanced in the direction of a coffee bean. Would you go again? Neither would I!
Visiting other churches can be an uplifting experience, or it can be literally soul-destroying. Many of us over the summer (even if you haven’t been on sabbatical) will have experiences of worshipping elsewhere. Examples of good practice as well as horror stories may abound. But it does make you look at your own church with fresh eyes.
There are many reasons why people go to church – impossible to do justice to them in a single article. And there are many tasks for which the Church exists. But it all starts with worship. That’s the Church’s overriding, primary task. That’s what people experience when and if they come. It’s the shop window to the rest of the world. How we do it says a lot about how a community sees God, and how it sees itself.
Above all, worship says that it’s God that matters – over everything else that we do or are involved in. Worship is when we put everything else in second place. It’s when God is the focus of our attention, in a way that ideally he should be all week, but in practice he gets crowded out so much of the time. Especially, worship is when our self, our ego, the ‘me’ in all of us, is forced to take a back seat, when we forget for once the price of everything and re-discover what is of true value.
Worship is good for us: it sets us on the path to health and wholeness. It challenges us to put aside our peculiar and petty likes and dislikes. God has no interest in whether you prefer the Book of Common Prayer or Common Worship, or whether the choir and organist happen to be on form that day. What matters is that lively, life-giving worship, centred on God, is offered on behalf of the community. Styles of worship are secondary – formal or informal (but not casual or sloppy – God deserves better than that) doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we are there, ready to wait on what God has in store for us. Whether we ‘like’ the service doesn’t in the end matter: the crucial test is how God through worship is shaping and changing us, so that we in turn can go out at the end to help shape and change the world into that kingdom for which we pray. It helps, of course, if we all come prepared. Liturgy is work, and it is the work of all the people, not just those leading the service. There are those who make being a last-minute Anglican an article of faith as important as the creed. But why should we expect God to be ready for us if we have not made ourselves ready for him?
Worship offers us the key to a purpose-filled, life-enhancing week. So what else were you going to do on Sunday?