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good worship is both/and

Yesterday the founder of Facebook’s Praying People Page posted Rev. Mark Brown indicated that he was interested that 71% of the over 5,500 members are female. This is made even more interesting because this almost 3 to 1 imbalance is not the case on my Facebook Liturgy Page where the ratio is 54% male, 46% female. I have asked Mark for the further breakdown of his statistics and await his reply. In the Liturgy Page the genders are essentially evenly balanced except in the 35 to 44 year age-band where 13% are males in this age-band and 7% are female.

I also await Mark’s reflection on what he finds interesting and what he draws from this interest. I was fascinated by the analysis in the over fifty comments on Mark’s page. It is typified by the comment “Guys just hide their emotions, and most think it’s a sign of weakness to pray.” Not only was there an identification of emotions with females (this was questioned), but there appears an identification of praying with emotions (which was not questioned!)

What the comments highlight for me is that there are Christian communities whose worship identifies prayer and emotions and that this is more attractive to women – tending to a 3:1 ratio. And that Facebook’s Praying People Page mirrors such an approach.

Liturgy, on the other hand, good liturgy, should not encourage such dichotomies. Good liturgy is not about either-or, it is always both-and. Everyone should be able to find their place in good liturgy which should seamlessly bring together rational and emotional, fixed and spontaneous, young and old, male and female. There should be space in the liturgy for those who arrive rejoicing as well as those who arrive distressed. Both-and. I am encouraged that the statistics for the Facebook Liturgy Page supports this positive vision.

My reflections are reinforced by discussion following my post on tweeting prayers to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There, again, I notice some comments from people holding a dichotomy in their understanding between saying prayers written by others (including Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer) and praying prayers spontaneously from where a person is at that moment. The liturgical tradition does not divide it into this either-or, but supports both-and. Matthew 6:9 presents the Lord’s Prayer as a model for prayer, while Luke 11:2 enjoins us to pray the Lord’s Prayer as given. Both are valid. Both are important. Praying the prayer as Jesus gives it to us and using it as a model for personal and community prayer.

I suspect that even those in the either-or camp happily sing songs that others have written – probably even including pieces of psalms and other biblical material (and occasionally some material that I might find personally questionable and would much rather be singing something from scripture). A lot will sing anything projected up on the screen. What the either-or camp may not be aware of (and others also) is that until relatively recently we did not sing at the liturgy – the liturgy was sung. Speaking rather than singing/chanting words at the liturgy would have surprised Christians most of our history. So those who are happy to sing anything placed before them, but balk at the idea of praying any fixed prayers from the liturgical tradition would have happily participated in a service where most was sung 🙂

Does my vision for inclusive worship – in which young and old, men and women, happy and sad, all participate equally, nourishing mind and heart – does this resonate with your own hopes? Does anything from what I have written above echo in your own experience?

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7 thoughts on “good worship is both/and”

  1. Oh my YES!!!! As a female priest, probably thought of as anglo-catholic in my understanding of liturgy and the shape of worship, in a
    parish that was reasonably anti women, AND questioned the need for this ‘thing’ called liturgy – for exactly that reason: it was staid, somebody else’s words etc etc…I am finding real joy in the journey of rediscovery of great liturgy. A further aspect of this has been an increasing sense of connection in the parish community, greater ownership of the worship – because we do this together – we pray together, in the same way that we sing together. Whilst we may not always use the same words – especially at our family worship service, the rhythm and pattern are essentially the same, the response is fabulous – why – because we all have a part, we all participate, we use words to include and embrace rather than divide and berate! And we think…yep, sometimes we use words to stir us up and we question what we are saying – WHY do we say this, WHAT do we mean when we sing this???
    Ahhh – happy days!

  2. There are so many things I love in liturgy. I love the sung services – the “bells and smells” – quite possibly the best, but I’ve also looked at the services the St. Gregory of Nyssa in CA does with longing. Some of it is a bit silly but most is wonderful, a blending of the high and the (not sure what to call it?) the informal? casual? Right now I attend the “children’s service” because it’s a good time for me, and it comes with a mix of praise music and stuff from the hymn book (thankfully no projected words on a screen). But I keep thinking…could we do more? And then…what would it be?

  3. Both/and… I wrote of that recently myself. It is the way I believe, the only way. Thank you for this and for all the thought provoking and community building things you do in this social network church!

  4. I agree with your notion of both/and. One of the things that is missing from an entirely free-form expression of prayer is the focus on community–to the exclusion of the individual. Part of being a Christian is being in community, honoring God together in communion with other Christians all over the world and through two thousand years. Sometimes, with personal prayer, people get caught up in their own needs and struggles. With corporate prayer through liturgy, we are free to focus on God.


    (Ms_Austen on Twitter)

  5. I’ve praying Morning Prayers with you since I discovered your web site last year. You bring tremendous insight into the the realm of prayer. If you ever come to the USA, be sure to publish your schedule everywhere! Fr. David

  6. Bosco, your words came back to me at Church today when we had a choir singing John Rutter’s Communion Service. It was wonderful and, as you said, both/and.

    Sally – we have a female priest who has made the church grow no end and preaches wonderfully. She has a lot of the criticisms you mention thrown at her by people whose peoblem, I think, is not with the way she practices her priesthood but with her chromosomal makeup.

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