The Anglican Diocese of Sydney has launched a new worship resource www.bettergatherings.com.

It is beautifully crafted, user-friendly and very easy to follow. And it is very fast. Would that there were more websites with this quality of both look and function. The Church of England and The Episcopal Church offer their resources online, but even the re-organised Common Worship site (CofE) could learn a thing or two from the way Sydney’s site is produced.

Then there’s the content. Very 1970’s – makes sense in a diocese that does not allow the 90’s A Prayer Book for Australia, but uses An Australian Prayer Book 1978 (AAPB). Here is one of the (non AAPB) eucharistic prayers (called “Thanksgiving and Consecration” in “The Lords (sic) Supper”):

All glory to you our heavenly Father, for in your tender mercy you gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death on the cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; and who instituted and in his holy gospel commanded us to continue, a perpetual memory of his precious death until his coming again.
Hear us, merciful Father, and grant that we who receive these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood; who on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given you thanks,, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ Likewise after supper he took the cup, and when he had given you thanks, he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ Amen.

Not much congregational participation! And no mention of the resurrection…

There is a major problem with computer systems for organising worship services. It can be similar to having a template for constructing sentences in a language you do not know and providing windows in which you choose an article, adjective, noun, verb, adverb… and then think you can write a novel in the other language like that. Without appropriate training, study, and formation you end up with Mark Discoll’s observation “that services in Sydney were ‘clunky’ and ‘starting and stopping like Sydney traffic’!”

The “Basic Shape” that is provided is highly reminiscent of the Anglican NZ Worship Template, “Every service should have an appropriate beginning, middle and end.” That is the starting point of formation that this site is working from. The home page reinforces that this site is addressing liturgical novices (postulants!): “Christian gatherings are not just a sermon.” (sic)

The April Sydney diocesan newspaper Southern Cross has a good article about the website, Service schmervice: getting liturgy right (PDF):

Liturgy is back. Sort of. After it was accused of a litany of failings-inauthentic, repetitive and outsider unfriendly – and was largely abandoned in Sydney and across the evangelical world over the past 30 years, some people are asking if ditching liturgy was such a good idea after all.

…Redeemer Presbyterian Church, pastored by Dr Tim Keller, is a wildly successful church plant in Manhattan. But the bulk of the 4400 regular attenders – most of whom are young professionals and creatives – participate in traditional Presbyterian service.
‘It is interesting to note that, at least in Manhattan, our ‘contemporary music’ service has not been more effective than our classical music service in including nonbelievers, ‘Dr Keller wrote in Don Carson’s Worship by the Book. ‘If anything, the reverse has been the case.’
Dan Kimball, who is now pastor at Vintage Faith Church in California, wrote in the Leadership Journal that he had found younger people at the contemporary worship megachurch where he served were increasingly disillusioned with ‘predetermined transitions, upbeat intro songs, announcements backed with Powerpoint slides, sermons crafted with felt need application and abundant video clips. ‘Instead they were asking questions about liturgy and the church calendar.
When his young adults ministry started using hymns, responsive readings and even the Book of Common Prayer, he writes, ‘the introduction of ancient practices helped them feel grounded and rooted to something bigger than themselves’.

…But Bishop Forsyth argues that the time of reaction is coming to an end. Now the church is entering a period of responsibility. “It’s not good enough just to react and not have liturgy,” he says. “Now comes a period of…taking responsibility for the form of our meetings, their prayers and what happens there: I think this is where the main work needs to be done.”
…For Bishop Forsyth, the question is bigger than liturgy or no liturgy. “It’s much more fundamental than that,” he says. “It’s whether or not what we do when meet really is an engaging with God through his word and each other.”
…Adds Bishop Forsyth: “Is the service thought out? Is it genuinely God-focussed? Is it coherent and truthful? These are the questions now. It seems to me that with the loss of authorised forms and liturgy we have entered a very dangerous period, as well as getting the benefits. The dangers are that our meetings will be offhand, unthought out. But the days of going back to one liturgy are over. The future will be much more flexible and more individual.”

Thanks to the many who alerted me to this.

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