Public & private

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

The relationship between liturgy and personal spirituality is a complex one. I know individuals who find that the centre of their spirituality is liturgical. The experience of worship, praise and adoration is the one that is formative for them. For them, prayer alone is cold fayre. For some, worship can be the source of mediation that lasts for a week; it is touching the eternal, an experience that transfigures the days and nights that follow. I do not doubt what they tell me. Some people are not made to pray alone.

I know others who expect liturgical worship to be some kind of catch-all for their prayer and reflection. They are often frustrated and irritated by worship as a result. In my experience, it is the most prayerful people who can cope with the toddler rocketing down the aisle or with the man with a loud cough in the row behind. Those who arrive at worship seeking nothing but some kind of inner, individual prayer time are in for a rough ride (in most churches!).

Then there are others who resist all invitations and advice to attend corporate worship. These are often folk with a clear pattern of prayer and Bible reading. They find church does not fit. My own view is that this is not

a matter for individual choice. It is a prerequisite for the Christian to belong to a community and for that belonging to be expressed in worship. In the Catholic tradition, liturgical practice of the Church, through the rituals of the seasons, draws the individual as a member of the Body of Christ closer to him as his love and purpose unfold. This is particularly true in Holy Week.

There are many excuses for not coming to church but there are very few good reasons. The Church has only room for one head and that is Christ – to put it bluntly, it is a bit big-headed to think you know best! Spiritual pride is dangerous. Liturgical tastes can vary and the ‘cringe factor’ may keep a person away. Nevertheless, these things can be overcome with a modicum of initiative.

Now a word for those who find themselves involved in public worship sometimes more than they would like. I am thinking of choristers, organists, servers, wardens and clergy. It is often the case that the individual spirituality of the leaders of liturgy is often compromised by the focus of the mind and the imagination on the preparation and performance of liturgy. The public responsibility crashes in on personal need. The first and most important thing is to be aware that this goes on. The response should be a deliberate one. Preparation for worship must be systematic and in good time; this liberates other subsequent prayer times to become listening to God rather than planning the next service.

We are all responsible for creating the optimum atmosphere for attentive worship in church. Prepare for worship by reading the lessons at home, pray for all those involved, get to church early, be quiet when you get there, join in as fully as you can, sing when called upon to sing, listen when called upon to listen and pray when bidden to pray. The small actions of each us count in creating a worthy act of worship by the whole.