|Let's Dance Together|
These posts are all rambles, of course, but this one is even more than usual a setting down of initial thoughts on a subject. My views are very much subject to change. You could always use the comments section below to help with that ;)
The trouble with 'all-age worship' in the Church of England is that it's often used as a euphemism for 'family worship', which itself is often a euphemism for 'children's church'. Which is often ... childish.
On top of that, St Johns has had the problem of the CTM Parish losing clergy just as the all-age service started development, resulting in a loss of vision and coherence, along with a balance of ages at the service which has been highly variable. Some months we have been heaving with children, and the challenge is to involve them all, other months there were very few, and they didn't want to be involved anyway.
We now have a clear idea where we are for clergy over the next six months or so, after Jeremy has moved up north: decidedly lacking. Therefore there is a lay team who will be responsible for the monthly all-age service, from next month. I am part of that team, hence my desire to explore a vision for a reboot.
I think we should start by going back to the basics of gathered worship: praising God together and listening to God together - praise and prayer.
So I think we start by finding out the favourite hymns and songs of the congregation and using them: we are a small congregation so we need everyone to really put some oomph into their singing. People have got used to action songs at all-age worship and all ages seem to enjoy them - if not overdone - so that is an addition to help create a sense of movement and involvement. Given a foundation of good singing, we can gradually introduce some good newer songs, in order to stop things getting stale and to find new favourites.
The intercessory prayer slot in the basic Anglican service outline is a suitable place to build something a bit different from the usual fare. Because all-age services don't include a Eucharist there is time and space for being a bit more adventurous here. Although prayertime is probably something we will need to prepare variations for, depending on who comes that morning. If there are lots of young children then prolonged silence is going to be tricky to achieve, if there are almost none then lots of running around will find few takers.
Initial thoughts include Taizé chants, Celtic prayers - even healing prayers - and using icons. We have quite a few icons scattered around St John's and moving the congregation around a few of them (vaguely after the manner of stations of the cross) may be engaging.
One piece of feedback that has come through clearly is that people like movement and they like involvement, whatever their age.
One basic I haven't mentioned yet is the Bible: sharing together in the word of God. This isn't because I don't think it is important - far from it - but because I am currently short of ideas. In general lay people don't have permission to preach in Anglican services, unless they are LLMs. As I'm the only LLM in the parish that is limiting in one sense, although liberating in another.
Traditional preaching, even with visuals and a bit of question-and-answer interaction, is not the only way to engage with God's word. It's probably not even the best way. The challenge is to somehow combine giving the context of a passage with helping people draw out for themselves, maybe in small groups, the meaning in their lives. But it's not just about words: talking about the Bible is one thing, responding to it, creatively and actively, is another.
So, developing all-age worship, for all ages, around the basics of praise, prayer and the word seems to me to be the way to go.
The next step, I think, is clear: hymns and songs 'by request'. The step after that is slightly hazier, but is to do with a more interactive, engaged approach to praying together. The third step is downright fuzzy: engaging together with God's word. That's okay, fuzziness is where faith comes in. So long as the first step is clear we trust that the steps after will be ready once we have actually stepped out in faith.
I am working to a mental timescale of 6 months to get these three steps, or something a bit like them, up and running. That is roughly how long we expect it to take to recruit a new priest into the parish, bringing us up to our clergy complement. Having all-age worship which works by then opens up opportunities and challenges for the future.
Postscript: When looking on Google for a suitable picture for this post, I found the above which I thought looked good. When I followed up on its link I was surprised to find it led me to a church in West Warrington, the place Jeremy Tear, our previous community priest, has just moved to. The wonder of coincidence!