Two Sunday Worship Experiences (reposted from April 26th 2007, when I was on my Sabbatical leave in the UK)

This is a repost from thirteen years ago, April 26th 2007, when I was on my sabbatical leave in the UK, connecting with the Anabaptist Network. I wrote this post while I was staying at the London Mennonite Centre).

I said that I would write a little bit about my two worship experiences this past Sunday. They were different from each other, different from my usual Sunday fare, and both very enjoyable in their own individual way.

Sunday morning I went with my friends the Palmers to St. Mary’s Maidenhead. This is an Anglican church that stands very solidly in the evangelical stream of Anglicanism. It’s also a church that is growing. Looking around on Sunday morning, I saw lots of young families, and when the children and young people went out for Sunday School at least a third of the congregation had disappeared. Since I last worshipped there in January of 2005 they have moved to two worship services on Sunday, with the coffee hour in between, so things weren’t quite as congested as last time!

St. Mary’s has Communion once a month and this was Communion Sunday, so it was interesting to see how they do it. Here are the features I noticed:

    • They followed the basic outline of the Eucharist service—greeting and opening prayer, scripture, sermon, prayers of intercession, Eucharistic prayer, communion, prayers after communion, dismissal—but in a very stripped down way that was very accessible for people not brought up in the Anglican tradition. The atmosphere was informal and participatory.
    • No robes, and no titles for the people up front either. I gather that the worship leader for the first part of the service was either a lay reader or a churchwarden. One of the clergy preached and, later, presided at the Lord’s Table, but he was not distinguished from other people up front by dress or title.
    • The music was almost all contemporary, but not ‘Vineyard-style’, and there was no rock band to lead it, but quite a good choir with a keyboard player and some wind instruments up front.
    • There was one scripture reading only (and no psalm), and it was not from the lectionary but from a sermon series on John 14-17. The sermon was quite long even by my standards! There were Bibles in the pews (NIV) and lots of people were following along in the passage as the preacher preached the sermon.
    • The Prayers of the People (as we would call it) did not use a litany form, but the prayer leader prayed quite simply for several subjects with ‘In Jesus’ name Amen’ at the end of each section.
    • The Eucharistic Prayer was the shortest one in the English ‘Common Worship’ book, and it sounded very much like the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It ended immediately after the words of Jesus ‘Do this in remembrance of me. Amen’.
    • Children do not receive communion here, so the children did not come back in for communion as they do at St. Margaret’s. The children seemed to really enjoy their Sunday School (not called that, by the way) which was held in a different building.

Even though this is a program-size church there was a high sense of fellowship in the congregation; people greeted each other and talked before the service and afterwards as well. I heard people talking about their faith during coffee hour too! I’ve only been there once before, but one person remembered me and remembered what we had talked about last time I was there. That was impressive.

I liked St. Mary’s a lot, even though some aspects of evangelical Christianity don’t particularly appeal to me any more. I liked the informality, the sense of the priesthood of all believers, the simplicity and lack of ritual in the service, and obvious focus on Christ and on personal faith in him.

In the afternoon, back in London, I went to Wood Green Mennonite Church. This congregation meets in the hall of a local Baptist church at 3.00 in the afternoon. It’s a small church—between twenty and thirty people—and the chairs are set in a circle with an open end where a simple lectern is placed for the leader. Here are some things I noticed:

    • Wood Green does not have a full time pastor although one of their elders is paid to do some part time work for the congregation. She was preaching this past Sunday, but not leading the worship.
    • As in many churches in the Mennonite family, leading the service was not restricted to the ‘pastor’. Another member of the congregation was leading the service. She used a liturgical form which I was familiar with, a sort of Anabaptist ‘daily office’. The form didn’t quite seem to fit for a Sunday, though; it didn’t seem to grow naturally out of the small size of the congregation, and I discovered afterwards that it was not their usual fare.
    • The sermon was part of a series on Mark (it seems that five or six members of this congregation share the responsibility for preaching). This week’s passage was mainly Mark 7:1-23 and the sermon was quite participatory—e.g. at one point people were asked which of the people or groups in the story they identified with and were invited to come up and stick a star on a flip chart beside the name of their person or group. After everyone who wanted to place a star had done so, the people were then invited to share why they placed their star where they did, and a number of people shared quite freely.
    • The ‘Prayers of the people’ part of the service, while it used a litany form, was quite open and in each section people were invited to add their own prayers—and they did.
    • There was no communion. I discovered afterwards that communion is not celebrated on Sundays; the congregation shares communion once a month on a Thursday evening; they do it as part of a fellowship meal, and their tradition includes foot washing as well, whenever communion is shared.

After the service tea was served and people stayed for a long time for fellowship. In fact, after we walked back to the London Mennonite Centre (about a fifty-minute walk), some of the congregation showed up there as well. Wine and food was brought out, conversation followed, another guitar player and I were invited to play some of our songs, and we ended up playing music for a couple of hours!

Again, I liked Wood Green a lot. I liked the way the service took place ‘in the round’ with a lot of participation from everyone. I liked the interactive form of the sermon, and I especially liked the obvious sense of family in the congregation.

So – I had an interesting Sunday with a lot to think about at the end of the day.

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