Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What in the world are we doing?

A final thought on the Baptist Assembly. Glen (here) has raised an interesting question in his reflections about the style of what we do at Prism that I want to muse on. I think alt worship is actually a bad name for what we do because it implies that we are merely seeking a replacement for the more traditional activities that the church calls ‘worship’ (wrongly in my view – but that’s for another post) such as singing and listening to sermons. Rather, I think we are seeking to do a number of things simultaneously.

The first is to help people see the world differently, from a strange, even obtuse angle with unexpected shafts of light falling on it. We were helped in this by the theme of the Assembly – One World, One Mission – but it is one of the key considerations I always have uppermost when planning an event – be it, a church Sunday gathering or home group. This is because we gather to engage with God who calls us to embody his values in the world in which we live and work. So having an understanding of that world is important.

It means that we need to hear what the world is saying about itself and not only what we want to say about it. Now, I appreciate that the world speaks with many voices and we will inevitably be selective in what we turn our ears and eyes to. But it seems to me that it’s essential that we hear voices from the world as clearly as we can.

The second is to suggest that God is to be found already working in this world and that if we look carefully we’ll see his shadow falling across it, notice his finger print on all we’re seeing. So, we listen to a Patty Smith album and become aware that she talks more and more intelligently about God than the average ‘worship’ album; or we see a movement working justice that inspires us even though its motivation is avowedly not religious; or we see vital theological issues being played out in a movie or the plot of a novel.

This helps us in the key task of bridging the gap that Christians are often guilty of maintaining between the world we live in day-by-day and the faith we express in our worship; the gap we express when we say ‘I come to church to focus on God without being distracted by all the awful things in the news’ or ‘we are going into the world to take the presence of God with us.’

The third is to help us see ourselves in a different way as a result of the first two. In focusing on what’s going on the world, we see that God is bigger and that our lives are more significant than we thought. We find ourselves caught up in the story of God, the creating, covenant-making, coming King; and we see that God has given us a key role in how that story unfolds in our world.

My hope is that people leave an event like Prism, with a fresh way of living in the world. I guess this is the hope of traditional gatherings, but I wonder if the traditional model tends to focus on me and God and take the world for granted as a fixed entity from which we’ve withdrawn in order to worship before we go back into the world with a changed view of ourselves and perhaps a better take on God.

The trouble is that it tends to treat the world as a given on which we will act rather than something which acts on us as we seek to identify the shape that God wants us to take on to effectively embody his values in that world.

After the first Prism – which seems like a lifetime ago in Brighton in 2005 – I wrote a series of articles for the Baptist Times on ‘alt worship’. It’s my intention to dust those off over the next few days and re-post them here.

Finally got round to listening to the Mumford & Sons album - a fascinating and rather wonderful example of hearing God in the unlikeliest of places!


Glen Marshall said...

Nice one Simon. As an understanding of worship I'd go with this.

I'd be interested to hear in what ways Prism-style worship (hey maybe this will become the new label instead of alt worship)is more amenable to what you hope to achieve than traditional worship (which is also a catch-all phrase that covers a multitude of sings). How does one form tend to serve the ends you identify and the other tend to hinder them?

Also I'd be interested to hear how Prism-style-worship (see it's catching on, and it's grown an extra hyphen; how organic is that?!) attends to the other vital element when engaging with God's world in worship, namely a similarly rich and robust engagement with the Christian story and Christian practices i.e. the intentional nurture and appropriation of Christian culture. Also, please, can I have a prize for the longest sentence in a comment ever?

Finally, let me make it clear that my reason for asking these questions is not to oppose Prism-Style-Worship (capitals!) but to encourage the kind of reflection that is, I hope, likely to make it stronger.

Anonymous said...

Rats, first year in about 15 I haven't been to the Assembly and the blogosphere is awash with people saying it was the best one for a long time. For the sake of others, I must stay away more often!

Good to see Prism continues to get top ratings!

simon said...

Excellent. Not only the longest sentence ever in a blog comment but also the creation of a new compound noun - Prism-Style-Worship. My people are on to the OED as we speak....
As to the substance of your comment, see my next post...