Inclusivity and tradition: Genesis 1, 26-31, Galatians 3, 23-end & Luke 4, 16-22
I would like to talk today about how this Church can develop both its mission and its worship. Mission and worship are, of course, closely related. People learn something about God and his love for each and every one of us through our worship. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that through the simple act of believers meeting together to sing and offer praise to God many came to believe (Acts 2, 46-47), whilst St. Paul stressed (1 Corinthians 11, 26) that ‘every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes in glory,’ (1 Corinthians 11, 26).
However, before I talk to you about the enhancements we wish to make in our worship and mission I want to start with a question; a self-directed, rhetorical, question: ‘why am I, Andrew, here as your parish priest?’ You see like all of you I don’t have to be here, no, I chose to be here. And, for me there is something deeply significant and challenging about the word choice. Choice implies attraction. There was something very definite about you that attracted me and made me choose you rather than carry on pursuing other conversations. The fact that I chose to become your parish priest is in fact down to you, not me. Think about it for a second. During the period of my placement, before I was installed, we could have decided not to carry on with each other. You could have decided I wasn’t right for you and vice-a-versa. Indeed when I started with you I was somewhat cautious about committing my longer-term future to you. So why did I choose to do so, what attracted me?
Two words: inclusivity and tradition. These words at first sight don’t necessarily appear to relate; but, perhaps, they do. You included me in your community. Your love and involvement with this church pre-dates mine. You took a risk. You knew a few facts about me, but you didn’t know about some of the things that have most deeply affected me, and continue to affect me, for good or for ill; the things which actually inform my ministry and comprise my identity: the really deep, often unspoken things.
What you did relates to the first reading we have heard from Genesis: you recognised me as a person made in the image of God, and you decided that this was good enough. Thank you!
And we must go on being all embracing and all inclusive, recognising that all are made in the image of God. We must go on insisting in the words that we heard from the Epistle that in Christ all are equal and that male, female, Jew, Greek, able bodied, disabled, young, old, strong, fragile, straight and gay, are all, because they are made in the image of God, to be fully included in an authentically Christian community. I believe this with every fibre of my being.
And we must recognise, drawing on the Gospel reading, that Jesus came to set all free, to break any yoke that makes any individual feel less than fully human. Inclusivity, equality, justice and, liberation; these are some of the Church’s guiding principles. And, they are deep gospel principles. Sadly, not all churches recognise the ‘Inclusive God.’ Some, churches continue to build higher fences rather than longer tables. It is for this reason that after discussions with the PCC, and the Bishop, we have decided to join a network called Inclusive Church. Inclusive Church’s statement of belief is simply this:
‘We believe in inclusive church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful, which seeks to proclaim the gospel afresh for each generation, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and deep is the love of God.’
Other Churches, and there are over 150 of them, whose theology of hospitality and inclusivity has led them to join Inclusive Church include St. Alban’s Cathedral, Ripon Cathedral, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St. Mary the Virgin (the University Church) Oxford and, St. Michael’s Amersham. We will be in good company, as a Church which stresses that ‘all, yes all, really are welcome in this place.’
So if your spirit of generous and inclusive welcome was my first reason for, as it were, taking the job, the second was your tradition. I am very comfortable with our styles and patterns of worship. I enjoy both traditional and contemporary forms of authentically Church of England worship. This Church, I strongly believe, is a place where the way we worship is intrinsically linked to our mission. And, we need to build on our worship traditions. We will do so in two ways. First, we will build on our commitment to BCP worship by joining the Prayer Book Society, purchasing new Prayer Books and, on fifth Sundays offering Choral Matins, instead of a Sung Eucharist. We will continue to celebrate BCP Holy Communion on the first and third Sundays of every month and Evensong on the second Sunday. On the fourth Wednesday of every month the midday Communion will be from the Book of Common Prayer. This means that there will be a BCP service in this Church every week of the month. Our worship in Advent and Lent will also include Compline and Prime. These enhancements will come into effect from January next year.
We will also be offering a different form of Communion service called Come and Share All Age Eucharist on the third Sunday of every month - replacing the existing All Age Eucharist. This service has already been used in the Benefice and will be less formal that the current All Age Service. The new service will last about 35 minutes and will be followed by breakfast.
The PCC have also made the decision to admit children to Holy Communion, following preparation, from the age of seven. This will bring us in line with other denominations and recognises the Bishops guidance that baptism is the only necessary pre-requisite for communion and that ‘Jesus’ acceptance of children was clear.’ Recognising the ecumenical dimension - and Jesus won unconditional inclusion of children - the Canons of the Church of England were amended in 2006 so that children could be offered, as full members of the Church, the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The decisions we have taken, which have also been discussed at length with Bishop Alan, will stand this Church in good stead: our worship will be enhanced and, our mission extended.
We will become even more widely known as a Church committed to celebrating the deep and enduring traditions of the Church of England with freshness, relevance and joy. We will also become known as a congregation committed to offering the love of God to everyone, without exception, just as you did to me, based on a theology which insists that each and every person is made in the image of God. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown