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Hallo again to all.

Not long ago we attended a performance by a political humourist. There were several thousand people there. This humourist was very partisan; in fact, almost all of his jokes were at the expense of a few well-known politicians. Supporters of those politicians probably would not have laughed, but this audience was exuberant and supportive, howling with laughter the entire time. Since most of the audience had paid to be there, we assumed that, as a self-selected group, they knew that they would agree with the political sentiments underlying the humour and ridicule.A revival (and requisite) tent in the States in the 1920s.

During the interval, we noted in fascination that many people, presumably perfect strangers, talked as if they were old friends. At the theatre or the opera during the interval, the audience members seem to talk only with the people they came with; one foursome will ignore a nearby foursome even though they are crowded together. But at this comedy performance, at the interval, people conversed openly to complete strangers. We saw small groups introduce themselves to other small groups, and then form one big conversation circle to replace the two smaller circles. That cohesiveness of the audience enabled the performer to be more confident that his message was being received and understood. Had the audience been more heterogeneous, we suspect that his comedy act would not have worked at all. Everyone in the auditorium seemed to be better off because of the uniformity.

Last week-end, the American event called the Super Bowl was held. It's the championship of American football, and nearly 100 million people were said to have watched it on television. Yes, 100 million people put down their iPods and their video games and their magazines and their golf clubs and their knitting needles and watched three hours of complex sport interspersed with expensive adverts. Syracuse University professor Robert Thompson noted that 'the Super Bowl is one of the last communal experiences' that really draws people together. We didn't attend the Super Bowl, nor did we join a group of friends to watch it on the telly, but we'd wager that everyone enjoyed the event and went away happy.

The tradition of corporate worship is our recognition that there is no substitute for gathering people together. We decided that if the congregation in our church was as homogeneous and like-minded as the audience for that comedy show or that football game, the essence of the service could be more intense, perhaps almost like a revival meeting. A religious event with the excitement and fervor of a performance or a sporting event, we saw them often in the American south, normally put on by Southern Baptists. They were successful at spreading the good news of Christ (along with the Baptist worship style). A revival meeting is an assembly of like-minded people, but their like-mindedness is not in the realm of politics or sport, but Christianity. A good revival preacher will use that like-mindedness to build (and build on) the excitement of common purpose within the crowd. It's very emotional, and done well by a skilled preacher, very successful.

From our point of view the revival meeting is rare in the Anglican world. Youth group events often have a revival flavour, there are hints of it at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK, and we suspect that the Sydney Anglican Festivals do, too. We regard the triennial General Convention of the US Episcopal Church as an odd mixture of synod, revival meeting, and marathon. We understand that in order to have a successful revival meeting, you must have a certain amount of uniformity amongst the participants. When we encounter Anglicans clamouring for uniformity, we sometimes wonder if a longing for the experience of the revival meeting grounds some of that clamour. As much as we've enjoyed revival meetings (and revival-like events), we cherish the diversity within our Anglican communion and pray that much of it can survive our contemporary battles.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 12 February 2006

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