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Hallo again to all.

A pair of mostly unrelated events has caused us to reflect on the role that liturgy plays in our worship and our lives.

Not long ago we attended Sunday worship in a church that was neither liturgical nor evangelical. Its denomination does not matter here, but we were keenly aware of how much of what was said and done in the 90-minute service was unrehearsed, unplanned, and unscripted. The corporate prayers were clearly ad-libbed from the intercessor's memory. We didn't have an understanding of the structure or flow of the worship service, so we can't describe accurately, but in various versicle/response portions, the versicles were probably ad-libbed and the responses clearly were, because everyone responded differently, if at all. We found no comfort in the service, but the music was good and the choir and pianist were excellent. We recognized most of the hymns.

Today, many Anglican churches celebrated the Feast of the Presentation, otherwise known as Candlemas. The church we attended today certainly did. There were plenty of candles. There was a nice Marian hymn ('Sing we of the Blessed Mother') and a poem by Thomas Merton in place of the readings. The Gospel, of course, was Luke 2:22-40. In short, today's liturgy was unusual, or perhaps downright odd, but it felt like liturgy and it somehow seemed familiar even though it wasn't. Much of the framework of the service exactly followed the province's prayer book.

This got us to thinking about how the familiarity of liturgy impacts our worship experience. The utter lack of a liturgical structure in the church mentioned above certainly hindered our ability to worship; we were more puzzled and lost than prayerful and reflective. The Candlemas liturgy, even though it was different in many ways from the liturgy of Ordinary Time, had enough familiarity and structure that it provided what we needed. Even though we weren't at all sure what we needed. From time to time we have attended Roman Catholic mass, which was mostly familiar but had little differences here and there that poked our concentration. For example, the responses to the proclamations before and after the Gospel are slightly different from our Anglican responses. If they were wildly different, or if they were identical, we would move through them seamlessly, but the minor differences emphasised our sense of not belonging.

After some reflection about all of this, we have come to the conclusion that, for us at least, familiar liturgy can express what we want to say (or should say) in a more articulate fashion than we might be able to come up with on the spot. And matching our intent to what the liturgy would have us say is a good exercise. Long ago in an Anglican newcomer's class taught by the rector of the first Anglican church we attended, one student in the class asked 'The prayer book is asking me to say things that I'm not sure I believe.' The rector's answer was 'Then change what you believe.' The liturgy of worship can help teach us: aligning our beliefs with the words of the worship service seems much better than aligning the words of the service with our individual beliefs.

And with thy spirit. See you next week.

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3 February 2019

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