Monday, 4 January 2010

A belated criticism

I know it's a bit late but I keep getting distracted. Anyway, to have posted this over Christmas would have felt churlish - now we're in miserable old January it seems more appropriate to have a moan.

I think the Christmas Eve midnight mass should be traditional and short. Why? Because it attracts a high proportion of infrequent attenders at church who want to hear something recognisable and because it's late at night, certainly way past my current bedtime.

So why did the vicar at my local church think it was a good idea to give the congregation a convoluted and lengthy service that required two printed sheets and a hymn book to navigate?

Simply from a logistical point of view this was impractical. I found myself getting lost across the three documents as we were required to switch constantly one to another (strangely, the chosen hymns were to be found in all three). And juggling them along with the lighted candle we were to hold for the first half of the service was a quite comically impossible challenge. Everyone around me at some point dropped something.

What's more the language - which previously at that church has been from the Book of Common Prayer - was from a more modern source, uninspiring and unpoetic. I suspect this was why we had resort to printed sheets rather than a prayer book. (We also had lots of smells and bells - not to my taste but evidence that some aspects of traditionalism still seem to appeal).

Then to continue the service for over an hour, including a fifteen-minute repetitive sermon?

Why do this? The vicar probably gets some sort of satisfaction from stamping his own imprint on the service. He would also talk about relevance and accessibility, I'm sure.

But, of course, that's nonsense. It was merely confusing, frustrating and, in the end, boring. It's enough to make you despair of the Church of England ever being able to play to its real strengths, which other than the beauty of its buildings, lie in the familiarity and poetry of its liturgical traditions. These should be relied upon unapologetically and invariably. But I would guess that there's little to no chance of that attitude returning.


Nige said...

Happy new year Gaw! You should have come to Midnight Mass in my church...

Recusant said...

You think that's hard? You should have been with me at the Brompton Oratory. Kicked off at 11.15. Final whistle at 1.20. Standing room only; which of course means no kneelers for the - numerous - times spent on one's knees. Homily lasted a good 20 minutes, which was 15 too long. Looked pretty though, if you're into smells and bells, which I am.

And a Happy New Year to you Gaw, and all the regulars.

worm said...


Brit said...

Many clergymen of all persuasions loathe the once-a-year brigade and deliberately punish them. I remember one priest (I'm RC - lapsed, natch) going on for hours in Latin til well after 1am. Bad marketing, but I can kind of see their point.

Gaw said...

Happy New Year all!

Nige: It did sound and look pretty perfect. But a bit far, I fear, not wanting to stray too far from my stocking.

Recusant: You put me and my whinging to shame - but rather you than me.

Worm: Gawpers?

Brit: I can't see their point , I'm afraid. Need a kick up the pants if that's what they're up to.

Bunny Smedley said...

Since my firstborn ceases to be an adornment to company after c. 7 pm, midnight God-bothering is out of bounds for me for the next few years. Our Christmas day eucharist, however, was marred by (a) a curious liturgy, in which even familiar landmarks like the Lord's Prayer and, heaven help us, the Creed were so altered that even lifelong church-goers had to read them from the order of service; (b) a congregation of about a dozen (without volunteers for the once-a-year brigade, we'd have mustered about six, celebrant included; and (c) no fizz, mince pies and seasonal banter afterwards. (Since our parish church lacks aesthetic appeal, these small encouragements matter, but our previous vicar(ess) was more keen on them than the present chap.)

In other words, I agree with you. If people who theoretically believe in Christ's divinity can't throw a better birthday party for him than that, what message does that send to everyone else?

Sophie King said...

My only, and rather magical, church experience this Christmas was a candlelit carol service in the 18th-century private chapel of a large house up the road from my parents. It was so cold we were all wrapped up till only our noses were showing (I borrowed granny's fur coat - no danger of egg-throwers in darkest Shropshire). My daughter who, like me, is a bit of a heathen, was completely bowled over by the magical simplicity of a building without electricity or heating of any kind. It was a bit like being on the set of Cranford.

Gaw said...

Bunny: You poor things. The Lords Prayer was all I had to look forward to during the midnight Mass. But to be deprived of that as well! Intolerable. Can you not find a more convivial or at least beautiful church in Soho?

Sophie: That sounds just wonderful.