Sunday, 20 July 2014


Carn Domhnach ('Burial mound of the church'!) is the
ancient spiritual centre of Inishowen Peninsula in North Donegal
This morning, I drove across Postman Pat countryside to the pretty little village of Carndonagh.  It was my first visit to the Moville group of parishes where I'm helping out for a few weeks over the summer.

The church is right by the famous Carndonagh Cross.  Saint Patrick himself is said to have founded a worshipping community here.

It was rite one: not my forte!  Lots of -ests and -eths to get my tongue around.  

Over the past year, I've learned this about liturgy.  It is creative.  Even older forms and rites, and even in traditional churches with older congregations.

A year ago, preparing to start training for ordained ministry, I was worried about 'making mistakes'.  By that, I meant accidentally departing from the prescribed rubric. 

Now, I think a bigger mistake is to be a slave to the letter of the prayer book!  It's important to spot those wonderful words 'may be said', 'or a portion thereof' and - my personal fave - 'may be adapted according to local custom'.  

Even the contemporary 'Morning Prayer 2' is titled 'an order' and not 'the order' for regular worship.  Cool!

Don't get me wrong.  I like liturgy.  I think all Christian groups have their standard orders of service, and paying critical and conscious attention to it helps us get it right.  Otherwise, without meaning to, services can get flabby, frothy, and more imbued with wider cultural references than the scriptural, story-shaped liturgy we need.  

Did you know that about 70% of the words in the Book of Common Prayer come straight from the Bible?  There's probably no other denomination that hears so much scripture in one 60-minute service!  (Sermon over.) 

Carn's famous Celtic cross
Close-up shows Criost eirithe - Christ is risen!

I think the Church of Ireland has to be brave and bold and follow the Spirit and do things differently.  But throwing out carefully crafted liturgy isn't itself a barrier to fresh expressions of church.  There's a lot of brilliant liturgy in the treasure chest of Christian experience.  We need clever worship leaders to select the right elements for the occasion.  Post-moderns love a bit of ancient stuff woven in with silence, music, drama ...  

Liturgically freer churches aren't all packed to the rafters (a few are).  So I think Anglicans should continue to do what we do (sometimes) well: liturgy.  Our USP.  Based on scripture.  Flexible.  Economical with words.  Ancient faith expressed for people today.  Tolerant of mystery, using silence as well as sound; shadow as well as light.

That's what I was thinking about on my way home this afternoon.  And just a year ago, I doubt any of this would have occurred to me.    

So thanks, parishioners of Carndonagh church, for having me and helping me reflect on worship.  (And perhaps for putting up with my experimentation a bit too.)  Carndonagh might mean 'burial mound of the church' - but this little Christian community is alive and well!  

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