3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Novelty and Relevance

Archdruid Eileen shows no sign of slowing down, in her energy, her mania, and her ability to hit the nail exactly on the head (especially if the nail looks uncannily like an Extremely Primitive Methodist of Eversholt). This morning, using her extensive knowlegde of Chemistry, and her weakness for extended analogies, she wondered if the barrier to church membership might be thought of as the activation energy of a chemical reaction. Simply put (and my O-Level Chemistry allows no other way), St Trendy-in-the-Wold, and their pastor (Chief Dude?) the Revd Riley Groovy-Geezer is easy to join but provides less chance of being changed. On the other hand, St Mytholmroyd with St Agnes, Great Frilling, a Syriac Renewal / Post-Punk churchmanship, is harder to join, but gives a greater chance of transforming its members.

So far, spot on!

But both churches have something in common, and that is novelty. St Trendy’s is a cafe church, where everything which might be associated with “church” is thrown out, and discarded. New ways of “being church”, new ways of “being fresh”. All is new, and therefore all is good. St Mytholmroyd is equally in thrall to novelty: after all, what else could their form of worship be, involving as it does “bashing dustbin lids and playing electronic music while screaming at the congregation in Aramaic”? One might have a higher activation energy than the other, but both are neophiliac.

[And this is where I get slightly more serious]

The Archdruid’s musings reminded me of a church visit I made last month in Durham, NC. I spent ten days in the US, speaking to clergy in three dioceses, imparting “my wisdom”, but mostly looking for imaginative ways of proclaiming the gospel so that I might read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, come back to the UK and steal ’em.

Thanks to friends, wise and experienced priests, I was invited to visit the Community of the Franciscan Way in Durham. CFW takes two, physical, forms. There is a house in which priests and postulants of the Episcopal Church live with a number of formerly homeless people in a single community. There is St Joseph’s Church, where the Community, priests and people, say the Daily Office every day.

As Colin Miller, one of the inhabitants of Maurin House, describes it:

Taking our cue from the Catholic Worker Movement, we read around in the Sermon on the Mount and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, we talked to some local Catholic Workers and we tried to creatively imitate [the] vision. Without really having any idea what we were doing, we kept praying the Office, and we started having breakfast in the Parish Hall each day with whoever was around after Morning Prayer. Eventually, a few of us begged together enough money to rent a small place that for the last three years has served as a sort of mom-and-pop hospitality house, simply offering housing, food and shelter to three men and occasional drop-ins.

This would be enough – God has thoroughly turned the lives of many of us inside out with this little adventure. But the fact that we are slowly but surely meeting people who are enthusiastic about our story, and curious enough to join us on our little adventure, makes us think that God wants us to keep exploring how he might be answering our prayers. … We are a diffuse but emerging Episcopal Christian community in Durham committed to corporate daily prayer, study, simplicity and fellowship with the poor.

The Daily Prayer of CFW is spectacularly unspectacular. It is the Daily Office of the 1979 BCP,  in parts sung (not terribly well) to plainchant. The evening I was there twenty-five people showed up to pray the Office: some members of the Community—however defined; some people from the street—however defined; some interested interlopers like me. There was nothing “fresh” about it, in the sense of being new, novel, innovative, imaginative, creative, and all the rest of those buzzwords we are sold at seminary, told to achieve in theological college. It was the Opus Dei and the Work of the People, underpinning and sustaining the Work of God and the Work of His People in serving the world.

On Sunday evening back in St Stephen’s it was 1662 BCP (as usual), men’s voices, Sarum responses and plainchant canticles. The anthem was the Advent Prose. It was like a little shelter from the storm of manic consumption, over-indulgence and selfish cruelty, that rages outside. Then four of the congregation went to man the emergency night shelter for the homeless which was meeting in our church hall that night for the first time this winter. A perfect picture of faithfulness in worship and action.

Perhaps we don’t have to serve smoothies to laid-back “seekers” in coffee shops. Perhaps we don’t have to redevise every single “experience ceremony” we put on in church. Perhaps we don’t have to lust after relevance.1

Perhaps all we have to do is say our prayers, and then act on them.


[If you want to know more about the CFW, then their website is here, and Colin Miller wrote an interesting article for the North Carolina Disciple which makes the connection explicit between CFW and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement]

  1. As Simon Hoggart said, of another matter, “‘relevant’ is the WD-40 of the political world; you can spray it on anything to make it work.” []


  1. Well obviously neophiliac. What’s the good of a tradition if it’s not brand-new?

    They’re all middle-class, as well.

  2. I know! And not a beaker to be seen anywhere (although all the priests and postulants sported the most tremendous beards, straight out of the Civil War or Casterbridge, so you’ll like that!)

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