Thursday, October 28, 2010

Undemocratic silence?

Thought for today (actually it was Mr B's thought, but I've pinched it): why is it that in the Church of Scotland, that apparently most democratic of institutions, the congregation take so little active part in a service? I was at a funeral today, and it struck me forcibly that even when the minister did a proper lead-up to the final "amen" at the end of a prayer, we were the only people there who said anything. Strange, really.

And I have to say that on occasions such as this, an awareness of ritual and what is a suitable place to stand rather than sit and twitch is very helpful. I got the feeling that half the folk present would have remained sitting as the coffin was carried out, had not a chief mourner forcibly gestured that they should stand.

I think I'm glad I defected all these years ago.


  1. There's a lot to be said for understanding ritual, liturgy and sacrament and what they bring, rather than being scared of them. I especially respect those who know enough theology to realise they're not obliged to perform rote behaviour as though it were itself efficacious, but still go ahead and do things because they want to and because they're beneficial (honest practical individual spirituality rather than subjective obedience).

    In my experience, having a liturgy with named sections ("word", "peace", "eucharist", "benediction"...) actually gives the congregation a sense of achievement: hey folks, we've done all these bits, look at where we've come together.
    But it would be erroneous to fail to see the liturgy behind a service just because it's not presented in a blue book separately from the batting-order sheet, or because the way-markers are only implicit.
    In my regular CoS of attendance, even if my role is just warmer-of-pew-cushions that week, I'm still singing - no, *joining in* the singing - of hymns, praying along silently, thinking through the sermon. Sometimes I even think through the hymns too. In a word, working. And that's what liturgos means. It doesn't stipulate *how* work, or how *vocally* work, or how jump-to-your-feet work; it just is, collective corporate, work.

    Normally a church needs to recognise that they have a regular pattern despite claiming spontaneity in services. Your post turns that on its head: let others recognise a pattern of work when it takes a no-longer-familiar form, too.

  2. Aye! We do a bonnie funeral in the SEC!

  3. Morag7:37 AM

    To be fair to my former church, the involvement of the congregation during a regular service varies a lot from parish to parish.

    And how many of those at the funeral were just not used to any church experience and didn't know that its "etiquette" to stand at the end of a funeral? Is it not a bit unfair to blame the C of S for lack of education of those within its building?

  4. Morag, in answer to your perfectly reasonable comment, I should point out that I grew up in the C of S and didn't realise that I could enhance my own sense of Godwardness by physical action until I came across the SEC in my 20s. And as for the funeral: One of the results of living in a smallish community for a long time is recognising people and knowing where they fit in. There were a good many church-goers in this particular group.

  5. As I said a lot depends on individual churches (my experience is different from yours) which in turn means we all have different experiences. And at the end of the day as long as we all find a place where we can worship in a way we find useful it doesn't matter what denomination it is.

  6. Anonymous8:03 AM

    I remember leading a bible study in an Evangelical CoS church about 5 years ago. Rather than labour through a personal exegesis I mixed the session into reading groups, question & answer sessions & discussions.
    At the end of the session I was told by one lady "we just like to come & listen- we don't want to have to think things through!" This partly explains why Presbyterians are referred to as the Frozen Chosen over the pond!