This article first appeared in Equip Issue 30, March 2017, Worship Wars: A Way Forward. Equip is a publication from Ethos. Images are from Lambeth Palace Media.
I interviewed Rev. Tim Watson from Chemin Neuf and fellow Community of St Anselm member Lindsey. Here are our reflections on having a broad experience of worship.
Oh Lord, open thou our lips;
And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
It’s Monday at 5:30 pm and I’m in the chapel of Lambeth Palace in my prayer alb. The Archbishop of Canterbury is leading the service. I’m trying to navigate the colossal sized 1662 prayer book to find today’s Psalms. At Lambeth, we read through the Psalms monthly and today is ‘Day 17 Evening Prayer’ so we’re up to Psalm 89. My side of the chapel is to say the odd verses. There is a short pause at the colon, with each service leader favouring a different pace and length of the pause.
MY SONG shall be alway of the loving-kindness of the Lord : with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth from one generation to another.
For I have said, Mercy shall be set up for ever : thy truth shalt thou stablish in the heavens.
It’s 8:30 pm and I’m now in the Lambeth Palace Crypt in my usual attire of skinny leg jeans and a t-shirt after ditching the winter accessories in the Atrium. I’m one of the first to arrive, and I notice the music and ministry team huddled in a circle praying. The lights are dim, there’s a projector screen above the altar and as people make their way in the worship leader explains that this is a time to connect with God. We sing loud and catchy praise songs and spontaneously call out our praises to God. We sing slower worshipful songs and have a time of singing in tongues or sharing prophetic words or images with the group.
From September 2015 to June 2016 I lived opposite London’s Big Ben at Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. My husband Jonathan and I were members of the Community of St Anselm; a new-monastic community made up of 16 residents and 20 non-residents aged twenty to thirty-five. Those of us who lived at Lambeth Place joined in the daily rhythm of prayer held at the Palace since the year 1220. But being an interdenominational and international community, the leaders in our community made sure our experiences of worship went beyond traditional Anglicanism.
Community of Chemin Neuf
Archbishop Justin Welby had just moved into Lambeth Palace. He was unpacking boxes with a friend who asked him, “What are you going to do with this place?” He answered, “I’m going to fill it with young people”. It took two years of preparation for the Community of St Anselm to start. In January 2014, he invited four members of the Chemin Neuf Community to live and pray at Lambeth Palace. Although Chemin Neuf began with French Roman Catholics, it is now ecumenical and international, growing from 7 to 1900 members in the last 40 years. The four who moved in were an Anglican couple, a Lutheran training for ministry and a Roman Catholic consecrated sister. They prepared the way for the Community of St Anselm and guided our year. By the time my husband Jonathan and I moved into Lambeth Palace, there were 6 Chemin Neuf members living on site. It may seem a strange match. An Evangelical Charismatic Archbishop who started out at Holy Trinity Brompton and a Monastic Community founded by a Jesuit. But it is the community’s Ignatian and Charismatic edge that seemed to attract Archbishop Justin. And being community that embraces two very different styles of worship, high liturgical and charismatic, has been a great support to Justin in reconciling his Charismatic background with his new role as Archbishop of Canterbury.
I interviewed Tim Watson, an Anglican Priest and Chemin Neuf member who is heavily involved in music ministry in the community. I asked him about where these two different worship styles originated from. “Chemin Neuf grew out of a charismatic prayer group in Lyon in 1971. The initial worshipping intuitions of Chemin Neuf come out of that and at the same time because it was founded by a Jesuit, the idea of saying the daily office was basic to the community life from the very start. There was simply no assumption that these two were in any way contradictory.” I experienced this for myself at the Chemin Neuf headquarters ‘Hautecombe Abbey’ in France, where all 16 Community of St Anselm members spent the Christmas week along with 200 celibate brothers and sisters. One day we had a three-hour high liturgical service in French and Arabic for the deaconing of two Chemin Neuf brothers from the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch. In contrast, one evening there was extended praise and worship with spontaneity, prophecy, and dancing.
Tim went on to talk about how Chemin Neuf fossilised the early 70’s pre-house Church Ecumenical charismatic prayer group. “I think it’s really precious. There is a particular liturgical space within which you’re coming to hear the Word or God and the music serves that.” Chemin Neuf worship reminded me of growing up in the 90’s in a small country Pentecostal church: the number of songs that overlapped was uncanny. Both involved action songs, spontaneous worship, a time of waiting on God, sharing scriptures or images and singing in tongues. According to Tim:
”It’s a paraliturgical shape within which the basic spiritual intuition of Chemin Neuf is carried forward. It’s not about the quality of the worship. In the middle of winter at Hautecombe Abbey with 15 people, you’re not going to have a big knees-up. Your Rule of Life requires you every week to go in openness to the Holy Spirit. With over 45 years of sustainable life, the prayer group doesn’t live on its emotion, but at the same time its theology is profoundly Pentecostal.”
Community of St Anselm
Chemin Neuf profoundly formed the shape of our year and worship in the Community of St Anselm. Although we joined in with the more traditional Anglican services of Morning Prayer at Eucharist with Archbishop Justin, Lambeth Palace staff and guests: our Vespers service just before dinner involved only our two communities and included a time of more spontaneous worship. On Monday nights, when the 20 non-residents joined us, we followed 1662 Evening Prayer, dinner and a lecture with charismatic worship in the Crypt. All 36 of us had vastly different faith stories and experiences of worship. I grew up in a small country town next door to a bluestone Anglican Church, attended a Presbyterian Primary School and a Catholic Secondary School all the while going to the same Pentecostal Church. I figured it out pretty early in life that people did church differently, but I wasn’t always so understanding of these differences. In our community, we had Pentecostals, Methodists, Catholics, as well as Anglicans from Kenya, England, Scotland and the USA. The way we worship can be closely connected to our culture, the way our parents’ raised us or our relationship with God. If you’ve never seen a guitar in church or sung anything other than hymns, the 5:00 pm Holy Trinity Brompton service will send you into a spin. And if all you’ve grown up with is Pentecostal free worship and you find yourself at Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, you would have a similar feeling!
The Prior chosen for the Community of St Anselm was Rev. Anders Litzell. He grew up a Swedish Pentecostal, then discovered High Church Anglicanism in the USA, and experimented with Lutheranism in Europe before finding his home as a Charismatic Anglican Priest in London. Anders stirred us to broaden our perspectives on worship and to find treasures from every corner of the earth throughout history. We were also encouraged to ask each other questions about why we worship a certain way, to seek to understand our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was one of the most challenging aspects of the year to navigate, but from conversations with fellow community members, it has helped us grow in our faith immensely.
Embracing variance of worship
Every few weeks I come across a blog post taking down Charismatic worship. A recent post from the ironically titled website ‘Grace to You’ launched a graceless attack on Hillsong decrying their ‘vague lyrical content, confused doctrinal perspectives, and an emphasis on style over substance’ (1). This sort of criticism didn’t begin with Hillsong. Some critics labelled hymn singing in the time of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley as ‘crude, emotional, and anti-intellectual’ as well as ‘rowdy and unseemly’(2). I have some ex-Pentecostal friends who, despite coming to faith in their previous denomination, now deride it completely. I also know others who grew up in a traditional church and converted in a Pentecostal setting and as a result have written off tradition altogether. I too have been guilty of such an attitude, now embarrassed by my earlier views on liturgy and tradition. We tend to validate based on our experience, as Tim Watson reflects:
‘My observation in English Cathedrals is that if people discover their access to the sacred through Evensong, they discover beauty and majesty and depth and profundity. If that doesn’t lead sufficiently to the person of Jesus Christ they fetishize their particular aesthetic form. Evensong becomes their access to the sacred but they then get extraordinarily hot under the collar about other aesthetic forms that might seem to challenge or doubt that primary access to the sacred. The same can be said of more immature Evangelical Christians who think its all about Matt Redman music. Because it’s the place they discovered something so meaningful they become attached to that cultural form and then you get a tribal loyalty around it.’
For Tim, one of the joys of being a part of Chemin Neuf, is looking at all these worship forms as blessings from God and how they bring people to the Lord in different kinds of ways.
Lindsey, a Texan Seminary Student and fellow St Anselm community member sent me her thoughts on this. ‘Last year gave me a safe place to explore worship as a means to encounter many different styles I did not know existed. I come from a vanilla cookie-cutter American evangelical background and to have high church traditional liturgy and low church charismatic worship in one week pushed me to encounter and not focus on my own preferences and style but appreciate Christ in all of this. It was like seeing the gem of Jesus through a different perspective and rediscovering what it meant to be in awe and wonder of Christ. Once I was able to move past my pride of my worship style I was able to experience more of God and more of His community through all sorts of styles of worship. My eyes have been opened to the spectrum of worship and I crave it all.’
Since my St Anselm experience, I have become more intent on looking for where God is, rather than fostering a spirit that tears down. This hasn’t been easy, as I’ve always had a more cynical and analytical mind!
Challenge yourself by listening to a broad range of Christian worship music. Tim Watson notes that ‘if you look at people’s iPods, people are often very happy to have a range of aesthetic references but when they get into church it’s suddenly one or the other!’ One of my favourite memories is when a highly traditional community member walked into our common room and said “Is that the latest Hillsong album?!” Pause. “Oh my goodness, what’s become of me”? Her Bible College had previously banned all contemporary worship music and now she can distinguish between worship bands! I must admit, I recently started a Monastic playlist full of Taizé and Gregorian chants (and a Christian metal-core band’s version of the Benedictus). The whole earth is full of praise to God. It goes beyond Euro-centric hymns and the latest in the worship charts.
Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to visit other places and worship in another context and experience what it’s like. Throughout the year, we joined in worship at a Franciscan monastery, in country Anglican churches, at Holy Trinity Brompton for an Alpha conference, at St Paul’s Cathedral with Bishops dancing as Tim Hughes’ and the band played, and at Westminister with the Queen joining the procession to the organ. Lindsey reflected:
‘We are defined by the labels and categories of worship styles and it took a year in God’s time to realise that those walls are barriers to keep out the other, the uncomfortableness that we might feel. But we are never meant to be comfortable as Christians; we are meant to grow, and that’s what I did when I encountered this spectrum of God’s narrative in worship.’
(2) Anna Nekola, I’ll Take you There’: The Promise of Transformation in the Marketing of Worship Media in US Christian Music Magazines. It’s an article featured in the book Christian Congregational Music: Performance, Identity and Experience. Edited by Monica Ingalls, Carolyn Landau and Tom Wagner.