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Talk: Being Church - Worshipping and Learning

Education is a central aspect of the Cathedral’s mission.  We offer opportunities for learning, dialogue and engagement with issues of public debate.

At the Cathedral, people of all ages can learn about faith and discipleship. We run a Sunday School and are developing work with young people; there are occasional study groups and Lent Lectures.

The Cathedral is a theological and educational resource for the Diocese, supporting the work of clergy and parishes. The Cathedral works with the Diocese in planning and delivering an annual summer school.

Working with other institutions in and around Stag Hill, for example the University of Surrey, the Cathedral is committed to engaging with issues in the public sphere (including social responsibility, science, ethics, the arts and inter-faith dialogue).  There will be an annual series of talks alongside seminar based groups.

Transcripts of these talks are, where possible, included below.

For details of forthcoming talks, please see the Cathedral Diary and What's On 



Thursday 28th February 2013
Lent Talk

Lent Talks 2013 - 2 – Worshipping and Learning: called to love one another. 

Relationships within the body of Christ fostered in teaching and worship

Questions from week one:

A           Corporate identity in worship

B           Diversity and difference within the church

C           Difference in worship, a common core

D           Point of the church in relation to the Kingdom

This is rooted in a sense of abiding – and being sent; it is focused on our distinctive calling as the people of God.

Today we look at the way in which relationships within the body of Christ are fostered in teaching and in worship.  This is not just about the building up of the common life of the church community, but also a mark of our distinctiveness in the world and our calling within it. In some sense we are “measured” by the Scriptures and by our worship – imagine having two plumb lines; they offer parameters within which we live. Yet it is more dynamic than that – because we are called to a life of growth, continual repentance and transformation.  Today in a sense we are focusing in a little more tightly on the life of the church in terms of relationships between members as formed by worship (before broadening the perspective in relation to our mission).

What are you looking for?

I’m going to church. Does anyone want to come?

In Nick Hornby’s bestselling “How to be good’, Katie’s question is met with an interested silence, more questions and increased discomfort as her husband says: What are you looking for?

She wants to listen; to do the right thing; to be good.  The scene when Katie arrives at church with her daughter would be recognizable to us.  Katie has spent her whole life trying to be good – as a GP, as a wife and mother, as someone concerned about ethical and social issues.  A marital crisis caused by her own infidelity prompts her husband to become good in a way that stretches her check list approach to goodness. David reaches out to the hopeless and homeless and vulnerable in an intensely personal and costly way.  The novel is truthful and full of hope.

What are you looking for?

Katie wants a lack of conviction – a mild, doubtful, liberal sermon about social justice with an apologetic nod towards God. She wants to be forgiven for imperfections as part of the process; she wants permission not to like those whom her husband invites to share the family’s Sunday lunch.  She wants understand that just because she isn’t good, it didn’t mean she was bad.

What are we looking for when we come to church?

No doubt we will not only give different answers to that question; but also find ourselves answering differently depending on our experience and what else is going on in our lives.   Begbie thinks of patterns of eucharistic worship in terms of musical waves – held within the overarching wave of God’s purposes in salvation are the seasonal waves of different epochs and generations; within those waves are the patterns of the liturgical year; within those waves are the patterns of the individual Eucharist which shape our lives. Each Eucharist is a gathering in the name of God, a sharing in confession and receiving forgiveness; the Gospel is proclaimed, faith is declared, peace is shared; we recounts God’s acts in salvation, remember a night of betrayal through the lens of resurrection; we receive and become the body of Christ, in communion with one another and God; we are blessed then dismissed in love and peace. Our lives are held within those bands of repetition and improvisation in God’s eternal purposes.  What do we look for?

As a teenager I went as a matter of routine; I don’t think I was looking for anything in particular. It was simply a non-negotiable part of the fabric of my life. At other points, I have gone looking for a renewed sense of connection to God – to try to make sense of the complexities of my life – my mistakes, hopes, confusions and sense of self.   I have looked for a drawing together of my emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical “spread-out-ness”.  What we might call the extensity of human life.  At other points I have looked for routine and rhythm, because really, nothing else makes sense and familiar words hold together a frame of reference in the midst of grief and disappointment.  Sometimes I have looked for community – for sharing of joys and connections; or for learning, expecting something in a sermon to make sense or provoke or encourage me.  Often I look for meaning, purpose and assurance. 

What are we looking for? 

In some ways, Hornby’s question of how to be good isn’t a million miles away from the purpose of worship and the place of learning within the church.  If so much of our life feels defuse and spread out – abiding in God is an opportunity to become more fully who we are called to be, individually and relationally.  The extensity of our lives are drawn into the intensity of the divine life and light (I owe a great debt to my supervisor for this language of extensity and intensity; to his sense of what it might mean to live in the light of light; to see that light infused in the world and in one another). 

There is a risk inherent within the gift of creaturely freedom is that in being drawn outward, we are in danger of losing the sense of God’s presence with us.  The culture of which we are part exaggerates that “spread-out-ness from God.  For example, the dynamics of capitalism and consumerism re-direct our desires and overwhelm us with choice; we are continually drawn out of our selves, living increasingly dispersed lives.  Intensity is God’s self-movement of love towards the world – in creation, redemption, the perfection of human life in the world [Hardy, Finding, p. 34.] This intensity calls forth a response; it makes possible human social life in all its fullness; it enables a movement of love between people.  As human beings, we are, however, primordially attracted to God; drawn to relate to the divine.

The question of how to be good is one which emerges in the scriptures. But it emerges in a way which subverts our contemporary preoccupations.  When the question is asked directly by the rich young man, Jesus responds by saying why do you call me good? Then he asks if he has kept the commandments; yes, says the man – all of them, since my youth.  Go and sell all you have, says Jesus.  Being “good” isn’t a quick check list of virtues, opinions and tasks.  Being “good” isn’t even quite the right word. It is about being members of God’s holy people; it’s about an orientation of life, and rootedness; which then becomes a sign or a witness to others.

The Scriptures call this “holiness”.  It isn’t about perfection – it is about abiding in God in such a way that our lives are reformed time and time again.  It isn’t about cultivating an air of remoteness or superiority – it is about a lifetime of worshipping and learning.  It is a process of being refined in the face of divine holiness.  This is a corporate exercise for the sake of the world and kingdom.

Last week we looked at two particular images of church: of the body and the vine.  Today we will focus on learning and worship as ways of abiding, and consider the way in which this shapes our relationships.  Katie utters the phrase “artificial goodness” as a well of articulating her desperate confusion of her personal situation.  Worship and learning enable us to see honestly beyond artificiality.  They act as measures of our lives; as plumb lines.

Joining the Church: Institution and Body

Last week we looked at the snap shot of early church as described in Acts.  They shared their meals, their prayers, the possessions.  We took their generosity and glad hearts as a template for what it means to be church.  Tonight we focus on learning and worship, which were also distinctive and compelling characteristics of the church’s life.  They believed the message of Jesus; they were baptised; they were eager to learn from the apostles. They met in large groups for worship and in smaller groups in their homes.  They experienced the power of God; and the church grew.

Perhaps we can think of our own journey of faith, rather than our experience of the church:

-           Did we consciously join the church? Was there a decisive moment/a steady drift?

-           Has our journey been shaped by the influence of friends and family, personal invitation or personal longing?

-           What has been the ebb and flow of our faith? Where have been our points of rootedness and abiding?

When we think of the life of the church, we often operate with two levels – the institution and the spiritual body.  Theologians have grappled with the question of the visible church in relation to the invisible in every generation, with 100s and 1000s of words being devoted to the question.  Perhaps the boundaries are blurred; perhaps too our thinking of the nature of the church needs to be held in the light of the broader purposes of the kingdom of God (there is an old adage that you can have as high a doctrine of the Eucharist as you like, as long as your doctrine of the church was higher; and as high a view of the church as you liked, as long as your doctrine of the Kingdom was higher).

We can talk in terms of electoral and community rolls (the former being updated at the moment; belonging and involvement in the decision making processes of the church; an indicator of growth); we can talk about patterns of worship, systems of governance.  No one has yet told me the nature of the laudable customs I promised to uphold at my own installation.  We can scrutinise legal guidelines around pastoral offices, debate about the nature of establishment (too often debated as a right, but exercised as a huge responsibility), introduce clergy terms of service and engage with the process of appointing a new Dean.  All of these things describe the workings of an institution.

Those systems and structures are to serve our common life. If we take that back to the core purpose of this cathedral church, we express it as being a centre of worship and mission and a place of faith and engagement.  Whatever the systems we need to shape our institutional life (and they are inescapable), we should be mindful that they serve the core purpose.  In our lives of worship and faith, we are drawn near to God – we abide, we pray, we receive the gift of forgiveness, we express belief.  In our lives of mission and engagement, we are dispersed in the world – we are sent, we testify, we foster relationships, we act as agents of peace and reconciliation and we make connections.  The intensity of our lives is shaped in worship and learning; that shaping equips us to live in the world as disciples – on the front line, if you like. 

The Church exists for the sake of God’s Kingdom. That is, for the fulfilment of God’s purposes for human flourishing, which are disclosed in Scripture.  In order to embody that, we must be attentive to God in worship: in word, sacrament, praise and prayer.  These practices cultivate healing and holiness, generosity and forgiveness.  Rowan describes the way in which these patterns affirm that ‘there is a new world both promised and realized’ [Williams, ‘Fresh Expressions, the Cross and the Kingdom’, p. 10]. Worship draws us into communion with God and enables us to glimpse a vision of the Kingdom, which we are called to celebrate and pursue as, in Rowan’s words ‘critics and remakers’ of the world.  This ecclesial vocation is something that we will pick up in subsequent weeks, first let us think of our own remaking.

New Life in Baptism

In Acts the church is identified by the content of faith (Jesus’ death and resurrection) and personal commitment (baptism, repentance and forgiveness) but also divine action (we live in relation to the Spirit). Last week we talked about being members of one body and branches on a vine. These rich visual images stand alongside other theological statements about the nature of the church and the source of our life and inspiration. Paula drew our attention to this sense of being a “new creation” in her lecture last month.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  In Romans we have a statement that about being baptised into Jesus death, and therefore just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life; alongside an expression of justification by faith, through which we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Being “in Christ” changes who we are – as a community. We belong to a new creation; here and now our lives have the capacity to reflect how things could be – indeed will be  - when God is all in all. 

However we personally “date” our Christian journey, we are called to live in the light; to embrace new life in Christ.  We are equipped with a different lens – through which we see the world and our relationships differently.  Something decisive has taken place in Christ; and in baptism we are called to participate in that new life; and through the life of the church, we glimpse the breaking in of God’s kingdom on earth.

If we use Augustine’s language about sacraments in relation to baptism, we might speak of it as an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. It is at one level a moment of personal decision made within a community of faith (parents, godparents or sponsors, the whole body of Christ); at another level it is a gift of grace, of God’s faithfulness and response to us.  Different churches place the emphasis on one or other aspect of that equation – so might argue for infant/believers baptism. But as the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Paper entitled “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” points out, both have biblical origins and both emphases are important within the life of the whole church.  Infant baptism reminds us of God’s yes to us; of our utter dependence on his grace. Believers baptism reminds us of our yes to God; of our response and decision.

We are, in baptism, called by name; in baptism we become part of the church.  As Galatians 3 expresses it in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. We are all children of God; a new and radical network of relationships is established.  We are all one in Christ – and in Paul’s statement there is no longer Jew or Greek... slave or free... male or female.  All our usual human categories of separation are relativised. We might add no longer rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, liberal or conservative.

That’s the good news! The challenging part is learning how we cultivate bonds of mutual affection. It isn’t a matter of learning to be “good”, adopting a stance of superiority; but it is entering into a set of disciplines and patterns of attentiveness that enable us to live as God’s holy people (as friends, chosen and appointed) and engage with the world (sent out to testify as agents of peace and reconciliation).

Life in the church is moving towards the Kingdom: from a human point of view, there are blurred boundaries between the church and the world, between our ordinary acts of hospitality and the Eucharist, between the Kingdom of God and the renewal of lives.


Worship – the primary calling of Church (or part of in mission also constitutes our identity; abiding & being sent). Not just a calling but something that forms us.  It is a response to God – to his love and action in our lives. It is also a point of encounter with God – during which we glimpse something of the fullness of his Kingdom. 

When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he sets out a pattern where there is participation in worship, attentiveness to God and also transformation of the community.  There are hymns and readings; there is an opportunity for interpretation or revelation (what we might think of as a sermon); there is time for silence. As we discussed last week, Paul was also concerned to remind them of the place of the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist was not to be a place of division, reinforcing social hierarchies, but to be a place of proclamation and encounter.  Interpretation and sacrament, individual gifts and words of interpretation were to be for the building up of the whole body of Christ.

Worship itself is fundamentally a corporate activity through which people are embedded into a particular kind of society.  The opening words of the liturgy gather those present in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The community shares in the Eucharist and is then sent out in love and peace to love and serve the Lord.  But this is more than the formation of a social structure. It is about an encounter with Christ: receiving the gift of his body. As such, the Eucharist is both a place of transformation for the individual and a re-shaping of our common life. There is gathering; there is a sending out. And in between we are brought face to face with the holiness of God; and face to face with one another in both mutual affection and accountability.

In our own churches, we acknowledge that there is a breadth of musical, preaching and worshipping styles.  We find ourselves at different points of the spectrum in terms of spontaneity and given structure.

-      Liturgical: balance of praise, confession, intercession, scripture and teaching; lectionary full range of teaching, not just themes.              

-      Spontaneous: contribution of all, flexible, themes, responsive.

Both are in the service of attentiveness and encounter; both are strange to non-church goers, both have the capacity to open and enable them to glimpse something of the Gospel.   There is a critical engagement between the two – what is lost through spontaneity or structure? How do we remain open to what the Spirit is saying to the churches? How do we ensure some sort of family identity – common measures?


In the New Testament gifts of teaching and interpretation are seen as being inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Barnabas is known as someone how offers tremendous encouragement in the faith; Paul’s teaching is often related to the specific challenges of Christian communities, as well as expressing something of the content of the Gospel.  Timothy we know learnt the faith from his mother and grandmother.  

How then do we learn?

Has our exploration of the faith equipped us to make connections with our life and work?

What resources do we draw on as we learn together and individually?

For many of us, sermons might be the most obvious bit of teaching we receive during the week.  It is something that clergy do invest time and energy in - as we draw together reflection on the set texts with commentaries, theological insights, connections with our life in the world, or issues we face.  Before thinking about explicit ways of “learning” about faith, we ought to pause and consider how worship teaches us implicitly.  In the sharing of peace, do we learn how to cultivate peaceableness in our daily lives? In being welcomed to draw near to our Lord’s table, do we grow in hospitality to others?  Without overstretching a point, and overburdening our worship, it is worth considering how it refines us or draws us into holiness.

Talks and discussion groups might also play an important role for some of us; whether that is on a seasonal basis or more regularly.  In such groups, it is often the fellowship with one another as we wrestle with a text that becomes generative.  We might find daily bible reading notes a useful way into cultivating a deepening sense of learning about faith – setting aside time each day or each week to read, reflect and pray.  We also have at our disposal a range of books and resources – both in the diocesan education centre and in the library here at the cathedral.  We might want to sign up for a specific course or session.  There is also a strong tradition of learning in 1:1 companionship with another Christian – some call it spiritual direction, others use language of a soul friend. Again there are resources available within the diocese to help us with that – including spiritual advice and St. Columba’s. 

The place of the Cathedral in relation to Christian learning is one which we are beginning to discover and re-imagine.  In part we face challenges around nurturing our children and young people and enabling our congregation to grow in faith and discipleship.  We are growing in our commitment to work together with the diocese – building up relationships and collaborating on projects such as the summer school.  We need to be excited about our learning in order to open up a space for engagement with other institutions and other people of faith – pursuing wisdom, igniting debate and being a broker for conversations.

Christian learning is about a depth of engagement – not just learning facts.  We pay attention to God – together.  In worship and in learning our fellowship is formed and deepened.   There are our measures; our plumb lines. Not so that we can become a holy huddle, but so that we can share in partnership in the Gospel.  The scriptures use the Greek word koinonia for this sense of deep God centred, purposeful fellowship.

Koinonia: Fellowship Shaped by Worship and Learning

Koinonia is fellowship/partnership in the Gospel is characterised by several things:

-      The quality of love for each other: Paul uses the phrase mutual affection.

-      It is a set of relationships defined not just by what we do; but one in whom we share. Our baptismal identity is within the Body of Christ.

-      Fellowship with one another because fellowship with God (death and resurrection of Jesus) in power of Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 4:7-8).

-      It describes relationships with God, with each other and with the world; it also fosters a sense of partnership in testifying to the Gospel for the sake of the Kingdom.

-      There are practical elements of such fellowship– care in need; generosity in financial support of others; responsible for sharing Gospel.

All of this is rooted in Jesus’ command in John’s Gospel: love one another.  Learning & worship are different but interrelated activities, through which we learn to direct our attentions and our natures to God and other; open up capacity to love.

-      self-less: concern for others

-      sacrificial: not counting the cost

-      inclusive: for everyone

Measures:  Good or holy?

So back to Katie, and her desire to be good: she goes to church – to what she describes as a ‘bog-standard, nobody-there Sunday service.’ In some ways, the hymns, the congregation and the notices feel a long way from God.  And then the sermon begins.  In an odd mixture of musical and pop music references, the vicar opens up the Gospel.  She talks about a God who wants us merely to be ourselves and that if we spend all our time being falsely pious, then He won’t be able to get to know us, which is what He wants to do. Katie somewhat misses the point – latching on to the critique of those who are Artificially good as an additional weapon in her marital war. Then she hears words from 1 Corinthians 13 – the word charity reels her back in. She thinks she is hearing it properly for the first time; again using it to critique her husbands discovering of radical goodness. Then the later on the penny drops – love and charity are translations of the same word: caritas.

Katie’s journey is complex and fraught with self-righteousness and defensiveness.  She struggles to see if there is anything out there.  Yet, she does learn something about herself and others through that brief immersion in worship. 

Trying to be good – by our own measures – is very different from a life lived in the pursuit of holiness, according to the divine measures of Scripture and Eucharist. To be measured by Scripture is a hopeful and generative part of earthly pilgrimage. Not only does it teach us about God; but it also enables us to make sense of our lives – weaving together stories (which is another gift of this place as we think about brick givers, worshipers and visitors and how we engage with the Christian story to which this place bears witness.  Scripture reveals a vision of the Kingdom, rather than a set of rules; it teaches us about love and holiness, rather than being “good”; it discloses God’s purposes and the hope of healing for humans and all creation.

The worship of the Church has a pivotal place: ‘facing the holiness of God, and performing it within human social life, is the special provenance of worship.’ [Hardy, Finding, p. 19.]  It is dangerous to treat worship as “routine” or as “entertainment”; it isn’t a human attempt to “ascend” to God.  Rather in worship we place ourselves before God’s holiness so that our lives might be redirected towards divine good.

Worship takes place within the context of human resistance and fragmentation; we are proved, refined, lifted up by it; it is a real anticipation of the Kingdom of God.  Worship is not cut off from the world, in all its complexity.  Instead it is the refining fire of Christ in our own particular place.  We might consider in relation to mission the impact on social, political and economic realms; for now in terms of relationships, God’s self-giving holiness forms us: it shapes our freedom and our ethical responsibilities.

In practice: Focusing on relationships within the body of Christ.

How might worship enact holy trust, a trust which forms the basis of society?  How does our meditation on Scripture transform our relationship, by holding before us God’s will for us?   We abide in; we encounter God and one another; we are refined; we are sent out. This process creates in us what Dan calls a ‘moral density’, which entails interdependence (it is a corporate way of life) and calls forth both sacrifice and holiness (it transforms us to embrace an inclusive, self-less and sacrificial love).  Our hearts are restless; they rest in God. In abiding we are turned from self-absorption back to our attraction to God and others.   What does that look like? Paul offers us advice and examples:

-      Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.

-      1 Corinthians 12:25 But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.

-      Romans 15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

-      Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

-      Ephesians 4:32  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

-      Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

-      Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

-      1 Thess. 4:18 Encourage one another with these words.

-      James 5:16 Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.

-      1 Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining.


What next?

Holiness – worship and learning – move from relationships to mission