Search This Blog

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Memories of a British Visit

[reflections based on a diary entry, journaling a Sunday in England in 1999]

Day Two in England was a Sunday, and we went with our hosts to their church, a place called St Peter’s Loudwater, near High Wycombe. I described it in my diary, with grammatical abandon, as
the single worst piece of Anglican (arguably) pseudo-liturgy I’ve ever experienced: a gauche Gumble-esque goof in civvies appeared to preside over something (the OHP screen, like an Orthodox iconostasis, blocked all vision of the candle-less table) arguably resembling communion (but omitting all the glorious prefaces telling of the glorious acts of God). Then some rabid enthusiast told unsubstatiable “evidences” to authenticate a meaningless and subjective (and at times demonstrably wrong) narrative allegedly about the power of prayer.
I was livid at the liturgy. It began with the mufti-clad gentleman announcing that “we have a really great speaker this morning so will get communion over and done with … we’ll start at the holy holy bit on page …” whatever it was. Apart from not being able to see anything for the OHP screen, I doubt that there would be much reverent action to watch anyway. Forgive me, God, but I genuflected ostentatiously as I left my pew to receive the liturgically invalid communion, and again as I made my way back.

Anne later told me how she had felt my entire body stiffen more and more with each liturgical inanity. Reciprocally Anne became more and more angry as the “fantastic speaker” narrated his tale, telling how he, single handed, with of course help from the Holy Spirit, had converted the entire Zimbabwean parliament to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Subsequent events would suggest that, if the speaker’s diatribe was not an entire self-interested fabrication, then the converted Zimbabwean Parliament soon apostatized, bringing a truckload of demons to join those that our not so humble speaker had driven out.

Fortunately, after leaving our hosts, we were able to find a more benevolent and magnificent God at St. Paul’s Cathedral. We arrived in plenty of time for evensong, and were electrified by the sheer God-proclaiming magnificence of the architectural surrounds. The acoustics were beyond words: as the Precentor, a not unattractive woman who I would later discover was named Lucy Winkett, sang with a voice as pure as any I have ever heard, her notes reverberated around the roofs of the building. It was heaven. The choir sang Fauré’s Verbe égal au Très-Haut - words originally translated by Jean Racine, which when reset to music by Fauré launched his greatness. For both Anne and me the piece rated as one of the ultimate expressions of divine beauty, and it seemed once more a happy providence of God that we should hear it performed in this iconic cathedral on our only visit together.

 A sermon by evangelical bishop Graham Dow, Suffragan bishop in the diocese (and later Bishop of Carlisle) reminded me that the vacuous nonsense perpetrated at St Peter’s Loudwater was not the summation of British evangelicalism. A post-evensong beer at Scruffy Murphy’s tavern reminded me that God was God of liturgy and laughter.
Post a Comment