February 2018 - Rector's Ramblings

In January, I travelled across to Chichester Cathedral for their daily sung evensong preceded by a tea.nThe reason for this mini-pilgrimage was that once each year prayers are offered in the Cathedral for each of the parishes of Chichester Diocese. On 16 January 2018 was the turn of Westbourne, and I was pleased that around 15 of us from the parish were able to attend that evening’s service.

The Cathedral is a lovely setting, and the worship was  -  as you would expect  -  offered with a rare degree of precision and musical ambition. The choir of 6 adults and 12 boys led the singing of the psalms and canticles, and there was a sustained atmosphere of devotion and beauty. Now I recognise that Cathedral worship is not to everyone’s taste, and often with good reason, but for me this was a precious opportunity to be a part of something that we can not replicate in like fashion in the parish church.

Cathedrals exist to be centres of excellence: in music, in preaching and theological thought, in the presentation of the arts. They are expensive places to maintain, and the effort that goes into their every offering of worship is a continuing expression of the worth of God, who is thereby honoured. Chichester Cathedral, like any other, is an important shop window upon the possibilities of Christian worship; but it does not set out to present that offering for the entertainment of the many visitors, but rather as the finest devotion that the assembled minds and voices can present before God.  Unselfconscious excellence.

I commend to you the opportunity to visit the Cathedral at some time, and particularly to join in its worship.

What strikes me further, however, is the relationship to our own worship here in St John the Baptist and Woodmancote Churches. We, too, within our own strengths and limitations are engaged in something of the same. We, too, of course from a lower base, are offering ourselves to God. Our music, our prayers, our shared silences; the decoration of our church, the spoken word, the reverence with which we attend to God, and the warm sincerity with which we love one another. All these things are our self-giving, our devotion; and they are not designed to impress, as such, but rather to contribute with integrity to the eternal symphony of prayer that is our best and fitting response to God. Just like in the Cathedral Church of Chichester.

When I see an individual quiet and intent upon God, as they sit or kneel; when I hear our choir together working towards their sweetest offering; when I enjoy the organist’s rousing and creative accompaniment or improvisation; when prayers are spoken with exquisite gentleness, respect and humanity; when I walk into the church in the middle of a weekday and see the votive candles burning in the north chapel, a tell-tale sign that prayer has been uplifted there in the last few hours; when light streams through the stained glass imagery, or pretty flower arrangements unite human creativity with that of God. In all these things, I delight that we too, locally, are extending our worship towards heaven. 

We will do these things differently from the Cathedral, but are not any poorer for that. Have high expectation indeed for what we are about. Preserve that defiant attention godwards, and be a part of the intentional offering that is so beautifully reflected in the lovely hymn of this epiphany season:

‘o worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness, kneel and adore him, the Lord is his name!’

Our Diocese invites of us a year of prayer, for 2018. Allow yourself a part in that through the churches of this parish. Speak to me personally if you wish to explore further.

Kind blessings, 

Andrew Doye, Rector

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