Liturgy needs an apology

Jodie McNeill

As one of the young ones who sat through the AAPB 'Page 39' service every single Sunday, I grew up as a product of the MLC (Minimum Liturgy Compliance) movement.

I, and many of my contemporaries, had little love for liturgy because we were not shown any aspect of its benefits and beauty.

Yet, beyond the fact that I was bored by this token repetition, I longed for a genuine expression of my response to God's salvation. I wanted real words from my heart, not just a string of tightly-woven, theologically-dense, rote-learned responses.

As a result of this, and many other attempts to 'contemporise' our services of corporate worship, we have ended up with a casserole of theology and a soup of subjectivity.

Yet, attempts have not gone smoothly as we have sought to restore liturgy to its rightful place as a common word from a common people. There is still resistance to having our prayers pigeon-holed and pre-fabricated by prayer book poets.

With this in mind, I recently read a terrific quote by J.I. Packer that fired a precision attack upon those who reject liturgy on the grounds of non-spontaneity.

In his book, Praying the Lord's Prayer, Packer writes:

"We should certainly not content ourselves with parroting other people's prayers, nor would God be content if we did (for what parent could be happy if his child only spoke to him in quotations, thus limiting his conversation to the reciting of other people's sentiments?). But as another pianist's interpretation of a piece can help a budding musician to see how he can best play it (not, perhaps, in quite the same way), so we are helped to find our own way in prayer by seeing how others have prayed, and indeed by praying with them." (p.16-17)

Ironically, our latest generations are happy to sing pre-written words and tunes with feverish repetition, but are not comfortable speaking pre-written prayers. Even praying prayers from the Bible is seen as rigid and uninspiring.

Yet, if people are happy to express their feelings to God through pre-written song words, then why are they unhappy to express their feelings to God through pre-written prayer words?

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors, and is running a workshop called 'Radical Worship' at the upcoming TWIST Music Conference in Sydney on Saturday 23rd October.