Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Lord's Prayer

Mike Taylor
My brother Michael Taylor died last year, a few days before his 73rd birthday.  He had lived in a nursing home for six years, keeping the staff entertained and on the run, with his loud, cheerful and demanding voice, and his infectious laugh.  In the last months his health deteriorated rapidly. Always a gourmand, when he was no longer able to go to Gilmore's Hotel for grilled barramundi or steak dianne, the last real pleasure went out of his life.  As the end drew near, he rallied just long enough to send messages of love to people and say that he wanted us to sing "The Lord's My Shepherd" and play music of The Beatles at his funeral.  We stood around his bedside and prayed, led by our sister, the Revd Roberta Hamilton. The last word that our brother said was "Amen".  It was in response to the Lord's Prayer.

I have been reliably informed by young Evangelical Christians that we don't really need to learn the Lord's Prayer by heart.  One young man informed me confidently that in the future it will hardly be used any more. ..... and, although this might come as a surprise to some, in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, this seems to be quite right.

The Sydney Diocese (for those who don't know) has a Bible College which sets the benchmark for how 21st Century Evangelical Ministry ought to operate.  A recent graduate of Moore College argued the point that the Lord's Prayer was given to us as an example of how to pray.  It didn't come with any obligation that it should be learnt by heart and repeated daily, or even repeated once every Sunday.  If we read the Lord's Prayer, and comprehend from reading it, how praying ought to be done, then we are free to pray our own prayers.  We can pray, safe in the knowledge that we know how to do it.  And, by this reasoning, a leader, in a church or community situation, knowing how to pray, can pray effectively for the congregation or group, and say what needs saying......... or can they?

Is there any reason for bothering to memorise the Lord's Prayer?  Is there any reason for using it, on occasions when Christians gather together, given that Jesus didn't actually command us to use it?

My son, who is now a Christian youth leader, went to a Christian school.  And for the six years that he was there, I went to services and functions. I don't recall ever praying the Lord's Prayer on any school occasion..... not once, even once, in those six years.  When parents were asked to comment on school matters, it was one of the things on which I wrote at length. To no avail.

My son goes to a large lively youth service at the local Christian auditorium, on Sunday evenings.  I do recall the Lord's Prayer being used once. It was on the occasion of Archbishop Peter Jensen's visit, and was the same day that the rector included the Apostle's Creed, and explained to the young people present that these two elements were traditional to Anglican Church worship, so we were going to repeat them, with the aid of the overhead screens, because, of course, none of the young people could be expected to know these things by heart.  In retrospect, Archbishop Peter may not have even noticed if they were omitted, since  he was previously the principal of Moore College, and may have had a part in encouraging his clergy in the understanding that they should make up their own prayers, rather than simply reciting what they have learnt.

I have already asked the question, is there a point in learning the Lord's Prayer (by heart, as they say), and continuing to use it?

My dying brother would encourage me to say, yes, there is!

It seems to me that there is an extraordinary degree of arrogance in the notion that we can dispense with  that which Christ himself gave us. This is the prayer of the person who, confronted with fear, agony or grief, can think of no other words.  This is the prayer of the aged and dying.   This is the prayer that remains when mind and memory fail.  This is the prayer that unites us as Christians across the world.

"No it's not," says my young Moore College graduate. "In point of fact, we are united by the Statement of Faith." (a.k.a. The Creed)
Well yes, that too!  But Jesus didn't give us the creed.  The creed is mankind's invention.  It's about Church. It isn't about God.  We don't "draw near to God" in the words of the Creed.  We draw near to God in prayer.

There has always been a place in both public and private worship for the custom-made prayer of the prayer leader or praying individual. We are encouraged to bring the "desires of our hearts" before God, in praise, thanks and petition. But does the priest or prayer leader know what the other praying individuals have in their hearts?

The arrogance of modern Evangelical leaders is that they think they have all the answers, all the time.  They obviously believe that the prayers that they utter, in front of, and on behalf of congregations, youth groups, school assemblies and so on, are able to fill all the needs every time; that after they have prayed, nothing is left undone, and no words remain to be said, on behalf of the group, to God.   The group listens and says "Amen". They say it, politely, whether everything has been covered, or not.  The group doesn't usually pray out loud, together, as a group, unless there is a prayer projected onto a screen that they can follow.  Nobody says, anymore, "As our Saviour Christ has taught us, we are confident to pray.....".  Young people are not taught, any more, so they are no longer "confident" to pray it.

The beauty of the prayer that Our Saviour taught us is that it covers all sorts of possibilities.  It states who it is to whom we pray: Our Father in Heaven.  It expresses his greatness and our trust in his wisdom and might. It sources our needs and petitions our forgiveness.  It acknowledges our weakness and seeks relief from our greatest fears.  Basically, it is the prayer that has everything covered.

Let all the World, in Every Corner, Sing!

"The power of art draws people to behold it. Good art bears its message into the soul through the imagination and begins to appeal to reason, for art makes ideas plausible. The quality of music and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Their faith makes the words of the hymn or the song meaningful despite its artistically poor expression, and further, they usually have a personal relationship with the song leader and musicians. But any outsider who arrives not convinced of the truth and having no relationship to the music leaders will be bored or irritated by the poor offering. Excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude. The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come. To say this positively, the attraction of good art will play a major part in drawing non-Christians." (Tim Keller - Evangelistic Worship, p. 7).

"Excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude."  This is absolute nonsense! 

For a start, it is based on some preconceived notion of what is aesthetically excellent, what is mediocre and what is poor.   One of the things that people of almost every type find "inclusive" is participation.  A church with talented musicians and a great "up-front" music team can suffer from an extreme lack of participation, simply because every church service is a "performance".  People don't "sing"; they simply "sing along".  

If you can get ordinary people to sing "together", then you have something that others will want to join in. The music can be as excellent as Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, Bach's "Oh Sacred head sore wounded", or the magnificent Wesley/Mendelsshon combo of "Hark the Herald Angels"; it can be as corny as "Standing on the Promises" or "When the roll is called up yonder"; as simple as "Wide wide as the ocean" or the Taize chant "Laudate Dominum", or totally and utterly trite.  But whatever the music may be, wherever people sing with enthusiasm, others will join in, and in doing so, will be included, just in the process of raising their voices as part of the multitude. 

Modern styles of worship have increasingly robbed worshippers of the pleasure of hearing their own voice raised as one of many. Recitation of familiar prayers, including the Lord's Prayer, is in many places a thing of the past. The voices of the young are rarely raised together in that ancient statement of faith known as The Creed. Familiar hymns that traditionally have been used to bond communities (young and old) in times of grief or celebration have been forgotten in the provision of stimulating entertainment for the young.  No.  "Excellent aesthetics" is one of the least considerations. Being able to join in "The Lord's my Shepherd" with your mother, granny and other mourners  at your grandfather's funeral is to be included. Standing there and fumbling because you don't know it when you need it is to be excluded. Holding a Carol Service and using the familiar carols but with modernised words and an up-beat rhythm excludes all the people who only come once a year to bring their kids. 

Putting a group out the front who concentrates on producing a quality performance, is exclusive. Putting just one leader whose primary job is not to play an instrument and sing into a microphone, but to conduct the whole congregation is far more inclusive. No-more than one person can lead congregational singing, unless the venue is so big that people cannot see. There is nothing wrong with a backing group which serves like a choir, but the minute they take front stage, you have lost your congregational singing. 

The traditional choral service such as are still used in cathedrals and collegiate churches across the world, are an effective way of getting congregations to sing.  The choir doesn't face the congregation. They sing the responses (which the congregation can join in) and when they do perform during a service, it is an "anthem" and it is clearly a "worship performance".  The choir also leads the hymn-singing, which is generally done in unison, with the choir breaking into parts in the last verse. The treble line that is produced in the final verse is intended specifically to complement the unison singing of a congregation of ordinary untrained singers. Being part of the congregation when the choristers suddenly break loose in a great hymn can be thrilling, but it is the general rumble of untrained voices that is the essential component, not the choir.  I will put some of my favourite hymn-singing clips on my page. 

Some of my favourite Youtube Hymn-singing: "Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah" from Wales.  Jesus would have been right in the middle of this. a very enthusiastic Easter Anthem

Taize from Notre Dame, Paris

This is what a well-trained congregation can do! 

The words and music of this hymn are as trite as they come. The singing is delightful!

Pope Benedict really enjoyed his visit to Westminster Abbey.  The name of the tune, appropriately, is “Westminster Abbey” by Purcell, and the words “Christ is made the sure foundation”. The grave with the poppies is that of the Unknown Soldier. This was a great moment for ecumenism. 

The very poor video is of a wonderful and glorious moment in the history of Christianity.  "Shine Jesus Shine" at the inaugural service at Our Lady of the Rosary, first Christian Church in Qatar, an Islamic state on a peninsular in the Persian Gulf. The Catholic congregation is mainly domestic servants and workers from the Philippines and other parts of South East Asia.