Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Encouraging Spontaneous Worship

I'd like to thank Grewzum for last night' s "meditation on pebbles".

During the meditation, my thoughts went back to the early days of the Beaker Folk. How we rejoiced in our discovery of alternative worship!  No longer shackled to the hymn sandwich, or even to traditional liturgy we were free - free to worship in spirit and truth, with creativity and devoutness unfettered by the chains with which other fellowships bound themselves. Even Tradition is no dead hand, if you can make your own tradition up.

That first year, it was all pretty much contemplation of pebbles. First there was regarding their beauty, their markings, their solidity - often, when someone had been to the seaside, their roundness, which so beautifully captured the concept of God having the whole world in God's hands.

Then in the autumn we were able to switch to conkers and hazelnuts - with appropriate health warnings - and then someone thought of marbles. But still, albeit they brought other connotations - of the natural world, or of childhood - they were pretty much pebble substitutes.

Then after twelve months of holding stones, comparing their weight to that of our sins and dropping them in bowls of water as prayers - for pebbles are infinitely flexible -  we figured it was all getting a bit samey. So we agreed to try some spontaneous worship. Worship back to basics. After all, we figured, there was no mention of stones in worship in the New Testament. But loads of references that could imply spontaneity, if you worked hard enough on your exegesis.

That first week, we discovered that spontaneity isn't necessarily the best approach for musicians. It wasn't so much that a group of reasonably talented musicians couldn't busk whatever the worship leaders unexpectedly decided to sing. Given a comprehensive set of music books, and at least agreement on the key and who was leading in, they could probably have coped with most stuff, fairly passably. Up to that memorable day when Herrreerr said "and now I feel God is calling us to sing the Lacrymosa from Berlioz's Requiem.  And it wasn't the long succession of burned-out Data Projector operators, who sometimes found themselves speed-typing songs that were in no known collection.

No, the real problem was the people who announced - reasonably, given the basic premise that God would bless our spontaneous, unplanned oblations - that they were just going to rock up and play instruments they had never learnt.

After that first week - that dreadful first week!  Who can forget the anguished scream of those bagpipes when I turned the blow torch on them. After that first week, we had to introduce the rule that you could only spontaneously ask for a song if it was in one of the 45 specified music books. And all wannabe musicians had to satisfy basic competency tests. Though somehow Nordix had discovered three chords that first week, and has been the backbone of the music group ever since. Though after week 3, we bought him a capo. Albeit that damaged what had been promising sales of tight trousers in the Beaker Bazaar.

Later on, we had to restrict spontaneity in other ways. After Gesmyn prayed the same spontaneous prayer every week for a month - and we discovered the people she was praying for didn't even have the conditions she was listing - we had to get spontaneous prayers written down and vetted a week in advance. This was a great relief to Burton Dasset, mind. He had absolutely no idea how he came to get pregnant, when Gesmyn's prayers alerted to his delicate condition.

Then we had to crack down on spontaneous Scripture readings, especially by people who didn't have Bibles with them. They were just frequently inaccurate. That whole Genesis reading where Bizmere mentioned the people laughing at Noah, the failure of the unicorns to show up, the sad demise of the trilobites (poisoned by an influx of fresh water, apparently) and the laying down of the Jurassic sediments was probably the worst. Though worryingly I was the only one who noticed. Of course the unicorns weren't left behind - they're just the King James word for rhinos.

So in the end we realised that the best bet was to write down absolutely everything people had to say spontaneously. And that was how we developed the Beaker Common Prayer.

And then after outbreaks of worship focuses that included giant hogweed (so we could contemplate God's wonders and yet awesome terror) and the day Chasleigh invited everyone to bring their own badger, we decided to get q bit of a grip on creative liturgy as well. And it's pretty well been pebbles 'n' tea lights all the way down since then.

Creativity and spontaneity are great. We embrace them whole-heartedly. You've just got to get them under control.


  1. To this admittedly jaundiced reader, I suspect you are evoking very much the goings-on in the early years of the Church. You get a few hints in the Epistles that decorous behaviour (spontaneous or not) was not always the norm. It's not surprising: the majority being the raggle-taggle of the Roman Empire, heirs to a bewildering multiplicity of cults and religions, all rocking up to these new assemblies to be told to behave nicely? Why, I bet they didn't even have pews!

    If you were around in the 1980s, ArchDruid, and unwise enough to follow the developments in the European and North American Catholic Churches, you'd have seen something very like the above, repeating itself. Pebbles as an aid to worship and all. Hallelujah, I feel like flinging my arms about and speaking gibberish, everybody look at me, how inspired by something I am! There is nothing new under the sun.


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