One of the things Probationer Presbyters and Deacons in the Methodist Church are required to do is to set aside time for on-going study. This is done with a variety of success, for a variety of reasons. Some of the form the study takes is mandated Connexionally, but other parts are for the Probationer to decide upon individually, in conversation with folk at Circuit, District and Connexion levels. My personal studies are taking the form of undertaking an MA in Christian Liturgy, studied for through Sarum College and validated by Winchester University. This is taught through a modular system whereby each module requires four days of intense classroom study at Sarum, preceded and followed by further reading and the writing of assignments, both essays and short seminar papers.
Having undertaken the classes for two modules so far (the Intro module and one one Christian Inititiation – i.e., Baptism and Confirmation) I can say I am certainly enjoying it. It’s great to retreat (is that the right word, I’m not sure it is, other than in the “going on a retreat” sense of the word, but it’ll do) back to the world of scholarship that I do find energises me so much. The module on Initiation did this in particular, aided by the presence of some world-class lecturers, not least of which was Prof Paul Bradshaw, of Notre Dame University, who quite literally wrote the book on Early Church worship! As ever, I find the reading and writing much more challenging than the cut and thrust of thinking on my feet during lectures, seminars and debates, but to be given the opportunity to undertake this study is a great privilege and I am willing to put in the hard yards.
Studying in Salisbury also gives me the opportunity to catch up with old college friends from home in the Mendips, as they now live just outside Salisbury. I stay with them and commute into Salisbury daily during the modules, which saves me money (I’d have the costs of being residential for the week otherwise) and keeps me in touch with good friends.
But why liturgy? Why, out of all the wonderful subjects I could have taken on for an MA, did I choose this one? Well, partly because I found myself to be rather good at liturgical studies whilst I was at Cambridge – one of my highest marks came in the paper I took on Patterns of Christian Worship, which was of the First Class grade. And I found I was pretty good at writing liturgy too – those liturgical items I wrote for worship in the context of both the Wesley House community, and on one occasion the Cambridge Theological Federation, were overwhelmingly well-received. Rather importantly, I also enjoy both the writing, the carrying out, and the studying of liturgy. And I should be clear, by liturgy I do not simply mean written words. I have heard liturgy described as “performed theology”, and I find that a great way into understanding the subject – so liturgical studies involves studying the words and the rubrics (which may or may not be formally written down), just as a dramatist might study scripts, but this is drama, not literature, so we also study what is done (the how and the why), and we also study, because this is theology, what it says of God, and of the Church, and what it teaches both Christians and non-Christians about God – both intentionally, and, possibly, unintentionally. I think all of these things are important if we, as a Church, are to continue to develop and offer worship that is both appropriate to the faith as it has been handed down plus open to and engaging for those who are new to Church – and let us remember that liturgy is present in the worship of all denominations of the faithful, from the silence of a meeting of the Society of Friends, through the exuberant informality of an evangelical praise service, to the ordered formality of a Catholic High Mass.
Of course, I am not called simply as an academic but also as a practitioner. Much of the time I am faced with time constraints and local needs that mean I cannot be as inventive as I would like, but I was grateful to the folk of Downderry for encouraging me to be somewhat experimental on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, and have been grateful to my other chapels at points through the year when I have tried to offer something at least a little different – Burraton were especially supportive when a number of them engaged with my offering of an Ash Wednesday Eucharist with the imposition of ashes, as well as a Liturgy of the Passion with projected images on the evening of Palm Sunday, midday Holy Week prayers, and a much “higher” Eucharist on Easter Sunday than they might normally have had – all with very positive, and sometimes unexpected, responses. I look forward to further such opportunities as my time here continues.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering why this came up today, it’s because we Probationers are expected to take a Study Day per week in order to undertake our studies, and Wednesday is my designated Study Day, so I spent much of today, before heading off to help referee a cup final, working on a Seminar Paper on the baptism liturgies of the Methodist Church.
Whatever it is you find interesting to study, whether formally or informally, travel well.