Today is our last day in England. We’ve enjoyed being here for nearly a month now. As we make preparations to depart, I find myself reflecting on the experience. I hope to offer a few reflections over the next few weeks, but readers of this blog know that I am a sporadic blogger at best.
I would have to say that one aspect of our time in England that we really enjoyed was the opportunity to worship and fellowship with other Christians. We attended Holy Trinity (HT) Anglican Church in the center of Cambridge. It is an evangelical church in the best sense of the word. The worship was “lower” church, with a drum set and band placed right in front of the altar. In some ways worship was no different from what you would find in an evangelical church in the states (or the “colonies” as my one friend was fond of saying). Having been in the episcopal church previously (and for over 10 years), I tend to prefer a “higher” church worship. The Book of Common Prayer is such a well-written theology of prayer and worship that it is sometimes unfortunate when it isn’t used. However, a lower church taps into the vibrancy of worship that can sometimes be lost in higher church worship, and HT is also right in the heart of University of Cambridge and has adapted services to the interests of students, I imagine.
I could also add that, unfortunately, many – not all – higher churches are also much more theologically liberal, and there is nothing as disconcerting as going to a high church where the people running the service do not actually believe what they recite. (I sometimes wonder about the intellectual integrity of making a career in the church if you no longer believe fundamental tenets of Christianity.) So we avoided that scene. No, the folks at HT believe what they teach and preach and sing and so on. We were warmly welcomed into the community during out time there. We had the opportunity to hear the Bishop of Ely one week and the Bishop of Sabah in Malaysia another week.
When we did go to some of the larger, more formal churches, we typically went to evensong (or as another friend from Britain refers to as “the Anglican gift to the world”). We sat in on evensong services at both the Westminster Abbey in London and at the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. A sung evensong service is beautiful and can be deeply moving, particularly if you are not used to worshiping in large cathedrals that were often built to draw people into a greater sense of awe and reverence for the sacred.
The ideal for me draws on the best of both worlds: a higher church worship experience (even “smells and bells” as it were) with genuine faith reflected in those in the congregation and those leading the worship. And it is not just a service but the ebb and flow of the entire church calendar, something that I know I often lose sight of in more informal settings.
In any case, my first reflection is on our experience of worship in England. The shared sense of identity and community in the Body of Christ is recognizable across the globe, and it was one of the highlights of our time here.
UPDATE: When I first wrote this, we had been to evensong service at Westminster Abbey, and we were planning to go to evensong at King’s College Chapel this afternoon. Well, we just got back from that service, and I have to say that it was very satisfying to participate in the service in that setting. A chapel of that design is not just for visitors to enjoy the architecture; it was designed to facilitate worship and prayer. A car enthusiast does not just want to look at a Porsche 918 Spyder, he or she wants to take it for a ride, to use it as it was originally intended.