COI Gazette – 3rd November 2017

Antidote to ‘worship wars’

Worship at All Saints, Dallas, Jan 2017 (Photo: Serkan Zanagar)

Worship at All Saints, Dallas, Jan 2017 (Photo: Serkan Zanagar)

Worship and music styles can be an area of tension in the church in any country, including the USA. This inspired praise team leaders, organists, Gospel choir members and other lovers of church music to gather recently in Dallas, Texas, to launch the Center for Congregational Song, in an effort to counter the ‘worship wars’.

The organisers were trying to re-energise an aspect of church life that often gets mired in feuds about style, volume and the complexity of the songs sung during worship.

“This idea that we need to be at war with each other over worship styles, I find ridiculous, and it’s very unhealthy in general,” said Brian Hehn, the director of the new centre, an arm of the Hymn Society. “The centre is an effort, in part, to do away with that idea.”

For decades, some congregants have differed strongly over whether traditional or contemporary music should reign supreme in their sanctuaries. Church signs sometimes denote the times for separate traditional and contemporary services. Other congregations have experimented with ‘blended’ worship that includes more than one genre.



“Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” (The Shawshank Redemption)

A while ago I was talking to some young people about a TV programme on Northern Ireland politics. The response of one of them was stark: “I don’t know how you watch that stuff. It’s just a lot of angry people who hate each other.” It is certainly a spectator sport that less and less of us can take.

Like the sands in an hourglass something is draining away in us as we watch the politics of Northern Ireland. The thing that is diminishing is … hope. Hope is the feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. It is wanting something to happen or for it to be the case.

What we have been hoping for is some prospect of agreement that would allow normal government to flow from the Executive and Assembly at Stormont. We rightly had the expectation that the challenges of Brexit and the need to have a coherent budget that prioritises services for the ordinary citizen would somehow seem important enough for agreement to happen. More than anything we wanted to feel that the DNA of politics in Northern Ireland could somehow move beyond hatred and mistrust, however dressed up.

DNA is the genetic code that determines all the characteristics of a living thing. You and I got our DNA from our parents; we call it ‘hereditary material’ – information that is passed on to the next generation. Basically, your DNA is what
makes you, you! So, what is the DNA of politics in Northern Ireland – that ‘hereditary material’ that gets passed on to the next generation?

Our faith calls us to respect our politicians. It’s a lifestyle few of us would choose and it is not for the fainthearted. It is fair to surmise that most of them simply want to get on with the job they were elected to do. However, politicians and citizens alike in Northern Ireland are blighted and imprisoned by something that gets passed down in the political DNA through generations.

What is handed down is the unspoken fear that power and votes can be achieved by pressing the sectarian buttons of your own people as well as frightening them. Of course the real knack is to do it subtly – allowing deniability that this is what is going on. Good for votes it may be – bad for the psyche of a community and each one of us it most certainly is! The passing on of such DNA does not provide good soil for hope to grow in. It will keep getting passed down until someone has the courage to break the cycle.

The world beyond these shores is watching with a growing sense of exasperation and disbelief. Within these shores we are in desperate need of leadership on all sides that will change the DNA of politics. Otherwise what we have is sectarian politics – the politics of hatred – just with a better class of PR.

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Letters to the Editor

Reform and tradition

THE WORD ‘reform’ is defined as “to make changes in something (especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it”.

I am reminded that at the time of the Reformation 500 years ago the reformers, Martin Luther and others, wanted to purify the Church of practices that were unscriptural; to divest the Church of those things that took people’s thoughts away from God; and to get back to ‘the basics’.

In this personal reflection, I will focus my thoughts on the Church of Ireland; the Church with which I am more familiar. I would not wish to point a finger at faults in any other denomination when we have enough faults within our own.

I have been a member of the Church of Ireland all my life and I have served in the ordained ministry for 38 years. In all of this time I have seen and appreciated much that is good within the Church of Ireland. What concerns me, and others too, at this time is the apparent disregard for the traditional ways of the Church.
We cannot live in the past. Our lives are changing con tinually but we can, and must, learn from the past and we need to have a healthy respect for the traditional ways of the Church. There is anecdotal evidence that many of the traditions and practices are being ignored. The Liturgy is being tampered with; the rubrics are being ignored; the Constitution has little or no relevance.

All of these things should be regarded as guidelines around which we place our ministry. At Ordination and Institution services, the members of the clergy promise to adhere to and respect these guidelines. The good intentions are, however, short-lived as many of the rules are soon ignored and personal whims dominate the way that the Liturgy is conducted. All of these things are confusing and upsetting for many of the faithful lay members of the Church of Ireland.

I’m sure that some people will be tired of hearing about the need to respect the rules of the Church; but if we ignore these rules or if we think that ‘our way’ is better then we transform the Church of Ireland into a sect. When we do what pleases us, without any recognition of traditional ways, then we have a recipe for disaster!

I love the Church of Ireland and I respect all that it teaches. I have accepted many of the changes that have taken place within my own lifetime and I have embraced many of the changes that have improved the Church, but I have never, intentionally, ignored the framework of worship. This framework focuses my mind and will always guide me in how I approach and conduct worship.

If we are to reform any aspect or part of the Church we don’t need to bring in new ideas. We simply need to return to ‘the basics’ and rediscover the beauty and relevance of what has been part of our heritage for many generations.

Raymond Stewart (the Very Revd)

St Columb’s Cathedral Londonderry


Same-sex marriage debate

IN A recent letter to the Gazette Professor Patricia Barker shares her views about her Christ: “The Christ whom I follow”. She makes it abundantly clear that whoever this Christ is, it’s not the Christ who lived in time and space 2,000 years ago:

Her Christ “does not expect (her) to use as (her) sole source of knowledge the views expressed hundreds of years ago in applying his teaching to the world”.

Prof. Barker’s Christ understands that we do not live in a binary world, and that instead we should promote: “different sexual orientations”; “a variety of gender expressions”; and different “gender identit(ies)”. Her Christ, it seems, has made her wiser than the Apostle Paul, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote I Corinthians. She now understands “so much more” than they could have ever understood.

While she understands this, the Jesus of reality said: “Have you not read, that he who made them at the beginning made them male and female” (Matthew 19: 4). The Jesus of reality believed wholeheartedly that the Scripture is “the Word of God” (Mark 7: 13), that it “cannot be broken” (John 10: 35), because it’s “the commandment of God” (Matthew 15: 3).

When in theological disputes Christ said: “Have you not read that which was spoken to you by God?” (Matthew 22: 31).

The Jesus of reality sent the Spirit of Truth to lead his followers into “all truth” (John 16: 13) and to write as Peter says the “Scriptures” (II Peter 3: 16). And the Jesus of reality warned: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels”(Mark 8: 38).

Professor Barker stands “full square behind” the beliefs and practices of our generation which disregards Christ and consequently she has constructed a Christ to believe in, being ashamed of the words of our Lord Jesus.

Which will the Church of Ireland choose?

Ryan Wilson


I AM SAD that Professor Barker and David Arkley do not appear to take the Bible seriously. How do they know that Jesus’ contemporaries did not understand the same biological facts that they think they understand?

Whatever, that makes no difference to the biblical stricture on same- gender sex.

I did not make any comment on ‘love’, only sex: big difference. I have many friends who have different sexual orientations to me, have travelled pastorally through gender change with others. I do not dislike them; in fact, I love them.

They appear not to dislike me, but I have no compunction in telling them that I think they are wrong if practising same-gender sexual activity. I am not their final judge so I stand alongside them as part of the human race that requires compassion, as I do.

Love is wonderful, but expressed the wrong way it is sinful.

Colin Hall-Thompson (the Revd) Belfast


IN HER letter (Gazette, 13th October) Professor Barker clearly elevates human reasoning and her own personal intellect above the Scriptures.

She writes about “the Christ whom I follow …” and yet she seems to be in denial of Jesus’ teaching about the inviolability of the Scriptures. (For example John 10: 35 “Scripture cannot be broken” and Mark 13: 31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my
words will never pass away.”) However, if we ignore the Scriptures we are in danger of creating God in our own image and confusing the human understanding of medical and psychological conditions and behaviours with the right to condone, promote or affirm such conditions and behaviours.

John Wilson
Kells Co. Antrim

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