Sacramental Theatre (part III)

Bishop Steven Croft came to college last week to give the annual Michael Vasey Lecture. Bishop Steven headed up the Fresh Expression initiative before becoming Bishop of Sheffield. He has a great knowledge of the mixed economy church and has written widely about the subject of the emerging church. He also was warden at Cranmer Hall and trained here himself.

He entitled his lecture ‘Searching for Simplicity Beyond Complexity: Developing Liturgy for a Mixed Economy.’ He certainly had a stab at posing some ideas in this direction and there are blogs cropping up in response to this lecture both positive and negative.

I’d like to start by quoting the monastic ball of intensity:

‘It was like listening in on a council meeting.’

I’d agree with this view point. This was a great opportunity to inspire and add some dynamism to an area of the church that can seem to be laborious and stuffy. As a charismatic Christian I have struggled with liturgical forms, not because I don’t appreciate them when they are done well but so often they’re not. Set structures and regurgitated responses are not freeing and lack some personality. Services should encourage a personal response to God and a deeper relationship with the personal God.

During my training I have come to appreciate a well thought through and structured liturgy but it always needs to be led by the Spirit. The use of liturgy needs to be ‘apt’ to quote Ann Morrisey and this is what I want to reflect on.

The theatre is a place where scripts and set words are bread and butter and so the use of liturgy should be a simple addition, shouldn’t it?

Theatrical artists understand the use of script and the need for structures be it Shakespeare or Brecht. The scripts and set words, however, are always a character’s words. It becomes difficult when you ask actors to come up with their own words and to express their thoughts and feelings with a script. They can understand why a character feels or says something but they become suspicious when they are being told to own and believe the same thing as a character. It’s a strange dynamic. I’m not saying that they can’t or won’t but it’s not an easy jump as you may think. The relationship between character and actor needs to be marked out carefully or it can become dangerous emotionally and psychologically.

If the theatre ‘do church’ where is the space for liturgical forms? Where is the time for set responses?

My tutor said something to me in our tutorial last week which made me ask some serious questions of where my thoughts and ideas are heading. He said that an emerging church may not need to take up old forms and structures if it is not needed or if it is restrictive. Am I trying to force old church ideas into a space where it is not needed. Am I forcing complexity into my ideas for theatre church? I think my reflections on the sacramental has led me too much into finding how I can force set forms onto a community who struggle to engage and is the very reason why they don’t go to church. If I were to introduce lots of liturgy and set structures because it’s what church does then surely I’m just doing exactly what this community don’t ‘do’.

So where is the apt liturgy in the theatre community?

Bishop Steven set out five reasons why liturgy is important and should be taken into the future.

1. it provides a balanced diet;
2. it offers a deep engagement with scripture;
3. it allows expression of deep emotion;
4. the liturgical year is beneficial;
5. it’s the work of the people.

Let’s look at each point and make some responses.

1. If a community only ever celebrates where is the acceptance of disappointment. Life is not all plain sailing and a church needs to engage with all aspects of life and to be with people in the sorrow and the joy.

2. As a church we need to engage with all of scripture not just the bits that are nice. Liturgy gives us the engagement with Scripture.

3. Some communities struggle to voice deep emotion. I don’t think the theatre struggle we have a bank of deep emotion and I think this can help the community connect with liturgy. Can Shakespeare be used in liturgy?

4. The liturgical year takes people through the story of Christ from before He was born through to the looking for His Glory. For the theatre community, if they only ever performed Act 2 and never got to Act 5 the play never makes sense. It gives them a story to follow.

5. There needs to be a personal involvement in the life and worship of the community. It cannot be the leader or minister it needs to be the work of the people.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the use of liturgy in theatre church which I can keep pondering on. Until the community actually gather I will not know for sure what is ‘apt’ for them. It’s good to know liturgical forms that one can draw on but it needs to be led by the Spirit if it is going to connect with the people you are leading into worship and engagement with God.