Sunday, 3 February 2008

Simply Divine

A first for me today, I conducted a Divine Service for Lodge Ardgowan 1425. I'm not quite sure what I expected but, first off, entering the sanctuary and being confronted with an almost entirely male congregation in various bits of regalia was, to say the least, daunting. But as soon as the service got underway the sound of 70 male voices raised in worship just blew me away. As the service progressed it was reassuring to feel God's presence and even hear God's laughter echoing around, enlivening our worship.
And I enjoyed the fellowship after the service over the obligatory tea and buns.
Today's experience reminded me how God always has the ability to surprise us in worship and create for us ever new encounters and reminders of divine presence.
In churches, where we are used to women being in the majority, what a refreshing change and privelege to share with and minister to men. Divine indeed!


Frederick Buechner's Lovechild said...

Not sure I could take that kind of service, though I've never been asked to and haven't really thought it through. Too much baggage from growing up in Northern Ireland I think...

but I know what you mean about the singing. The unaccompanied singing at the General Assembly always strikes me in the same way.


Anonymous said...

I know Liz did not specify that it was a Masonic and NOT an Orange Order Divine Service that was held in Inverkip yesterday (not even sure if the Orange Order has Divine Services); so I would just like to assure FBL that the religious divisions so apparant in NI during the 'troubles' are completely abhorent to the Masonic Order.
One of the abiding principles of the Masonic movement is to unite men of all religions and therefore it admits to its membership ANY man who believes in God (all be it, the God of his own faith), be he Christian (Protestant, Roman Catholic,etc.), Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, ad infinitum.
There were probably several Roman Catholic brethren present at the Divine Service on Sunday (I definitely know of one who was sitting beside, he is a good friend and a Past Master of my own Lodge).
Although, just like any other large organisation, there will be the odd bigot who slips through the interview net, I can assure FBL that the overwhelming majority of Freemasons respect every other brother's beliefs and his right to hold them. One of the rules of our Order is that, within the Lodge, there shall be NO discussion on theological or political matters whatsoever. Thereby preventing differences of opinion and preserving the harmony between the brethren.
If FBL's Kirk Session is anything like most of the other Sessions in Scotland, he may find that there are one or two Freemasons amongst them. I'm sure that if he were to talk to them about his 'baggage' they will be able to help him understand a bit more of what Freemasonry is all about and clear up his misconceptions allowing him to think it through and allaying his misgivings about holding 'that kind of service'.
And, FBL, think of the upside of holding such a service......the singing IS great.

JMcA PM217

Rachael xx said...

glad you liked hte video liz...spread the word!!!

It's on youtube:

when RS2 are finished with their edited version of my one i'kll put that up too.

Rachael xx

Mike Peatman said...

I have lots of misgivings about Freemasonry, Liz, so rather you than me. It's interesting that an organisation which is usually even more patriarchal than the church should invite you as a woman minister to officiate. An encouraging sign!

Frederick Buechner's Lovechild said...

JMcA - thanks for your comments explaining a little about the nature of the service.

I'm aware that this is not the place to start a discussion on Freemasonry - it'd be a bit like having a picnic in Liz's backyard - but I want to respond to just one aspect of your reply.

I think it's laudable that people of different faiths understand and value each other. I've lived in multicultural settings in both England and Scotland, and attended a course in Glasgow (run by Muslims) to become more informed about Islam. I've studied other religions in my divinity degree and spent time both in India and Israel, so I have a little knowledge of Hinduism and Judaism. I've also emerged from the NI situation committed to ecumenism.
My last blog entry was about a visit to a Benedictine Abbey. This Ulster Proddy has come a long way!

However, from my perspective there's a difference between respecting people of other faiths and entering into dialogue with them, and worshipping together. In my experience, what tends to happen is that in those contexts we speak more about God and less about Christ to avoid embarrassment, and yet the Christ event is utterly central to Christian belief.

The core confession of Christianity since its very beginning has been three little words "Jesus is Lord". At the heart of our faith is the belief that at a particular time and place God entered our world in human form, revealing himself in the person of Jesus ("The word became flesh and lived among us" John writes at the beginning of his gospel). We are not 'people of the book' (as Muslims refer to Jews and Christians), but 'people of the person'. God's prime self-revelation is not through words on paper, but through a living human being.

Because of this core belief, Christ is now the lens through whom I view God ('the image of the invisible God', says Paul). Without him, all we're left with is an invisible God. In all conscience I don't think I could organise this kind of service without downplaying Christ's role in the interests unity. That's something I don't think I'd be prepared to do.

Though I have hope for my brothers and sisters of different faiths, I can't subscribe to the philosophy which depicts all religions as different roads up the same mountain. None of us are made right with God through religion (including Christianity!).That would be salvation by 'works'. I believe we're made right with God only through the work of Christ.

Christians disagree about how we access that 'righteousness' (-is it through faith, or does God graciously bestow it on all people?-) but few deny that the work of Christ is what's given humanity the possibility of getting on a right footing with God.

I can (and do) admire the commitment of my brothers and sisters in other religions, agree with much of their morality and learn from their traditions, but it seems to me that a Christian theology needs to maintain that what ultimately makes us right with God is the particular work done by a particular man 2000 years ago.

Personally I don't think I could let that go for the sake of some kind of perceived unity.

Ergo - and subsequent to your kind explanation! - I still don't think I could take this kind of a service.

What I've set out is, I think, a pretty orthodox understanding of Christian teaching, JMcA.

How would you (as a church member?) respond to that, not on a gut level, but in terms of what the Bible actually says?

Liz - if this is onerous for you, we can take it to Slow Work.



liz said...

Guys, thanks for this discussion. Its enlightening and I'm glad you're having it graciously. Will it just show how shallow I am if I confess that I will try to create worship opportunities at the drop of a hat for anyone who asks and naievely leave the rest to God?

Frederick Buechner's Lovechild said...

No it says nothing about shallowness, Liz.

It says a lot about your Myers-Briggs preferences and your theology!

My head is talking more than my heart in this instance, which is unusual for me.

I've been in a situation where I was asked to take a memorial service for a Muslim man who had married a Scot. He'd been buried according to his own tradition in Libya but his wife wanted a memorial service for his friends in Scotland. I agreed to do it happily, and tried hard to avoid Christocentric language, but the experience reminded me of just how much we lose when we filter him out.

Sadly, despite my efforts, his Muslim friends wouldn't come as they felt it was (a) unnecessary to have such a service and (b) not something they were comfortable with as it was conducted by a Christian minister.

I'm not saying we don't have commonality - I tend to subscribe to the CS Lewis school of thought that we see in Last Battle. There's a lovely passage there where a man who had worshipped Tash rather than Aslan stands before the lion in judgement, expecting condemnation. And Aslan blesses him and says "Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek".

With that in view I'm not closed to the idea of sharing worship, but simply wary of it.

You'll remember the childhood experience of rolling all the different colours of plasticine together into a ball? It looks lovely at the start, like petrol spilled on wet ground, but after a while all the distinctiveness is lost as the colours merge into a nondescript brown.

I guess worry about losing our distinctive colour, or to change the analogy the salt losing its saltiness...

Anyway - each to his own, and I see the sense in what you're saying.



hotscotmom said...

Liz, I've read and considered the posts on this subject a few times. Some very learned deliberations but I've come to the conclusion that you should keep on doing what you do best; bringing people together whatever the colour of their coats.Lord knows there's enough division in the world.
You are a breath of fresh air.
Go girl.

Anonymous said...


I understand the problem with the bretheren, but I'm no way as smart as all these other, learned folk, but I know you do your ministry through LOVE. I can't see how that can be a bad thing! I'm sure there's a small mention in the Bible somewhere. There just ain't enough to go round just now. Keep spreading the LOVE bud.


liz said...

Hotscotmom. Thanks for your encouragement. Sometimes we just take ourselves far too seriously when we serve a God who has the biggest semse of humour. Incidentally, that was what I preached on - God the great comedian playing for an audience that is afraid to laugh. (Voltaire)

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