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What happens in church on most Sundays ?

– by Rev Geoff Cornell   former Enfield Methodist Circuit Superintendent minister 26.09.10 


The congregation is a mixture of people. Their reasons for being at church in worship are equally mixed!


• reminds us of the presence of God

• proclaims truths about God

• allows us to bring who we are to God

• opens ourselves up to the life God gives

Worship does this through scripture and sermon, through prayer and praise.

For Christians, Jesus is the model of what it means to be a full human being and also the window into the heart of God.

Those who gather for worship are ‘disciples’ of Jesus - learners on the way (not perfect!)

We gather together to proclaim the goodness and worth of God, to support each other, and to learn about ourselves and God through being in a Christian community of followers of Jesus.
There is more to the universe than we can see or understand.
 As we gather so we try to step out of our usual way of living and attune ourselves to God, who cannot be seen and is beyond our understanding. Some do this through quiet, others through prayer. There are some things around to remind us of God’s presence - the candle burning on the table, the organ playing quietly, but above all the cross - to remind us of Jesus who made God known in his living, his dying and in his resurrection.

Before the service people may sit quietly, pray or talk to each other. But when the leader of our worship enters, we begin.

‘Methodism was born in song’. We like singing
- the congregation is a kind of amateur choir, a bit like the TV series but without the enthusiastic conductor, with a variety of voices willing to blend and support each other. Even if you are not used to singing, why not give it a try?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand all the words and you don’t have to agree with them all either:
hymns are poems using words in a particular way, not legal contracts you have to sign up to. In singing we are celebrating life in a very physical way - with every breath that we take! To help singing the words are often displayed on the screen - or you can use a hymnbook if you wish. Most tunes aren’t too difficult to pick up. We stand to sing hymns because it helps us sing better!
Prayers are times when we try to concentrate on God.
To help our concentration we usually close our eyes and stop our hands from fiddling. Sometimes there will be times of silence. It isn’t because we’ve forgotten what happens next, but because silence allows the echoes of words to be heard, allows a response to begin in our hearts, gives God space to move.
The Methodist tradition of worship gathers around the Bible. The hymns we sing are drenched in the language of the Bible. Each Sunday we read aloud from it. If you want to follow the reading, there is a Bible near you, but for most of us just listening is enough. We enter into a different way of seeing the world, truths that people of faith have discovered down through the centuries - often shared with us in story form. A sermon hopefully invites us deeper into one of the stories to see what it might be saying to us - to each one of us.
A sermon is not a school lesson and don’t worry if your mind wanders (there’s no examination!),
but the hope is that at some point something said will strike you with some force - it will be what God wants you to hear.

In worship a congregation steps aside from the world but never loses contact with it. Hopefully hymns and sermon have links into our everyday. We offer situations and people to God in our prayers, opening channels for God’s activity in ways we don’t understand and can’t explain. We often don’t get what we ask for - but God weaves our prayers into the way God works in the world. We invariably say The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus gave us as a model - and we often say it in the modern form.

We have an offering. People come round with a bag for money We are practical people, knowing that money is needed to run a church - but we also give some of the offering away to support wider work, to help people in need. The offering, whether in the bag, or through the Standing Order at the bank, and Gift Aided if we can, is a sign of our priorities as people, of the importance of the things of God in our lives. It is to recognise that importance that we stand as the offering is brought forward for dedication.
Unlike the Anglican or Roman Catholic Churches, Methodists do not celebrate Communion every week.
A monthly pattern is more usual. Again, unlike some other churches, the invitation is for anyone to come forward and receive bread and wine - or, if people do not put forward hands to receive, then a simple prayer of blessing. People come forward - if they wish to - as shown by a steward and each row at the Communion rail remains until a short blessing is offered.
So what’s going on in Communion?
It would take a book to explain - but, simply, we are sharing in the symbolic meal that Jesus instructed his followers to do ‘in remembrance’ of him. We take bread and wine as he did. Jesus linked the bread and wine with his forthcoming death, as a way that God is especially present, so we use the language of sacrifice, of body and blood, even though it is simply bread and wine - but they have added significance because of the way the service links them to Jesus. In receiving, we are inviting Jesus to enter our lives, so that we might better follow his life.
After the final hymn
we remain standing for a blessing, a reminder that the God we have gathered to meet goes with us and ahead of us as we scatter, a reminder that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We then sit, pause, and begin the transition back to everyday living. The service may have ended but there is the opportunity to meet people - and over a cup of (Fair Trade) coffee.
Sunday worship provides a rhythm into our lives that sustains us on our journey with God, into God, that informs our daily living and our private prayers and over time, we trust, shapes us around the way of Jesus.
Worship is the heart of our life as a church, but there is lots more.
The building is a centre for the wider community. There are groups for study or for prayer. There seem to be more meals than are good for our waistlines We have fun together!
If you come to church to find out what it is all about no-one will be pressing you to come again.
But it may be that you’ve found being in church makes some kind of sense for you, that it reconnects you with something important, perhaps alerts you to the activity of God in your life. If so, don’t make it so long before you come again!