If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m not afraid to accredit quite a bit of good vibe spirituality to human nature. I think the evangelical tradition I was formed in had a distorted view of sin which disallowed it to co-exist with human goodness. Whereas I believe that every human being is capable of grasping and creating beauty, truth and goodness regardless of their Redeemed status, simply because they are made in the image of God. Many times I don’t feel a need to label something as God’s work distinguishable from this innate human God-likeness.
It’s in that context that I want to say that the Holy Spirit is definitely doing something special at Holy Trinity Brompton. God is present and active beyond what could be humanly explained and of course I am by far from the first to note the significance of the Alpha Ministries birthed there. It’s the only worship I’ve been to in the UK that was genuinely multi-racial and multi-age. It’s also the only service I’ve been to where it was possible to participate without being made to feel excluded by illiteracy, though I suspect most worshippers were quite well educated. I was greeted with a warm and winning smile FOUR TIMES before I reached the front door and which made it impossible not to relax and start to expect something different by the time I reached a seat. The music, praying and preaching was all done without a fuss and the building itself aided an emphasis on the whole congregation present, rather than the individuals up the front.
I was there for the parish’s annual (financial) gift day which, far from being awkward, was a great blessing for me as a visitor. After a short welcome by one of the ministers, the band started playing to invite people into the liturgy with two old and familiar songs. The minister returned to lead the congregation in prayer – for the church, the world and ourselves – then there was another bracket of three newer songs which coaxed joyfulness and humility out of my soul. A great biblical sermon emphasised the heart of the giver – free and joyful. (Give it a couple of days and I’m sure you’ll be able to listen to the sermon by podcast from the HTB website.) There was just the right balance of story telling (including great use of video clips) and encouragement from the scriptures laid before the congregation without coercion. Then a substantial time was allocated for the actual bringing forward of the gifts, with joyful music and much celebration. A final prayer and we were done, unless you wanted private prayer for particular needs, which was offered in a quiet(ish) corner of the room.
Why was I so moved? Because of it’s inclusiveness – I saw a young woman signing the songs and a middle-aged man with dwarfism playing (skillyfully) his violin from the congregation! I saw the children on stage at the end of the service dancing and mucking around as part of the joy of worship. I sat surrounded by several others there on our own, young adults meeting friends with profuse hugs and kisses, bumbling families of three generations and couples in love.
But more than that, I was moved by the joyful giving – the celebration and expectation that God is willing and active to change hurting lives and the congregation’s desperate desire to be a part of that. The singing was also part of this giving – a willing to let go of inhibitions and be swept up in the story of God, to allow one’s whole life to be a gift. Money is a gift because of what other gifts in brings forth in people’s lives.
HTB are known for Alpha but Prayer and Worship is explicitly at the heart of who they are and what they do. The experience of loving God and being loved by God is the human driver for their evangelism. Relying on God to draw people into faith rather than convince by human means is the theological foundation. Through my study I’ve been engaging with the concept of lex orandi: lex credendi – the rule of prayer is the rule of belief – what we believe is not only seen in what and how we pray, but it is forged out of that refining fire. This applies also for the rule of our lives lived for God – what and how we pray shapes how we behave. HTB exemplifies this more than any other christian community I visited in the UK. And all I can say is, Amen.
PS. You may have noticed I’ve not put in names of preacher etc. neither here nor for other liturgies I’ve reviewed in the UK. This is deliberate because I was interested in the overall effect of the sermon etc., not the individual’s wisdom or personality. Just thought I’d explain in case you were wondering!