Christian Worship: Postcolonial Perspectives by Michael N. Jagessar & Stephen Burns

(Equinox; Sheffield, 2011)

Another fascinating book raising important questions for the task of curating worship.  A Postcolonial critique insists “that any discourse on the Christian faith must reckon with empire and the complex relationship of church and empire” (p.23).  This goes beyond inculturation, or incarnational expressions of faith and worship.  An uncritical appropriation of traditions ancient and contemporary dangerously embodies our own prejudices and superiority.  The very definition of sin which I ‘grew up with’ as a Christian was ‘grabbing things for ourselves which do not belong to us’.  “A postcolonial scrutiny of liturgical/worship texts exposes the issues of the ideological and colonial agenda of western Christianity.  It problematizes … the issues of language, imageries, symbols and representations in our liturgical/worship texts and symbols” (p.49).

Australian Christians are most in danger of this as we engage with the stories and prayers of our First Australian brothers and sisters.  How does someone elses’ story become joined with our story?  At what point will Australian Christians share a common story that is beyond our migrant heritage?

Sometimes I fear that it is impossible for Anglicans to express the worldwide nature of our community without the colonizing agenda.   Jagessar & Burns cite Clauco S. de Lima describing just how complicated this is for Anglicans:

In our Anglican churches, the signs and the power of colonial symbols may be seen not only in the liturgical order.  The Hebrew and Greek sources of our liturgy come to us already filtered through British culture and in the Book of Common Prayer, a wonderful Western and Christian inspiration, itself an example of a contextual theological process. Beyond the very order and the linguistic sources of our worship, even our clothing bears a witness to a colonial origin.  In the vestments and trimming of the clergy, for example, on the bishop’s surplice, the sleeves finish up at the cuffs in the same way as those of the nobleman in the British court” (p.46).

There are various possible practical responses to a postcolonial critique.  Just being aware of the power issues in a text and ritual is a start.  Allowing for conversation and plurality in meaning within the worship also helps to create an environment where we become aware of perspectives other than our own.  In fact, where there is a healthy (loving) emphasis on individual experiences of those particular worshippers present within the one corporate worship event, the individualism ceases to be consumeristic and has the capacity to create the kind of inclusivity and we are after.   I find this exciting and encouraging for our church as we exploring emerging worship models together.

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