Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s in Glasgow, wonders why more people don’t consider the obvious when faced with rising Cathedral attendance. Are Cathedrals really the only congregations capable of excellence in their public worship?
You might need to be brave enough to ask the organist who has been murdering hymns for 82 years to retire with grace and honour. You might need to be wise enough to agree shoe tactics with everyone who appears at the front. It might mean changing the way the hymns are chosen and asking regularly what the best ways of getting new material in the list actually are in your circumstances. It might mean working that bit harder on the preaching. (Is there preacher that can’t get better? – I don’t think so). It might mean setting up a worship committee and comparing its budget to the property budget annually.
Kelvin’s column foregrounds ‘cathedrals’, but no one expects a rural parish to reflect all the many dimensions of excellence that a cathedral may; instead, cultivating small excellences, modest beauties, focused brilliances. Here’s a tip: the heart of the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer has served for hundreds of years, in staggeringly diverse cultures; do you really think you’re a better writer? Is your bright idea really that much more relevant, truthful, illuminating than what has been handed down to you? (Obviously non-Episcopal congregations will have different resources for worship, but the premise is the same: get over yourself. You don’t write better drama than Shakespeare, you don’t write better hymnody than Wesley(s), you don’t know Jesus better than the evangelists, and so on.) Small, limited congregations have the opportunity to flourish in ways different from cathedrals — but some modes of excellence will always be available to you. If nothing else comes to mind, try improving yourself, your worship leadership, your preaching, because you can always improve.
Both accounts are worth considering, both in the Episcopal Church and in other churches who fret about declining attendance.