Evening Worship at St Matthew’s

Thank you to everyone who responded to our questionnaire on evening worship. There were 46 replies, which is pretty good! Of those, 14 people identified themselves as evening worshippers. The questionnaire asked you to state your preference for:

  • the frequency of the service. (Currently, we usually have an evening service on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month but there was a suggestion that we return to a weekly evening service.)
  • the time at which the service is held. (It had been at 6:30PM but is currently at 4:30PM. The suggestion was made that we consider changing the time in summer and winter.)
  • the style of the service – Book of Common Prayer or contemporary worship.
  • and, lastly, the style of the music – traditional hymns or contemporary songs.

The results of the survey were presented to the PCC at its meeting on 19th May and the PCC made some decisions. Just to be clear, this was not a referendum. It was an exercise in consultation: the vicar and the PCC take responsibility for the services we provide. We sought your views but the final responsibility remains ours. That said, this is where we got to!

The PCC has decided the following:

That, wherever possible, there will be an evening service at St Matthew’s each week.

Obviously, we need to be confident that we have the resources for a weekly service, which includes a minister to lead, a warden or sidesperson to take care of the practicalities, and, where possible, musical resources including an organist and choir.

On occasion, we may join with other churches in the Deanery, or as Bridgewater Churches Together, and that will replace our own evening service; there will also be times when the vicar is holiday and no-one is available to cover, but our usual pattern will be to have weekly evening services.

That the time of the service will change seasonally – 4:30PM in the winter and 6:30PM in the summer.

There isn’t a time that suits everybody, of course, but most people seem happy with this arrangement which allows people to go out for longer on balmy summer afternoons and get home earlier in the darker winter months. We have decided to make the change when the clocks go forward for British Summer Time and back for Greenwich Mean Time. (That’s on the last Sunday of March and the last Sunday of October.)

That evening services will mostly use the forms of worship found in the Book of Common Prayer.

There were some voices raised for more contemporary services, including the suggestion that we put something on that would better suit young people, but the prevailing view was that we mostly use the traditional BCP form of Evening Prayer. In months when there is a fifth Sunday, we will continue to offer a service of Holy Communion, from Common Worship, and on occasion, we will do something different. For example, this year, on the evening of Palm Sunday, we put together an expanded choir to lead a service of music and readings which we called “The Journey into Holy Week”; there might be occasions when we do something more reflective – using material from Taize, Iona or other sources – as we do when we offer Compline in Lent and Advent.

Ideally, the PCC would like the services to be led by the choir each week. I don’t know if this will be possible: the choir has a few very faithful members, to whom we are grateful. It is, however, sometimes a struggle getting enough singers together to lead a successful choral service. But we are going to try! (It may be that there are others who would like to join the choir and learn how to sing the psalms and canticles as we do at evensong.)

That we will mostly use traditional hymns at evening services.

Here the voting was tight, between those who want mostly traditional hymns and those who would prefer a range of traditional and contemporary music. (Nobody wanted ‘mostly contemporary hymns and songs’, so my ideal service – a rock mass, led by a band – isn’t going to be happening just yet! But I live in hope!).

None of the above is set in stone (apart from the vicar’s desire to see rock music in worship) but the PCC has decided that this will be the usual pattern and style of evening worship, starting in July this year, and to be reviewed by Christmas. If you have any observations on our proposals, please let me know.

Morning Services

And that brings me to our morning services… Sadly, in common with many other churches, our Sunday attendance is dropping. Some of the attendance figures for our 10:30AM services are, frankly, quite alarming. We do well on special occasions – Mothering Sunday, Remembrance and so on – and the attendance at All-age Worship (on the third Sunday of the month) is OK. The 10:30AM Communion service (first Sunday of the month) is not doing too badly (although attendance has gone down over the years). That leaves the second and fourth Sundays of the month. Here the figures are shocking and we clearly need to look at what we are doing on those Sundays.

I know that there is a group of worshippers who regret the loss of BCP Matins. I’m also aware that the cessation of Matins was handled badly: I apologise for that. But I don’t think that returning to BCP at 10:30AM is the answer to falling attendance. Before I was appointed to this post, the PCC had decided that all morning services should be contemporary in style and all-age friendly (not just ‘Family Services’ once a month). I believe that that is right and I am committed to that. The PCC has agreed that the evening service will concentrate on meeting the needs of those who value more traditional provision. (There are also communion services at 8:00AM each Sunday and at 10:30AM on Thursdays which cater to those with more traditional tastes.) So, morning services will be our ‘shop window’, the place we are looking to reach out to a wider, younger group of potential churchgoers. But how do we do that?

To be clear, this is not a criticism of those who plan and lead the 10:30AM services. We are doing our best! I suspect that this is partly a modern phenomenon: years ago, regular churchgoers would attend every week, unless sick or away. There were fewer alternatives for Sunday activities. These days the competition is fierce, from shopping to sport, and other commitments which families, in particular, have on Sundays. This means that regular worshippers these days probably expect to come to come to church about once a month. And people pick the Sunday in the month that best suits them. We do have a group of families that come when it is all-age worship, and there are people who prefer to come when it is a communion service. There was a group that came when it was BCP Matins. (There was also a group that stayed away from Matins!) But I don’t think there is a group of people whose preferred option is ‘non-eucharistic, non-all-age’ services, so that is what the PCC needs to look at next. (In my view, there are some terrific resources in Common Worship and elsewhere which can be used to make services which are meaningful, enjoyable and valuable.)

I have to say that I’m not sure that replacing Morning Prayer with either communion or all-age worship is going to be possible. One issue is that you only have one vicar[1] and I have two churches, both of which have services at 10:30AM every Sunday. I believe that some mystics and wizards have mastered the skill of bilocation (being in two places at once), but I have yet to accomplish that. Sadly, we don’t have a curate or assistant priest. St Cross has a communion service twice a month at 10:30AM and so, by default, I am there. Equally, I am usually at St Matthew’s on the first Sunday of the month, and I choose to lead the all-age worship services as that’s the thing I enjoy the most. The trouble then is that St Cross folk wonder why I don’t lead all-age worship there very often. The answer is that it is on the same Sunday as communion at St Matthew’s. I would love to be at both churches for the main morning service each week, with the support of colleagues. I hope that both churches would be happy to have me each week! But our current arrangements do not allow that.

There is also the ‘monthly worshipper’ phenomenon to consider: if we had All-age Worship twice a month, the ‘all-age’ crowd might simply split itself between the two Sundays when this is on offer. Those who prefer communion might not come twice as often if we had two morning communion services.

As we have asked you to think about the music we use in our evening services, it would be helpful to know what hymns you think we should sing in other services. We could then see if our current hymnbooks are adequate, or whether we should consider a new book or the possibility of having words projected on a screen so that we never again have to print a hymn sheet when the person leading the worship chooses hymns and songs that are not in one of our books.

That, then, is the task facing us. The PCC will again use a form of consultation before making a decision about our Sunday morning services. In the meantime, please continue to enjoy what we are doing and tell all your friends: they don’t know what they are missing!

Alan Jewell

[1] On current forecasts there will be 20% fewer stipendiary clergy across the Church of England by 2022. C of E Statistics for Mission 2012.

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