On Saturday 19th May, the world stood still as two people entered into a life-long commitment of marriage in the family chapel in Windsor. It was conducted in front of family, friends, celebrity guests and hundreds of millions of TV viewers, all wanting to catch a glimpse of Meghan and Harry’s big moment.
The news that evening was, as expected, awash with footage of the ceremony, pictures of the best (and worst) outfits, commentary on the celebrities who were in attendance and, of course, the dress. But what nobody had expected was the huge reaction to the sermon…
The evening news, the papers, Facebook, Twitter, (and a variety of other platforms which I am too uncool to know or use) had all gone crazy for Bishop Michael Curry’s message of love and hope. I was watching with family back up north and sat, alternatively open mouthed and cheering, as the Gospel message was preached. Unashamedly. Vibrantly. Emphatically. With love at the centre.
So what had grabbed our imagination so much that a 13 minute talk about Jesus was getting as much media coverage as the royal couple themselves?
Firstly, enthusiasm. There was a sense that Bishop Michael knew he had something worth listening to. The style of delivery was engaging and passionate, and he made it clear that what he was saying was important to him. He believed in the message he was preaching and the value it held for the people listening. We were caught by that enthusiasm.
Secondly, relevance. He made his message fit the context and the audience listening. He referenced the importance of love, both within a marriage and within the structures that govern our daily lives. Education, politics, conflict resolution, justice… Nothing was beyond his vision for a world ruled by love. He painted a future of hope and suggested that it could happen, inspiring the people listening to perhaps look at their own sphere of influence. We could see the relevance of what he shared and we wanted to act on it.
Thirdly, risk. The common observation being shared in news reports and online commentary was along the lines of “The Royal Family have never encountered this before!” I suspect that this is probably not true, but it may be true to say that, for a formal occasion such as this, that level of passion, vibrancy, humour and all-out “ooph” may have taken a few people by surprise. There was a conscious decision that Bishop Michael was going to take this opportunity and run with it. We can often feel that people won’t want to hear about Jesus, or that we will be met with hostility, but that is very rarely the case. People are usually receptive and polite, even if they don’t choose to pursue it themselves, and sometimes we will be rewarded with a good conversation that helps a person move forward in their journey of faith. He was being given a platform to share the Gospel with a potential audience of billions. And oh, was he going to take that opportunity.
Finally, and most importantly, God was at the heart of it. The references to creation, the references to fire, the focus on the revolutionary power of love, were all under-pinned by one simple message: that love can change things for the better, God is love and love comes from God, so therefore the love of God can change everything.
One of the fundamental aspects of a healthy growing church is an inspiring worship service. Something that people look forward to. Something that will get them enthusiastic about their faith and help them learn to worship God and articulate this love for Him through a variety of mediums. It might not be the thing that first brings them in, but it’s what keeps them there. Perhaps unexpectedly, this is what we saw being modelled at the royal wedding ceremony, through a passionate sermon, rousing hymns and an uplifting gospel choir. We may have all tuned in to see the dress, but we got so much more.
When we look at our church services, whether sung worship, the sermon, times of prayer or the other times of ministry that flow through it, are we enthusiastic? Do we want to be there and feel like there’s a real value in it? Is it relevant? Is it helping us to draw closer to God in the everyday situations we find ourselves in? Is it risk-taking and spirit-led, being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things or the unexpected nudges that the Holy Spirit gives to go in a new direction? Finally, whether formal or informal, sung or spoken, charismatic or contemplative, is the underlying foundation of that gathering one of expressing love? Our love for each other and our love for God is the very essence of what Christ taught us to build the Church on. Inspiring worship services are an essential expression of this.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Each church is the unique expression of its members, but if you would like to explore these questions further and discuss how to develop your own worship, then please get in touch.