Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Church 'loosens bolts' on ancient tradition

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Here are three words you don't usually see in the same sentence: "new" and "Anglican Church."

It sounds like an oxymoron, but it's not. Not in Winnipeg, at least, which is home to a new Anglican church called Saint Benedict's Table.

The church, which meets Sunday evenings at All Saints Anglican Church, wants to create a worship and community experience for people who value traditional liturgy, yet want it to be relevant for the world today.

The idea for the church originated with about a dozen people who "wanted to do something new, but something traditional at the same time," says pastor Jamie Howison. "We wanted to loosen the bolts on the ancient Anglican tradition and give it new flexibility and play."

The result is a church of about 100 people of all ages who are committed to "good music and strong coffee, among other things," as it says on their website.

Services feature the traditional Anglican liturgy -- communion and a sermon, accompanied by a hybrid of roots-based music, and occasionally some jazz.

The church takes its name from Saint Benedict, who lived from 480 to 543.

"He was a key figure who developed a community at a very chaotic time," says Howison, adding "he developed a way of living that drew in all of life -- work, worship and play."

At the same time, he says, Benedict also "kept alive the worship traditions while developing new ones."

As for the "Table" part of the name, Howison says that's because "our life is formed around the communion table, and nurtured over various tables of hospitality and conversation."

This includes having coffee after the service, book discussions and something called Theology by the Glass -- a time for people to meet at a local restaurant for beer and conversation about current topics. They also meet once a month at Aqua Books for The Idea Exchange, a series about faith, life, theology and pop culture.

The church is "a biblical community in which scripture is prayed and digested," but it is also "a community of rational inquiry, a zone in which truth is sought and heard, and in which dissent and dialogue are embraced as part of the process of discernment," he says.

While building the community through these kinds of meetings is important, Howison says that worship is the most important aspect of the church's life.

"I feel that everything begins and ends in worship, and flows from it," he says, adding that "there is a hunger today for worship that embraces sign and symbol, art and image, space and silence, awe and mystery."

That was certainly true in his own life. Howison was raised in an evangelical church, but found himself drawn to the Roman Catholic and Anglican worship traditions while in university. "I found the liturgical and sacramental experience of worship very appealing," he says.

He isn't the only one. Although evangelical mega-churches, with their high-energy praise and worship styles, get a lot of attention for their fantastic growth, there is a small but steady stream of people headed in another direction, toward churches that feature traditional liturgical worship.

At Saint Benedict's Table, for example, only about 20 per cent of the congregation is Anglican; some of the group's strongest supporters used to attend local evangelical churches.

One person who has found the worship at Saint Benedict's Table to his liking is singer and songwriter Steve Bell.

"It is a gentle and lovely service," says the former Baptist church member. "Not unchallenging, but even the challenges that are put forward as scripture is read, or in the homily or prayers, have the stamp of rest and trust on them."

Bell likens the worship to "a warm evening bath, as compared to a brisk morning shower."

Saint Benedict's Table fits the mould of what Robert Webber, an evangelical who teaches at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, calls "ancient-future worship," whereby churches "return to the ancient faith, to study the ministries of the early church and apply them to our current culture."

A great many people today "are reacting against the loud music and hype often associated with contemporary worship," he says, adding that what they want is "ancient liturgy with a contemporary flair. They want mystery, transcendence, quiet, prayer with the laying on of hands, pageantry, participation, stability, tradition, and authentic embodiment."

Bishop Donald Phillips of the Diocese of Rupert's Land says Saint Benedict's Table is "an inspired idea" for people who may not "feel that they fit a conventional church."

He hopes it becomes a model "that pushes and prods other churches in the diocese... it is breathing new life into the historic forms of worship and "packaging it in modern ways."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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