By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
A number of years ago, when I dipped my toe into the experience of retirement, I was invited to become a member of a group of retired individuals who meet every month.
Each month a guest speaker provides insight into a different topic which helps to ferment discussion during the time given over to coffee and fellowship.
Recently, a speaker reflected on “The Water of Life”.
This was not billed as a theological educational experience, as much as it was an overview on a topic near and dear to many… Scotch.
I will not take time in this article to review his talk in detail. Yet there was something that he said that did generate some ideas that deserve reflection.
“Why do we always try to complicate things?”, he said. “Scotch is a combination of only three ingredients: barley, yeast and water. Those who use those three ingredients to make Scotch follow a simple process. They ferment a sugary liquid. They distill that liquid and then they store it in barrels… and then, they wait.”
The simple reality is that there is an endless variety of how those elements and how that process fall into different equations. That variety, in turn, generates a multitude of different experiences of what Scotch ends up on a person’s tastebuds. Where is the barley grown? Does the water flow over rocks or peat ? What is the origin of the yeast? When the liquid is stored in barrels for years at a time, where do the barrels come from?
A key part of the speaker’s presentation noted that with such a wide variety of choices to be made, that it was not helpful to name one as, “the best Scotch”. It was possible for a person to enjoy the process of taste testing and discovering a Scotch that became their own, personal favourite. There was also an appreciation that tastes change over time, so having a variety to choose from means that a person may still enjoy Scotch, but perhaps from a different distillery with a different story.
I reflected on an experience that I had during my ministry of being able to welcome a couple to the parish that I was serving, who came from a non-liturgical community and who began to engage in the life of the congregation. They involved themselves deeply in the life of the parish. They provided leadership in parish life, served on parish committees, and were faithfully engaged in the worship of the parish family for an extended period of time. After spending years together, the couple approached me and said that they were leaving to become members of another denomination. They did so without expressing anything but gratitude for our shared experience together.
There was a time in the life of the Anglican experience of the Christian faith that there was a sense of uniformity in the worship of the Church. A single Book of Common Prayer served as the framework around which the life of the Church and the lives of individuals could be shaped. For many individuals, that book continues to be the cornerstone of their worship and devotional experience. Yet even as the same words of the liturgy were offered, there was a different experience that individuals had as they moved from congregation to congregation.
Over time, in response to the expressed needs of people who sought to find different ways to express their love for God, new ways of worship, new language and new music began to be offered in communities of faith. Adherence to a physical structure and being located in a specific geographical area ceased to be the glue which kept individuals connected to one congregation.
Increased mobility has meant that a greater choice may take people past several different congregations on a Sunday morning, so that they may engage in worship which meets their self-defined needs. A sense of purpose and mission, preaching, music and community life are some of the different elements which influence the “taste” of a place. The ability to simply tune into congregational worship from the comfort of home, catching the latest Youtube broadcast, generates another changing dynamic in church life today.
Yet for all those complications and choices, the basic elements which define a person’s faith journey through the Season of Lent remains simple. We are called to engage in community worship, personal prayer, reflection, repentance, and service. We are called to discover, or to reclaim a commitment to a community of faith where our spiritual journey can move forward in a meaningful way, through our own Baptismal Waters of Life at the Easter Vigil to experience the joy of the Resurrection.
The call to worship, participating in the life of a community of faith and serving the wider community in the Name of our Lord are some of the very simple elements of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Why do we make our lives so complicated?
During this season of Lent, I hope that you will come, taste and see how gracious the Lord is. Happy are those who trust in Him.
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.