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Author(s): Richard Giles
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This groundbreaking resource will be put to immediate use in churches up and down the country and will transform the way that worship is both conducted and experienced. Liturgy is all too often about words and is led from the front. This imaginative and profoundly theological companion is packed with ideas on how to enrich the liturgy by creating a context of action, movement and symbolic expression involving the whole assembly. A modern 'Priest's Handbook', this will not only instruct and inspire clergy and worship leaders, but will fully engage congregations in creating worship that is nurturing and challenging.
Richard Giles is best known for his pioneering work in creating worship that is truly transformative and life-changing and has written numerous bestselling books on that theme. Formerly the Dean of Philadelphia and now retired from parish ministry, he lives near Newcastle.
Interview with Richard Giles
Richard, what is different about
the kind of worship you describe in your book? My book attempts to describe
worship that engages and inspires and motivates. The kind of worship in which no
one remains a spectator, but gets caught up in the shared enterprise of the
liturgical act and, thereby, caught up into heaven, at least for a moment. This
shouldn't be different from our regular experience of worship, but all too often
Right up front in the title is the word 'uncommon' - are you offering the
liturgical equivalent of an avant-garde concert on Radio 3? No, I'd say more
Radio 4: giving ourselves attentively to what we are doing as a serious
business, but leavened with good storytelling, drama, fine music of various
kinds, and humour at its best. This will however require occasional doses of
other stations: Radio 3 to stretch us and Radios 1 and 2 to immerse us in our
You talk about creating liturgy that 'disrupts as much as it
consoles...that enables us to react violently against the forces, internal and
external, that enslave us'. That sounds pretty strong stuff for a Sunday
morning! You clearly see worship as something very potent. Are we, as you quote
Annie Dillard saying, like children playing with dynamite when we go to church? Worship
should be potent stuff and sometimes a little dangerous for, as it says in
Hebrews 'indeed our God is a consuming fire' (Heb 12:29). Perhaps many stay away
from church because they see organized religion as having somehow tamed God,
engaging in worship which is all too predictable, safe and sanitized..
There's a strong element of mission about this kind of worship, isn't
there? That's true. Our cathedral in Philadelphia, although its renovation
enraged the preservationists at the time, is in fact the most traditional church
interior in the city. In the renewal of worship we are constantly going back to
our earliest roots, yet at the same time understanding them afresh as men and
women of today. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time -
visiting French monastic communities in the late 1960s - to be set alight by
You write about fusing the 'sensory and spiritual dimensions of worship' -
tell us what you mean by that and how it actually happens. The main task in
this regard is first of all to enjoy worship more - the sound, the feel, the
smell, the taste of it - and to 'let go' that we may 'let God'. That's a well
worn phrase but it remains true. Too often we have allowed our worship to become
too cerebral, too serious and stodgy. Services are no longer spiritual
experiences (in which we lose sense of time) but endurance tests in which we
count every minute.
Why is it so unusual to find worship that, in your words, has the power to
'engage, inspire and transform'? Is this something that every local church can
realistically attain on a week by week basis? Well, transformative worship
shouldn't be unusual, and we can only guess at the reasons. I would put my money
on two main problems (1) liturgy taught as an academic subject, rather than as
an agent of transformation, in our seminaries and theological colleges, and (2)
collusion between unimaginative clergy and conservative laity. That being said I
am sure that in every corner of the world there will be a place or two where
transformation is the expectation and experience of worship. Yes indeed this can
happen anywhere, and that conviction propelled me to write this book.
Where did you first start putting into practice some of these ideas and
what were the first steps you took? Perhaps the turning point was the parish
in Peterborough where a soulless dual-purpose building was extended and
transformed, and a community inspired, to create a house of engaging and
transcendent worship. In my time at Huddersfield , and now in Philadelphia,
these principles were developed more deeply and extensively. The first step is
to ask the theological questions about who we are and where we are going, and
what we are trying to do under God. The second is to remind all concerned that
change is the very essence of our way of life as followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
Congregations can be very reluctant to change - did you meet with
resistance along the way? Yes always! But resistance usually evaporates
after a time provided that (1) the community of faith recognizes in its leader a
person of vision and pastoral care who is not going to be easily deterred and
(2) the community is invited into a journey of learning and exploration..
Are people nervous of change, do you think, or have they never really
stopped to think about the way they do things? Almost always the former.
Change usually means inconvenience or hassle, and we are all creatures of habit.
That's why good teaching always bears much fruit. People become excited by what
they learn when they stop and examine and reevaluate what they have been doing
on 'automatic pilot' for the last few decades.
What would be your first words of advice to a local congregation setting
out on this journey? Get well away from your building, and your regular
routine and, with a trusted guide, prayerfully consider what you are doing when
you assemble for worship; where you have come from, and what you want to become.
Believe that inspiring worship changes lives, and that you are God's agents of
What is your own most memorable uncommon worship moment? That's a
tough one! Perhaps I would choose one Sunday morning at St Thomas' Huddersfield
(a parish steeped in the Anglo-Catholic tradition) when we invited the whole
congregation, during the entrance hymn, to enter in procession and to
individually kiss the altar. To see that gesture of reverence, strictly reserved
to the priest in former times, released and given to the whole assembly, with
all our stories, our gifts and our wounds, was for me a kairos moment. I don't
think we ever did it again, we didn't need to. For in that moment we had
glimpsed our common vocation as the holy priestly community of the people of
God; the cork was out of the bottle.
"The term 'groundbreaking' can be applied to this latest book by Richard Giles without any fear of exaggeration. (...)the author's vivid insights into the needs of worship in the post-modern context have much to say about the use and nature of new liturgical spaces." THE UNIVERSE, September 2004.
"This handsomely produced book will appeal to those who read and profited from Richard Gile's previous volume 'Re-pitching the tent'.(...) an easy read and filled with good ideas." Geoffrey Kirk, NEW DIRECTIONS, November 2004.
"Either there will have been a renaissance broadly along the lines that Giles suggests, or else there will be little liturgical worship left, because so much ground will have been ceded to those who have absolutely no understanding of what a wonderful gift it is: of the freedom that it gives, the grace that it conveys." The Revd Edward Dowlerm Vice-Principal of St Stephen's House, Oxford. CHURCH TIMES.
"The bibliograhpy is interesting. (...) The two chapters 'Principles' and 'Practice' make it particularly valuable as a tool for those engaging in the renewal of parish worship and the liturgical reordering of their church building." Austin Winkley, RENEW, March 2005.
"Creating Incommon Worship is the opposite of a counsel of despair. Richard Giles believes that good liturgy can change the world, and that the task of Christians today is to 'out-imagine' the negative forces of terror and the fear of terror that beset Western society." Briony Martin, November 2004, CHURCH TIMES.
"I found this one of the most stimulating and challenging books I have read for ages. If you read one book about liturgy this year, make it this one.(...) I is clear, well produced, with striking colour illustrations, well indexed, with fifteen appendices of suggestions for each part of the service. You could give this to any member of your congregation and they would be stimulated and intrigued, but they might want to change much of what happens in church! (...) Giles has a sense of humour as well as a sense of authority. This is a book to test our prejudices as well as our practice, to return to again and again. Easy to read and very accessible, Giles is passionate that our worship needs to reflect God's passionate concern for us." Julian Reindorp, Ministry Today, Summer 2005.
"Here is a book about liturgy and liturgical space, which always expresses the relationship with God. (...)This beautiful and innovative book forces onte to think in new ways about developing worship (...)." Philip Tyers, Team Rector, parish of Preston: the Risen Lord, and the Blackburn Diocesan Liturgy Development Officer. Praxis News on Worship.
"Giles's book is well written. He clearly explains each part of the liturgy and gives helpful advice not only about liurgical reform but also in relation to why certain acts are performed during the Eucharistic liturgy, whether they are words or actions. The book is helpful not only to those seeking liturgical reform but also to those wishing to know more about the liturgy of the Eucharist form a Roman, Anglican or Lutheran perspective. It is a good reference book that can be used in many different ways; although not easy to read from cover to cover, it is a useful resource that can be dipped into." Susan Jones, University of Wales, Bangor, Rural Theology4(1), 67-70, 2006.
"It is an uplifting and engaging 'how to' on the structure, shape, flow and movement of liturgy. With the use of many photographs, both in colour and black-and-white, and a writing style which encompasses both the theory as well as the practicalities of reshaping such a space, it is a book which should be included in every liturgist's bookshelf. Giles's introductory material is very helpful, and includes examples of excellence in liturgy from many different places. Giles's sense of honour and his sense of reality come shining through: This book involves itself not at all in the 'this-is-the-way-it-must-be-done' school but rather in a style which says "This is how we knew we needed to worship; this is how we managed it; here is how you can try it yourself." (...) I think this is a good book, one which deserves to be read, discussed, and enjoyed." The Very Reverend Peter Wall, Dean of Niagara, member and Past Chair of Liturgy Canada. Liturgy Canada, Volume II, Issue 2, Easter 2006.
"I loved this book! It is gloriously rebellious and I sense that Giles, writing from the dual perspective of West Yorkshire and Philadelphia, might well have been the child in the crowd who proclaimed the emperor to have no clothes on! It is also wonderfully creative - offering, as it does, models for a fresh expression of liturgical tradition and text. (...) I commend this book to all who are responsible for ordering and leading our worship." Adrian Burdon, Leeds Methodist Mission, Epworth Review, April 2006.
The Sunday Liturgy at the Cathedral in Philadelphia is not all that uncommon,
certainly not to us who participate in it, but it is uncommon enough to raise a
few eyebrows if not hackles. It tends to be loved or hated, rather than leave
Our Liturgy aims at noble simplicity, and has about it a monastic feel
arising from a Cistercian minimalism in vesture, symbol and movement.
Our Liturgy is theologically demanding, seeking always to give clear
expression of who we are and why we are doing the things we do.
Our Liturgy is highly participatory, emphasizing at every step that it is the
assembly - the 'chosen race, royal priesthood and holy nation' of 1 Peter 2: 9 -
that is the minister of the eucharistic action.
Our Liturgy aims to integrate the sensory and spiritual dimensions of worship
to create an all-embracing experience of beauty.
Our Liturgy takes place within a liturgical space that in 2002 was stripped
of its furnishings and remodelled on the pattern of a fifth century Christian
basilica, facilitating free-flowing movement for the assembly between font, ambo
and altar table. Around the perimeter is a stone bench - symbolic seat of the
community of the baptized - which at the east end becomes the semi-circular
presbyterium, familiar to us from the earliest known Christian buildings, at the
centre of which is the bishop's cathedra.
These characteristics together produce a liturgy which can have a profound
effect on those who join with us to offer the eucharist, and they are often
moved and exhilarated by what they have taken part in and have helped to
All this requires of course a great deal of hard work and dedication on the
part of many, but liturgy at its best is deceiving in this regard: it gives few
clues as to the enormous amounts of time, creativity and attention to detail
that have been poured into it. The artist Andy Goldsworthy, who uses only
natural materials to create structures of breathtaking beauty in the landscape,
spoke of his process of creation as 'All that effort - to produce something that
appears effortless.' *
A frequent response from our visitors is 'This is truly wonderful, but of
course…'. The 'but of course' refers to the apparent impossibility of doing
such things in the community of faith from which they have come and to which
they will return, reinvigorated for the work of liturgical renewal but perhaps
also with a growing sense of frustration. They are telling us in effect 'but of
course you could never do this where I come from.'
This book is therefore a 'but of course...' book. It attempts to encourage
all who long for the renewal of the liturgy to take heart and to know that it is
indeed possible to do good liturgy anywhere and everywhere. That being said, we
really have to mean business and not just play at it. So then, turning on its
head the 'but of course' lament of many of our visitors, this book offers a step
by step procedure by which a liturgy like ours can be replicated, and indeed
improved, in any parish in the world. 'But of course it can be done!'
*Film Rivers and Tides:Goldsworthy Working with Time Thomas Riedelsheimer