For me, this event is a high point in the journey towards Christmas. The overall impact is so very different from what we as Baptists do, even accepting our diversity. We don't do buildings that are huge and seriously old. We don't do robed choirs made up predominantly of boys. We don't do ceremonial clerical dress and carefully choreographed movements, nor do we use such a structured liturgy which is followed to the letter. We do candles in some of our churches, but not in the number or with the same effect. We do organs, though far less frequently these days, and overall not very well.
Last night, all of this was done spectacularly. The readings, eight of them, were constructed around John chapter one. We sang seven carols. As the bell struck at eight o'clock, and the cathedral was plunged into darkness save for candlelight, the choir sang from a far distance as they progressed in, a gorgeous arrangement of 'Silent night'. They also sang a new work by Simon Johnson, 'O Magnum Mysterium', and pieces by Herbert Howells, John Taverner, and Poulenc, all superbly. And we prayed. It was undoubtedly performance, and our participation added something to the performance. So, to answer Glen's question, was it worship?
Certainly it wasn't like any worship experience I've had in a Baptist church. For me, it was an occasion which impacted my senses with overwhelming beauty (to my way of perceiving) and reinforced something of the mystery of the incarnation. In the process I encountered God. And I think it did the same sort of thing for the rest of the family although they might not express it that way.
Would I want to do this every Sunday? No.
If I was to be critical of our way of doing Christmas, often we don't let the story speak for itself, and stifle it with our preaching. And in our preaching we don't engage seriously with the incarnation and use Christmas as a stepping stone to get to the cross as quickly as possible - I heard yesterday of a worship leader berating the congregation for having their eyes on the cradle rather than the cross.
We ourselves have our own way of performance which includes our preaching, but also increasingly our worship style.
And generally we don't do mystery. We tend more to be pragmatists who have it sorted.
But then, we certainly do the participative which can be 'richly human and genuinely worshipful', and Glen's experience shows us in relationship at our best, doing church rather than church being done to us. And that's in part why I am what I am, and why I wouldn't want the glorious experience of Monday evening all the time.