High Church and Informal

Someone coming out of church on Sunday who isn’t a regular at St Mary’s said to me, “That was great – exactly what I like – high church and informal”.

I was pleased that the person had understood what we are trying to do. High church and informal is precisely one of the ways in which I would describe the worship at St Mary’s. (Liturgical but not stuffy is another way of describing the same thing).

The combination of all the glories of high church worship with a relaxed sense of fun seems to me to be quite an attractive option for churches.

Generally speaking, I think that churches tend to be successful if people feel that they are in some way happy to be there. Some people describe that as feeling at home though I’m not sure that I’d talk about it like that. I think some people like going to churches where they feel they might be able to make friends though the real goal is a church where some people come feeling that and some people come sure in the knowledge that people will leave them alone if they want to be alone.

The word for describing the sensibility of a local church is (or at least used to be) churchmanship. In many ways, it is a rather unhelpful word now, with all its sexist connotations. However, we still need ways of speaking about what particular churches are like.

Churches have been described by all kinds of words in the past. Churchmanship has sometimes been described in terms like anglocatholic, low church, high church, evangelical broad church, moderate. I was interested to see recently that some people were starting to use Greenbelt (after the famous Christian Arts festival) as a churchmanship kind of term.

I’m also interested that people are increasingly bonding multiple identities together to form new identities in terms of church in the same way that they are doing over cultural identities. People think of themselves as Black British, Asian American, New Scot and so on, the modifier indicating something that the basic identifier does not fully convey. Thus in church we get things like Open Evangelical (which I think has meant low church, supportive of women in ministry but not supportive of gay people in ministry) and Liberal Catholic (which I think has meant less stuffy than anglocatholic in worship and supportive of women and gay people in ministry until it costs anything).

There are many ways of describing St Mary’s. We are certainly trying to be a Black Shoe congregation, which I think tells you just about all you need to know. However, High Church and Informal also describes things very well and I came out of church very pleased that someone had got it.

What “churchmanship” term would you want your congregation to be known by. And what’s a better and more inclusive word than churchmanship anyway?


  1. Thomas says

    I like to describe myself as a liberal catholic Methodist. Which basically means I’m supportive of the ministry of women and gay people, and very supportive of the hymns of Charles Wesley (though I would almost certainly disagree with him on a range of issues, not least providence, spiritual warfare, and the possibility that universalism may be an acceptable way of looking at salvation!)

  2. I can’t do better than the description you’ve just provided–it would be ideal. The combination of inclusiveness and informality with a liturgical setting where, as Sandy Wilson put it in a song in ‘Valmouth’, “the rococo would drive you loco” would be the cat’s pyjamas.

  3. I used to be Black Shoe…but these days it doesn’t sit easily. Dress codes have rather changed.
    Like all things in can be taken to excess. In theological college you could almost be ostracised if you weren’t wearing the right type of thing…black shoes feature highly.
    At least in the Antipodes it is possible to wear sandals…in one parish a rather simple but devout man said to me he liked the way that wearing sandals made me look like Jesus!
    I gave up some years ago trying to suggest to servers that they shouldn’t wear sneakers. Many kids don’t even own a pair of black shoes!
    I have always rather liked the custom of Indians and some others of not wearing shoes in the sanctuary

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    What matters to me is something not yet discussed, and perhaps not easily pinned down – the way that through preaching and teaching, and informal chats a church is prepared to enter a challenge to utterly transform the world. A taking seriously of the need to face towards the coming of the Kingdom. Social justice will be part of this, but never the whole of it. It will be an openess to Jesus and what he was and is, and a serious attempt to thing about this in all possible ways. A demand to put his agenda of forgiveness, and love, and transformation of people right at the top of the things people take seriously. In my expereince, some churches do do this. Others fail to.

  5. Agatha says

    As a great man once nearly said “I have a dream that my children will one day attend a church where they will not be judged by the colour of their shoes but by the content of their character”.

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