EG: In your opinion, what attracts people to SMM?
HN: Well, there are a number of things. The neighbourhood has changed in recent years, so we have people who are simply seeking out a church. Usually one of the partners is an Anglican, and so they search out SMM. One group of people comes once a month to the Folk Mass, which is an upbeat, informal style of worship, with some creativity in the liturgy, and that’s what attracts them. Then we have the Solemn Masses, most of them still in traditional language. People who are attracted to that tradition like a meditative service, and appreciate the music that the choir offers, both plainsong and polyphonic. In addition, they often prefer the Catholic understanding of the faith, the sacraments and the liturgy.
EG: Can you say a little more about how the Catholic tradition–the liturgy, the meditative services, the focus on the sacraments–is attractive for people?
HN: A lot of people are searching for a place where the faith is lived and preached in its mystery. The people who come to the Solemn Mass are often people who want the fullness of the Christian faith preached, as the Church has received it over the centuries, not just one party, and not just one take on it.
The people who come to the Mass are often attracted by the music, first of all. But it’s not just that. One lady brought her friend, and afterwards asked, “How did you like the music?” She replied “I don’t know, I was just watching the liturgy. I just didn’t hear the music. I’ll have to come back next week and listen to the music.”
People are also drawn by the silence, the mystery, and the sense of being connected with the Church of the past, that we are not doing something new. Our liturgy reminds us of the whole history of the Church, starting with the music, but also including the liturgy, which is basically traditional, although we try to keep it up to date.
EG: How do you think of SMM as “doing evangelism”?
HN: As Christians, we are called to do evangelism. And my impression, right now, is that evangelism means inviting people to share in the liturgy, and to share one’s faith when that’s appropriate. Flyers at the door and advertising in the media may also be a bit of a help. But it seems as though the real evangelism is done person-to-person.
Every parish has its own culture. We have visitors here every Sunday. Some come and are blown away by the music, but there are others (who of course say nothing!) who think, “I can’t stand this. This is too much!” and leave. Now, one could say, “How can we change in order to be more open to all people?” But if we change, what becomes of the gift we offer to the Church and the society by doing what we do? Inevitably, what we do here, whether it’s Catholic liturgy or music, whether it’s the preaching or the community, all of that limits the people to whom we can appeal.
We need therefore to realize our limitations, but we also need to push the boundaries all the time. In particular, we need to push our people to include others who don’t otherwise fit. In the 19 years I’ve been here, I keep on saying, “Look, when visitors come down for the coffee hour, they don’t come for the coffee, they come for conversation. And if you leave a visitor standing or sitting by themselves, then we’re not doing our job.” And you would be surprised how many times you find a visitor by themselves.
Now there are a few people who make it their ministry. There’s an elderly lady in her late 80’s whose ministry is to go around and say hello to the visitors. Yet there are other people, who are much younger, who just talk to their friends and can’t be bothered talking to strangers. Those limitations force us to look at ourselves and the kind of witness we can be. We realize we can’t be all things to all people, but we sure have got to try to include newcomers in our community.
EG: Where do we need to begin in evangelism?
HN: Well, the statistic in the U.S. is that 70% of new Anglicans are people who were invited by another Anglican to attend church. But we often find it difficult to do so, because of our English heritage. The Church of England was a church that encompassed everybody in the kingdom. You didn’t have to do evangelism, because they were already members of the church. And if they weren’t there, well, that was on their heads! That mentality still persists in some Anglican churches.
Part of Anglican tradition is also to tolerate differences of opinion. We have within us that feeling, “I have no right to impose my beliefs on somebody else.” But the point of evangelism is offering what is important to you, and sharing it with people who need it, or who seem to need it.
Anglicans always tend to be reticent. A few have told me that they don’t even tell people at work that they go to church. And so we need to encourage people to be more forthright. Maybe we need not so much to “do evangelism” in the first place as to help people own their faith, and to get beyond seeing it as simply “going to church,” so that it becomes a living faith that influences not only their Sunday life but their whole life.