Worship and Liturgy
‘Timeless yet contemporary’
St John’s is a place of contrasts. Inside you will find that the walls are covered with solemn memorials, many of which hint of a grand bygone age. This creates an ‘establishment’ feel. And yet if you look more closely at the notice boards, the leaflets on display, the businesses below the church or the murals outside the church, you will discover a 21st Century community with a real commitment to matters of justice and peace, and an openness to people of all faiths and none.
Our regular worship expresses this contrast too. On the one hand, quite formal, with a glorious choral tradition, using ancient as well as modern liturgies; on the other hand, it is fiercely contemporary in the preaching and the prayers. As we see it, our faith is ‘timeless yet contemporary’. We hope our worship expresses this sense of belonging to a community of faith which existed before us and will continue after us.
Words, music, prayers, sacrament – and coffee
Liturgy at St John’s encourages participation. Numerous members of the congregation are involved each week in particular roles. There is the choir in the chancel and servers at the altar. There are people to read the scriptures, lead the prayers, bring the gifts to the altar and assist at communion. There are others to greet you at the door and to make the coffee after the liturgy.
In other words, worship is the offering of the whole gathered community of God’s people.
Worship is about offering our whole selves to God – our talents, our laughter and our love, as well as our failure and our brokenness. Worship uses all our senses, through the beauty of the building, the harmony of our music, the lighting of candles, the times of silence. In other words, worship involves us physically as well as intellectually – even the posture of our bodies, sitting, kneeling, standing, expresses different attitudes. Indeed, sometimes, when our minds are distracted, it is only our bodies that pray.
The Eucharist (or Communion or Lord’s Supper) is at the heart of Christian spiritual life. Early morning and midweek communion services are celebrated in our small chapel and are quiet reflective events. The main Sunday celebration, at 10.30am, is a much noisier affair with a full array of music from congregation, choir and organ. There is a service book provided each week to help those attending to follow and take part in the liturgy.
For those unable to get to church because they are sick or housebound, communion is taken to them by the clergy and lay elders. Our midweek one o’clock services also offer the opportunity to join in this extended communion, using the blessed bread and wine from the previous Sunday.
On Sundays we also use the traditional form or Morning and Evening Prayer, Matins and Evensong. Both are drawn from ancient monastic offices and reached their present form over 400 years ago. Their special blend of scripture, music and prayer has found a treasured place in English-speaking cathedrals and churches ever since.
St John’s is the only place in Scotland where Matins is regularly sung on Sundays (we only miss the first Sunday of each month). It offers a beautiful time for reflection and an excellent preparation for the Sung Eucharist which follows. Evensong, although very similar in shape, feels entirely different, coming as it does at the end of the day – unlike Matins it also includes a sermon. Both ‘offices’, as they are called, provide an opportunity for us to enjoy some of the greatest church music for choir and organ.
Occasionally Evensong is replaced by other seasonal events – an All Souls service, for example, or Christmas Carol Service.
Holy Week is also a special time for us with simple services every evening, inviting worshippers to reflect on the events of the last week in Jesus’ life. On Maundy Thursday we often share a meal in the evening and on Good Friday an invited speaker will lead us through the traditional Three Hour Devotion from 12 noon until 3.00pm.
St John’s is also in partnership with our Church of Scotland neighbours through Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together. We share in outreach and occasionally in Sunday worship too and our clergy regularly lead services in each other’s churches.
Visitors to our services are encouraged to participate as fully as they wish. You are welcome to join us to receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion or to come forward for a blessing.