Father Justin Dodd, vicar of St Barnabas Ealing, is finding ways of planting a new service for young families which remains true to his sacramental tradition. We interviewed him to find out more.
Why did you start a Shh-free All Age Mass?
Our main service at St Barnabas, a Sung Mass, was growing and developing, and we were able to see how it was ministering to our community. However, churches with a sacramental tradition can sometimes send the message that services should be child-free zones. Traditional masses can remind families of libraries and restaurants – places where children need to be quiet!
Our area in Ealing is filled with young families and primary-school aged children. There was an obvious need to create a space for these families who didn’t feel comfortable with such traditional forms of worship. However, we wanted to be true to our ourselves and our sacramental tradition. We started to ask, “How could the culture of our church and offering in terms of worship be expanded and changed to make space for these families?”
We decided to create a shh-free service where families can feel at home and free to be themselves, while celebrating the Eucharist together. It’s a space where families aren’t worried if their children cry or run around, yet reflective of our tradition; a service that is accessible and open to all, while having the depth and integrity of Eucharistic worship.
How does it differ from a High Mass service?
Usually in our High Mass services, the congregation sit in the pews. However, our Shh-free Mass is much more interactive: there is an emphasis on movement and journeying through the Sacrament. Everyone comes to the altar to receive communion, which highlights the closeness and tangibility of God. We’ve shortened the liturgy, and the sermon and prayer times are interactive. We might use a smooth stone to help us reflect on the week or to symbolise how we can offer ourselves wholly to God. Instead of classic hymnody, we have a gospel choir; and the children play instruments to herald the gospel.
Our aim is to let the children feel that they are part of the story, as well as making it real for the adults. We kept asking ourselves, “What are the parts of the Eucharistic service that we want to keep consistent and what are the parts that we can adapt?”
Has the service developed since it started?
After every service, we evaluated what went well, what didn’t fit and what we could do next time. Evaluating in this way has become an invaluable process, helping us develop and grow. We’ve shortened some parts of the service and repeated the more interactive and visual elements. We now use a shorter Eucharistic prayer that is drawn from the Celtic tradition – there are lots of creative resources from the contemplative and sacramental traditions that have encouraged us to think imaginatively. We’re also increasing the frequency of the service – currently it takes place once a month, but we’re planning to run the service every Sunday from January.
What has encouraged you about the service?
I love how the Eucharist is non-partisan – it flourishes in every setting. It can adapted while still retaining the depth and beauty of the sacrament.
It’s been also exciting to see how this Shh-free Mass has become a great way of welcoming families who are new to faith or interested in exploring church. At the same time, it’s been supported by the existing congregation. I was worried that the interactive elements might alienate some of our existing members, but most people’s experiences of it have been refreshingly positive. It’s encouraged us that we can adapt parts of our worship while staying true to our tradition, allowing a wider group of people to find a home at St Barnabas.
Father Justin Dodd is the vicar of St Barnabas Ealing and one of the course leaders of our new Exploring Church Planting Course, starting this October.
Interview by Philippa Guy
If you'd like to explore if church planting could be relevant in your context and community, our new Exploring Church Planting course begins this October. Combining both evangelical and Anglo-Catholic approaches to church planting, the course examines historical and contemporary perspectives to mission. Ideal for anyone who is interested in discovering more about church planting.Exploring Church Planting Course