Performing the Gospel / Charles Sherlock, liturgy and life

How many liturgists does it take to change a lightbulb? And what do liturgists talk about when they get together? Here’s Kieran Crichton’s report on the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Academy of Liturgy meeting on March 14, at the Pastoral Centre of St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in the heart of Melbourne, when the meeting got into discussion with Charles Sherlock about his new book, Performing the Gospel in Liturgy and Lifestyle.

Liturgists gathering: the Melbourne chapter of AAL. Photo by Catherine Schieve

Liturgists gathering: the Melbourne chapter of AAL. Photo by Catherine Schieve

The focus of our meeting today was a presentation by Charles Sherlock on his most recent book, Performing the Gospel in Liturgy and Lifestyle. This was a very rich presentation, drawing on Charles's 40 years of experience teaching liturgy subjects at Ridley and Trinity Colleges, and in the United Faculty of Theology.

Charles Sherlock is well-known for his work as a theological educator, and through his involvement in international bodies such as ARCIC I and ARCIC II. He is a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo. He is married to his co-theologian, Peta Sherlock, another eminent member of our chapter. Charles enjoys an active retirement, and holds faculty positions at both Ridley and  Trinity Colleges in Melbourne


Charles's latest book, Performing the Gospel in Liturgy and Lifestyle, was published in late-2017. In it, he explores connections between how we worship and how we live. The book is the fruit of Charles's long engagement with liturgical renewal in the Anglican Church of Australia, which began while he was a student and tutor at Ridley College here in Melbourne from 1969. Charles went on to teach courses in liturgy at Ridley, and later at Trinity College. Charles was a key figure in the creation of A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). In many ways Performing the Gospel distils insights from a range of relationships, and the book offers a rich feast of reflection that arises out of these many layers of engagement across the traditions in Australia over a long life of teaching, critical engagement, and Charles's own leadership in worship.

There were a couple of illuminating points that might help you in reading the book. It is the first instalment of a projected commentary on A Prayer Book for Australia (1995) that focuses on the context and principles of worship. The motivation for the project arises out of some priorities that emerged in Charles's teaching and through more recent developments particularly in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. While it may seem strange to be releasing a commentary more than twenty years after APBA was authorised by General Synod, Charles identifies the following factors within contemporary Australian Anglicanism that make such a book project necessary:


• Liturgical education is needed, and this involves going back to basics.

• There is some need to re-appreciate liturgy in Evangelical settings, particularly in the light of anti-liturgical tendencies in the Diocese of Sydney. Such re-appreciation should also provide a counterweight to reducing worship to didactic meetings.

• There is also a need to counter the deliberate flouting of rubrics among more catholic Anglicans. An example of this is the adoption of forms of words as the invitation to communion that come from other traditions.

Charles spoke to the local character of much liturgical worship in the Anglican tradition -- some of which is a good response to the pastoral context. He spoke of his own history in ministry in locations such as Brunswick, Clifton Hill, Heidelberg, and Bendigo, where the liturgy was offered in diverse social settings that were often tempered by the shapes and structural stability of buildings. Each context called for a careful dialogue between the necessary creative response to the situation and holding an open attitude to tradition.

The media context of liturgy was a further recurring theme. Charles spoke of the development of screen culture -- moving from his teenage experience of the arrival of transistor radios, which transformed music broadcasting, to a robust screen culture. One of the marks of this transformation is that people now speak of 'seeing' songs. The question about screens is less whether they are to be used or not. It is even less a question of whether they are bad. Screens are a reality of many worshipping communities, so the question is more what they are good for rather than whether or not they should be used.


Nathan Nettleton offered a robust and deeply thought-provoking response to Charles's presentation.  He spoke warmly about the value of Performing the Gospel as a much-needed primer on liturgical principles. Speaking from his position as a Baptist pastor there were several points of critique that speak to the particularities of Anglican approaches to liturgy. Nathan’s response will be published as a review of Performing the Gospel in a forthcoming edition ofthe Australian Journal of Liturgy.

Following Nathan's presentation there were several very animated discussions. Everyone was highly engaged, and we could have gone for a much longer time. It was great that people lingered for a while after the meeting.

At the end of the meeting we sang Phos Hilarion. Our singing together was a sublime moment in a very energetic meeting, and how wonderful that several people spontaneously said Amen after we had come to the end of the singing.

Performing the Gospel in Liturgy and Lifestyle is published by Broughton Books, available for order here .