My dear Brothers,
I hesitate to enter this absorbing thread, being only recently Baptised and Chrismated after over sixty years of Roman Catholicism. But perhaps one or two observations from that perspective are relevant.
I, too, am unhappy with the numbers game. I recall mentioning to my non-Orthodox wife that at Pascha we had a full house - Bournemouth church had about seventeen people in it, and it was packed! It must have been a bit like the Upper Room. Just a handful of dedicated people.
What impressed me was the degree of devout prayerfulness, coupled with both sadness at the Crucifixion and joy at the Resurrection. This small number of Jesus' followers was absolutely a reflection of the Church as it should be. I come from a background where large numbers attend Mass just because they have been told to (or even under pain of sin if they don't) rather than because they want to. Here, people had travelled for hours to worship God because it was important to them. Just going to the local church was not enough, they needed the specific community of the OC. And the OC needs their qualities not vast numbers of converts. Much better to have a few willing volunteers than a regiment of pressed men.
I suspect that Rome fell into the numbers game trap with VaticanII. There was a worry that numbers had been falling for decades and something had to be done to reverse this trend. Several radical changed took place. Large numbers left. Large numbers joined. Then the decline continued...... One presumes that numbers is not the name of the game after all.
Turning to the Liturgy, I had a chat recently with Father Simon about this. Personally, I love our Liturgy, and have no problem with its length. However, I tried to take a charitable approach by suggesting that some folk may not be able to cope with the length, and was there an alternative that might help them. He replied, firmly, that it was appropriate for them to accept the Liturgy as it is, or not at all. We should not water down our principles for the sake of quick popularity. (Perhaps he should intervene with this bit, rather than have me paraphrase his words.) Nevertheless, the historic existence of shorter forms and even presanctified species does seem to me to be worth further prayer in the circumstances of BOC as distinct from Coptic needs.
Locally we have begun regular prayer meetings one evening a week using the Agbia, followed by a suitable discussion or exposition. This is in addition to the Liturgy, and often happens without Father Simon if he is busy. This is yet another development which mirrors the early church, when there were few (and differently regarded) ministers available. It is proving a valuable exercise, especially for enquirers and catechumens.
The OC tradition of people coming and going during the Liturgy seems to offer another way to ease the difficulty for newcomers to our long services. It does seem a little odd when you come from the "be there at the beginning and stay to the end" brigade, but it obviously works, having survived all these centuries.
I am dubious about the musical idea. Unless you have persons with some musical talent I fancy it could degenerate into something less than was intended. A large congregation can cope with one or two who cannot carry a tune, but in our small groups it is rather difficult. I feel that the retention of simple chants is probably more helpful, certainly for the forseeable future. Personally, I also find it has a more monastic feel which is conducive to a prayerful attitude, but that is just my feeling for what it is worth.
I look forward to more on this thread. Perhaps I will add more myself once I have thought some more. In the meantime,
With love and prayers,