Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ouch!

I'm about to break my self-imposed ruling on not blogging uncomfortable things about St M’s, because I could do with a bit of soothing advice, and maybe a few prayers too.
I’ve told you about our 2 experimental Sundays when, having rearranged the seating and removed the altar rail from St D’s chapel, we are asking communicants to receive standing…
There was some work done on preparing the way for this via an article in the parish mag, and words from Wonderful Vicar before the service began. With hindsight, perhaps we should have said more about the theology we are trying to convey, have spoken more about the accessibility of God, maybe- but it’s easy to be wise after the event. At the time Sunday was lovely.I was presiding, which continues to be a great delight, and I was also privileged to baptise one of our choristers (an 8 year old boy who requested the sacrament for himself….I’m hugely proud of him!),- so there was a lot of joy about the place. Comments at the door afterwards were largely positive too, and those who were always going to hate any change appreciated that they had retained the option of receiving “meekly kneeling” at the high altar. All in all, we felt that day 1 had gone very smoothly..
Until, that is, the vicar received a calm and measured letter from a parishioner yesterday. Yes, he objected, but it was inevitable that some people would, and there was nothing startling in his objections. These were based on Anglican tradition…his appeal was firmly to his upbringing and to loyalty to the 39 Articles. We had invited comment, and it was helpful to hear his anxieties voiced. Clearly he suspects some sinister episcopal plot to turn us into identikit modern RCs,- so we need to address those concerns at an early opportunity. That’s all fine. But I was nonetheless left wanting to run away and cry because of a final paragraph
“For the first time in 30 years I left the altar feeling I had not been fed…indeed, I was not even sure I would have the will to carry on this week”
The person concerned had come up to the high altar to receive…so hadn’t even experienced this terrible alteration in our practice directly. And I had given him the Sacrament, and spoken to him afterwards oblivious to the seething misery that was clearly gripping him.
I feel that I’ve failed as a priest because I was celebrating this Eucharist that so obviously left him feeling anxious and excluded. And I feel I’ve failed as a human being because, if he felt as desolate as his letter, I should surely have picked this up. I hate the fact that it was possible amid so much celebration for pain to go unnoticed. I hate that I was clearly not sufficiently present. And I hate to think that faith can be so wobbly that the prospect of receiving at a different altar from your norm can throw the whole thing off balance. As I said earlier
OUCH

13 comments:

Paul said...

Kathryn,

we aren't mind readers. We can do our best with body language, but...

My prayers are assured.

Blessings

Paul

hopefulamphibian said...

All sorts of stuff I'd like to say - generally about you not having failed. (No you haven't, even if it feels like that. No really, you haven't...)

It's worth reflecting on just who is the man blaming for not being fed? (You, God, the Church, himself, the system, all of the above?). And maybe this is a necessary pain for him to endure - maybe there is something about leaving behind an understanding of the eucharist solely as being a transaction between himself and God with the Church providing the catering? An awakening, however gradual, to the communion of the saints, that this is a shared meal (with all the possible discomfort and ceding of preference that shared hospitality inevitably includes)?

If this is a necessary pain, it might have been worse to have spotted it and to have attempted to soothe it - before perhaps he was able to reflect on it and articulate it for himself.

The question might be, now, how can he be accompanied on his journey? And by whom?

Mumcat said...

Kathryn, you shouldn't feel guilty.

Perhaps this week there will be a little talk at the beginning about the theology, and emphasizing it isn't the position of the body while receiving that makes God accessible. Still, some will still never be happy unless things go the way they always have. I think one of the two unofficial mottoes of the Anglican/Episcopal church is "But we've NEVER done it that way!" (the other being "But we've ALWAYS done it that way!")

God's peace be with you and your parishioner.

Rev Sam said...

You don't have to carry it on your shoulders; it's not about you. Send it upstairs.

I do feel for you though. I always have this filament of mortal terror within me when I'm presiding in case someone comes up to the altar rail and then refuses to receive from me, launching into a detailed denunciation of my many sins. Hasn't happened yet :o)

The paradox is that in that moment when you are most truly who you are before God (and it is wonderful) it is also most wholly irrelevant who you are.

Chalk it up as a good learning experience to take with you to incumbency.

Peace.

Mary said...

Nothing to add to all the above, especially Mark's thoughts, except to send love and prayers.

serena said...

Kathryn,

hopefulamphibian and mumcat have said what I was going to say (only much better) so I'm just adding my voice to those sending up prayers for you and your community.

God bless and lots of love
xXx

Caroline said...

Dear Kathryn

is it just remotely possible

even if only a tiny bit

that the guy was being a little excessive?

having answered that question, revert to hopeful's wisdom

Karin said...

It sounds like you were very thoughtful and did your best to cater for all tastes. It seems to me that the parishioner failed to communicate his feelings at the time and also fails to appreciate that others might like to do things differently from him.

I see no failure on your part, Kathryn.

possibly not so Anon said...

Oh Kathryn, as someone who has regularly had difficulties feeding those I love, I recognise your feelings of failure oh so well - but you haven't, you really haven't. You have listened to him (hopefully without the annoying hmmmmmm!) and I know you will pray for him, but it is for him to resolve how much or how little he is going to allow this very small change to get in the way of his faith.

Anna said...

Kathryn, I was just talking about this kind of situation with a discernment group last night and said that for me, one of the things that seems hugest, scariest, what-have-you about being a priest is the difficulty of being completely present to the person in front of you. I'm not always great at seeing the Thou-- I often am only listening to their words and/or preparing my response. It's such a challenge to see the whole person-- what they're saying and not saying, what they really need from us, whether it's what they think they need or something entirely different.

Maybe you really were oblivious. Maybe this parishioner needs to understand and experience the sacraments as bigger than any particular altar, words, or posture we use to approach them. Maybe both.

All I can say is that I think it's an ongoing struggle for each of us to be as present and open as you're longing to be. And that you are one of the most loving, sensitive, present priests I've been privileged to know. You're doing fine.

Kathryn said...

Oh you lovely people...All that love and wisdom has made me cry all over again, but rather happily this time. Thank you for being here and ministering so helpfully. I'll blog a bit more about some of this tomorrow, but for tonight thanks and blessings on all of you,- and much love xx

cheesehead said...

The others have been so wise. All I can offer is a long hug.

((((Kathryn))))

Dr Moose said...

Not sure if there is anything to add! We are all fallible... whether that is faiing to read the situation, or beating ourselves over the heads at our perceived weakness.

Be at peace.