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