Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Tale of Two Services

This morning, I joined several hundred others at a service to celebrate the life of Peter, the priest whose death from cancer had such an impact on the Quiet Day last week. It was utterly wonderful. The cover of the order of service carried the words of Dag Hammarskjold
“For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be YES”
and that positive note sounded loud and clear through every element of the service.
Not for the first time I found myself longing for a church without walls, for what was happening in the church of St Philp and St James Leckhampton simply shouted resurrection faith from every pore. There’s little I can say that will capture the atmosphere, but somehow I can’t NOT blog about it. Peter was an inspiration to so many people, and that shone through the whole service, but even stronger than that was the light of God’s love that bathed each and every one of us there.
There were many wonderful words said, great hymns sung with colossal conviction (Thine be the Glory! And Can it Be? Hark, hark my soul) and a kind of suppressed joy that kept bursting out in unexpected places. When all that could be had been said, sung and prayed, Splendid Bishop gave us his blessing, and the bearers moved forward in the intense silence that followed, to take up their load and carry it away……and then the choir burst out with that epitome of celebration the Hallelujah chorus.
I can’t imagine that anyone there will ever forget the impact of that music, those words, as the brilliant gold and white of the flowers on the coffin passed between the lines of loving people. For a brief moment we felt ourselves involved in the welcome that Peter himself is enjoying, as his voice joins with the multitude that no man can number.
In contrast, our parish celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi tonight was at the depressing end of low-key! There were 7 in the congregation, 20 on the other side of the rood screen…..and this in a parish that talks up its catholic heritage at the slightest provocation. The choir sang beautifully, and actually the liturgy was rather lovely, but I did come home wondering quite what was going on. By “popular demand”, we use the Book of Common Prayer for Corpus Christi, and the choir sing Merbecke. No problem with that, if those who have demanded it appear to enjoy the fruits of their campaigning. But tonight just felt rather sad. We were there to celebrate that most amazing gift, the Eucharist…Do we really so take it for granted that we can’t spare an hour on a Thursday evening (after the whistle had blown in Germany) to express our joy? Corpus Christi is such a lovely feast…I hope we can work out a way of celebrating it properly..
Our final hymn tonight was All for Jesus, which might well have featured earlier in the day as well….but tonight I was profoundly relieved that the church was well and truly hidden behind thick medieval walls. I can't imagine that any casual passer-by would have been inspired by the experience to find out more.

Lord Jesus Christ We thank you that in this wonderful sacrament
You have given us the memorial of your passion:
grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
and show forth in our lives

the fruits of your redemption;

for you are alive and reign with the Father

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


hencity said...

but God was worshipped by all 7 plus 20 (how does that work geographically??) and they carry in their persons many others who are elsewhere. And the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven rejoice when just one person finds their way home to the embrace of God. It can feel dispiriting - I can feel it too - but it's our own problem and I think we need to be careful not to inflict it on the other 26. Sorry - this sounds very headmistressy. Just a big hug would be enough, so here it is { }.

Kathryn said...

The answer to the geographical question is "Very badly"...while 2 clergy, 1 Reader, 5 servers and 12 choristers lurked on the far side of the chancel arch, the 7 congregation scattered themselves as widely as possible in the nave and the 2 side aisles, using pillars for caouflage wherever possible. Following unshakeable custom and preaching from the pulpit, I therefore had most of the listeners behind me...but it's the same for most Evensongs, and suggestions from the clergy that the congregation might like to join the choir in the chancel are treated as akin to offering a Black Mass in place of the Christingle service! What to do....
Thanks for reminding me, though, that the clergy take isn't going to be universal...and the hug was very welcome :-)