Things were a bit different at St M’s last Sunday.
Before you all get too excited, and envisage a grand revival sweeping Charlton Kings,- or even the curate getting her sermon done before the 11th hour, let me clarify. The only difference was structural, in that the chapel that’s generally used as a second station for the distribution of the Sacrament was out of commission due to confusion with carpet layers. (In this respect, it seems that carpet layers are closely allied to plumbers, since they disappeared on Thursday to collect some hardboard, and have not been seen since)
As a result, when it came to the Communion, I found myself standing, ciborium in hand, at the head of the north aisle, - a “Standing station” no less.
And it was very very interesting.
On a practical level, it was rather a success because those older members who have hated being marked out at the altar because they can no longer kneel with ease were now indistinguishable from their neighbours. 50% of the congregation received standing and that was that.
Result,- several happy old ladies.
But something else was going on, which really intrigues me.
Bear in mind that on the whole the St M’s congregation believes that kneeling is the only correct posture for almost anything to do with God…they even say the Gloria on their knees midweek, and as for the Eucharistic prayer. At my first Eucharist I made a special point of asking them to stand, and they did, rather reluctantly, but it was clearly a bridge too far and they thankfully subsided to their knees from then on. After all, kneeling is holy. Standing is downright disrespectful (and the BPC puts us straight at the very beginning of the invitation to confession when it demands a congregation “meekly kneeling upon their knee”)
Bear in mind, too, that there lingers a residual assumption that Holy Communion is only about the individual and God,-with no horizontal dimension at all. People share the Peace, because it seems like a nice friendly sort of thing to do, but don’t really see that God might be interested in the quality of relationships within the community .
Now imagine that you are receiving the Sacrament from someone standing just in front of you.
Where do you look?
When I’ve been on duty at a standing station in the past, its largely been at big diocesan occasions, ordinations, confirmations etc, and there’s been lots of eye contact with happy excited people who are carried away by the joy of the celebration.
I had no such expectations at St M’s, imagining that on the whole people would carry on kneeling metaphorically, and would definitely approach with downcast eye.
Not a bit of it.
Barring one or two (interestingly, including at least one lady who habitually receives standing due to dodgy knee, so has presumably worked through a whole process) every single communicant positively sought eye contact, and more than a few added “thank you” to their habitual “Amen”.
Trying to work out why. Are they beginning to recognise that there is a community dimension to worship, and affirming that?
Were they acknowledging that this is a moment of shared encounter, as precious to the giver as the recipient?
Did they understand, briefly, how very intensely we pray for each person as we place that precious fragment into their empty hands?
Or were they (please, Lord, NOOOOOOOO) simply trying to make the curate feel alright about doing something that is clearly not “proper” as it’s not the way things normally happen at St M’s? A reassuring smile for the G.L.C, who is, after all, only doing her best??
I have to say, I loved it…(though it must be said there is nothing about this aspect of ministry I don’t love), and would be keen to do it again, but for a vague worry that if there’s eye contact week in, week out, it’s going to be very hard to get myself out of the way and enable each person to focus on Jesus. How does the song go “It’s not about me…….”
It’s that balancing act again, I guess. I’ll be quite disappointed, though, if the chapel is back to normal this weekend. It’s good to have to think round these issues again