Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When you can't kneel

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


Lorna said...

I do love what you share. I think it IS important to get eye contact wiht the celebrant (or whoever is giving out the Eucharist) becuase for me there's a part of their eyes which reflect their connection to God -and I can see as well as hear - "you are forgiven, you are welcome, I did this for YOU: "

Now I should - and actually can - know this also in my heart as well as in my head wherever and however I receive the Eucharist BUT there is something about seeing that love in someones eyes.

To be fair here when I receive it kneeling down (at the local Lutheran /Anglican service) I too get eye contact if I can ...

and personal to me - I take the bread /wafer and before I eat it - I break it in half - to remind myself Jesus' body was broken for me - because He thought I was worth it.

There is a LOT going on during the Eucharist that we will probably never understand - but I think it's good that God nudges us out of our comfort zone now and again ... because it becomes and stays more meaningful that way.

(sorry long comment)

Fiona said...

When I first tried to post here it came up with a big "FORBIDDEN, you don't have access to...." I thought "help, what have I done to offend" - porbably just the computer getting overheated though.

It's interesting about the standing business. My husband's church make a point of standing for hours (or at least he does in the choir, very silly for someone with a bad back) and while there's plenty of bowing and scraping and kissing icons, the congregation receive standing. While certain recent troubles go to show that they're having all sorts of difficulty with inclusiveness, it is true that at the moment of communion ALL the congregation (babies included, if you're not likely to choke on it you can have it) are met TOGETHER. It's a very public statement of faith, not something private that happens to be going on at the same time as 50 other people are also doing something private.

Amy said...

Maybe you should give a choice normally at the altar then? Go left if you want to stand, right if you want to kneel?

Caroline said...

amy, i don't know you...but i like you! good comment! I know it probly isn't likely and i'm sure lovely K that you've had more than enough conversations with the people who insist that kneeling is the only holy way - but maybe it's actually, really because people know that if they don't kneel everyone will label them as old and arthritic whether they are or not!

Songbird said...

Kathryn, in our tradition, the communion is passed on little trays to people sitting in the pews. I much prefer to have them come forward, which we do about four times a year. it really feels like something is happening! The eye contact is part of that. It's a reminder that each one of us, and all of us, are connected in both the brokenness and the forgiveness. And the love, too.
I can't wait to be with you!!

Abby said...

I totally appreciate all of the woderful things about standing, but I have to say that I've really been appreciating teh chance to kneel.

At the church I go to in Boston most members of the congregation stand during the prayers of teh people and the eucharistic prayer. We've been experiencing a bit of a heat wave in America, and when it's really hot, I tend to feel dizzy and weak if I stand still for more than a few minutes.

I've perfected a kind of half-kneeling half sitting in the pew routine which works quite well.

Amy said...

What about sitting? How were the disciples positioned at the Last Supper?