One way and another, it’s been a good week to experience a huge variety of worship. To start with, WonderfulVicar AND both retired associate priests have been away on holiday so, for the very first time in two years I’ve been able to lead the full gamut of worship offered at St M’s. In the course of a week, that’s quite a lot, though sadly we no longer offer a daily Eucharist. This week that didn't matter, as I found myself receiving the Sacrament every single day anyway,- something that hasn't been possible for me since the days when I was working in London, just a stone's throw from St James' Piccadilly, and later All Saints, Margaret Street. I'd forgotten how that daily encounter shapes and impacts on every aspect of life, and I'd love to be part of a church that enabled that once again.
I admit to struggling to actually pray the Book of Common Prayer Eucharist on Thursday morning though. I’m just not sufficiently familiar with presiding at this service, and there are one of two bits of local custom that nearly threw me completely. I also find it odd to spend almost the whole service with my back to the congregation, though there’s little I can do about that given the logistics of the chapel. (Plans to reorder there are progressing, and might be realised before the next millennium, given God’s grace and a following wind!!)
To add to the St M’s mix, there was of course the Ordination of Priests in Gloucester last Saturday, and yesterday I was invited by our Baptist neighbours to participate in the ordination of their new Associate Pastor, a woman from their own congregation who had received a call to minister in her own church and community. That was a very relaxed and friendly occasion, and it’s lovely that our ecumenical friendships are so strong that an Anglican priest could find herself taking part in the laying on of hands at the time of ordination. I did miss the powerful invocation of the Holy Spirit that had been part of the service last week, and for me last year, but the service was very much a reflection of S’s call and ministry, and planned on that basis.
Even more than the Ordinations, though, this week has been shaped by my attendance at the 1st Eucharists of two friends made priest last weekend. Both were experiences of the deepest possible joy, both in different ways flung open windows onto heaven, both filled me with a real sense of the Church Universal, stretching through time and space. It was wonderful to come hot and dishevelled from a busy week and be totally swept up in the experience, to know myself surrounded by friends with whom I could exchange hugs and smiles, and no less by friends who now rejoice to see God face to face. When I wrote about my own 1st Mass last year, I said
Nothing had prepared me for the weight of the words, nor for their absolute reality. What’s more, those wonderful Sacramental things that I did for the first time on Sunday are now in a mysterious way, part of what I am for. At the end of the service we sang “And can it be?” and I thought the whole church might take off. So many friends, living and departed were involved in that singing….and in the whole journey to this weekend.
The preacher at T’s 1st Mass on Wednesday, focussing on angels (since the service was a Votive of the Holy Angels) made the same point as she spoke about angels as "musicians of the soul", whose song enables our faltering worship to become fit for God’s majesty. At that service the offertory hymn was How shall I sing that majesty,- and this week’s worship has made its last verse in particular very real for me.
How great a being, Lord, is Thine,
Which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
To sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
A sun without a sphere;
Thy time is now and evermore,
Thy place is everywhere.
Thanks be to God.