Reflecting on this has led me in all sorts of round-about directions, - so this will be a rather incoherent post, very much work in progress, and I suspect I’ll be back to it in the future too.
First, Steve….I absolutely agree that too often what is presented at the Eucharist on a Sunday morning is far short of the best and most helpful way of introducing people to the living power of Christ. It is quite possible for stuffy , sloppy or over formal liturgy to so grate that nobody even wants to approach the table,- let alone the times when they bravely stick it out, but then find themselves forced to indicate that they are “not one of us” by asking for a blessing rather than the food that they need. Too often, what happens during a Sunday Eucharist simply doesn't match what FabBishop calls "playing at heaven". It can feel dead, or hollow - when it should be the deepest reality of all....
But I’d still want to assert the power of the Sacrament to operate despite our worst efforts.
That’s because it’s not just a clever centre-piece to a service - yes, I’m very keen on other symbolic actions, on multi sensory worship generally and on using the richest variety of ways to make what we are doing in church accessible and “user friendly”.
If I thought of the Eucharist as simply a way of remembering what happened at the Last Supper, then I’d probably feel that there was other stuff that we could do which would be equally, if not more, effective.
But I don’t.
I believe in Real Presence, so there is nothing in the way of creative liturgy that could have the same impact.
It's not a question of priesthood shaping my view, now that I can say the words of institution myself and gather the mess and muddle of the community together for this transformative offering. This has been true for me all the way along the line, since I found myself post university, trying to settle in London, working at Hatchards and attending the 8.00 Eucharist at St James's, Piccadilly before we opened each morning, because having done so a couple of times by chance I discovered that days went better if they started that way...
When I was Readering in the Cotswolds, we tried to follow the prevailing wisdom and offered a non Eucharistic family service once a month, together with a Family Eucharist on another Sunday. The Eucharist flourished, drawing congregations from beyond the village, while the other service dwindled and finally died...
For us, in that context, it seemed that the significance of what was happening at that feast far outweighed any confusion over the rationale behind it. Perhaps we didn't always ask the official questions about how visitors "stood" in relation to their own church...If empty hands were opened, then it was our privilege to fill them with the Bread of Life.
I wrote the first part of this post while trying to come up with a creative idea for our non- Eucharistic Family Worship, which takes place after the 10.00 Eucharist on Easter Sunday. I really struggled with lack of inspiration, and wondered why (this being the sort of thing I’m supposed to be good at) till I realised that deep down, I don’t think we’re doing the right thing with this service at all.
As I said in an email
“If we want those families to have the opportunity to encounter and celebrate God's love, why aren't we making them welcome at the service that does that most explicitly? Of course, we are not excluding them from the 10.00 in any way, but the very fact that there IS something described as "Family Worship" at 11.30 makes it very clear that this is when we expect families to attend."
I n the end, that service will have as its central act something involving taking stones from the foot of the cross (where they have been a symbol of sorrow and death) and exchanging them at the Easter garden for eggs, - with all the new life that they symbolise.
But I’d so much rather be giving them bread.