Friday, June 12, 2009

Liquid Mass - or please try this at home first, children!

Yesterday, as was beautifully pointed out on many blogs I read regularly, was the feast of Corpus Christi. I had planned a post of my own, as this is one of the feasts of the church that I hold most dear, but actually having visited here there was very little more that I wanted to say, and in any case life intervened!
So instead of posting harmlessly here, I spent most of yesterday putting finishing touches to my first even remotely alternative worship event at Church in the Valley, a Liquid Mass for Corpus Christi.

Liquid worship, for those who are wondering, is worship in which people are free to engage with the component parts in their own way, at their own pace. It's no longer even slightly cutting edge in most places - (Pete Ward's book Liquid Church was published back in 2005) but these are quite traditional communities, who were unlikely to have experienced anything quite like this before.
Because this was, of course, a Eucharist, the stations I was offering needed to cover the same ground as our familiar liturgy.

So, by the door there was space for preparation. I borrowed an idea whose pedigree came from Margaret Silf via a worship experience with (iirc) Dream at Greenbelt...a map on which to plot your current position with God, whether out on a limb, in the desert, on peaks of praise, cliffs of rebellion or just plain lost.
Worshippers were invited to mark their spot with a good firm mark, going through the paper...Now comes the clever bit. They then turned it over to discover on the reverse another copy of the same map, plus the words
"THIS is the best place for you to meet with God today
Where you are (however unchosen) is the place of blessing.

How you are (however broken) is the place of grace.

Who you are, in your becoming, is your place in the Kingdom.

By the font was the tried and trusted penitential station...A heap of stones and this text....
This is the place where the Christian journey begins, with baptism. Water is life giving…you just cannot survive long without it Water can also be life destroying…nobody can doubt that in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. At baptism, water is poured over us as we are given a clean start, a new life in God. As you stand here, pick up a pebble…think of those things which you wish you were free of, the concerns and worries, the failures and disappointments, all those things which might hold you back on your journey with God….Hold the pebble tightly as you focus on these, then, when you are ready, let it go into the water. Then, if you wish, use some water to trace the sign of the cross on your forehead. This is your badge, your passport for the journey. When you are ready continue your walk.

What I'd not foreseen was the effect that larger stones we jettisoned our faults and failures, there was the most satisfying and significant plunk. Something real was happening here.

The ministry of the word, beneath the pulpit of course, offered copies of the gospel of the day together with a simple outline of the process of Lectio Divina and an invitiation to take the passage and work with it...together with some other sermons and thoughts on the Eucharist, for those who prefer to be led along a more defined course.

Intercessions were offered in the Lady Chapel, - which is where we already have our prayer board and votive candle stand. In addition last night was my piece de resistance...a disposable barbecue.
A barbecue???? You say, incredulously.
Isn't that a little rash? over the top even? Well, yes........with the wonders of hindsight I can agree that it was.
The thinking went like this.
Due to the hectic overexcitement of my first Easter Vigil in these parishes I had neglected to do as I had intended and place the numerous prayer slips that had been accumulated during our Experience Easter trails on the brazier when we lit the Easter fire...but they needed to be disposed of reverently at some point soon.
I had in the past used an idea (is it yours, Fr Simon?) that invited people to end their intercessions by placing some incense in a thurible, recalling the psalm
"Let my prayers rise before you like incense"
It sounds good, doesn't it.
But I'd not reckoned on the overwhelming clouds of smoke that billowed from our extremely ethical, co-op FairTrade disposable barbecue. I lit it 45 minutes before the service was due to start, heeding the instructions that suggested that it might take up to 20 minutes for the flames to die down. In fact it took longer, and the smoke - well, the whole thing was disturbingly reminiscent of Isaiah's vision that we heard about on Sunday - but rather without the glory!

Neighbours put their heads round the door to check if the church was on fire
My small but willing congregation will undoubtedly have gone home thoroughly smoked and not even an entire packet of Rosa Mystica, assuming we could have afforded it, would have stood a chance of impacting on such determined and all embracing smokiness.

Once I'd got over the whole
"this is a disaster...nobody will ever come to an act of creative worship here again...I'm going to burn the church down.....what do I tell the Archdeacon?" routine, once we'd all laughed and lamented and settled down, the evening was actually OK.
The clouds of smoke hanging in the air together with the plainsong that I'd chosen as background for the liquid part of the evening created a rather marvellous effect...And I learned not just the "try it first" lesson but also, and more importantly, another lesson in letting go, in losing control of the whole worship experience (which is very much what liquid worship is all about...).
And when I changed the music from plainsong to the Taize "Eat this bread, drink this cup", when we gathered round the altar, told the story that shapes us, broke bread and drank wine together, then all was well.

All praise to you, our God and Father,
for you have fed us with the bread of heaven

and quenched our thirst from the true vine:
hear our prayer that, being grafted into Christ,
we may grow together in unity
and feast with him in his kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

Sounds very cool--thanks for explaining.

DogBlogger said...

Wow. Even with all the smoke, you -- and the Holy Spirit -- are giving this worship committee chairperson some ideas...

Bad Alice said...

How neat. It reminds me a bit of a prayer walk my church set up once. At one station was a wall to write your requests, another to dump the things you wanted to release, a cross with nails to hammer in. It was really lovely, but it got a bit rushed as more people went through. I think it's very creative and engaging.

Diane M. Roth said...

yes, I am fascinated. And I had never heard of Liquid Church before. So.... the learing begins!

Song in my Heart said...

This sounds quite wonderful, smoke and all.

"THIS is the best place for you to meet with God today
Where you are (however unchosen) is the place of blessing.
How you are (however broken) is the place of grace.
Who you are, in your becoming, is your place in the Kingdom."

I forget this so easily. Thank you for the reminder.

The stones remind me of Tashlich. But I like that the stones will sink in this case, rather than floating on the surface to be eaten by ducks, which is always what happens with Tashlich bread in London.

Sometimes I have so many intercessions, so many worries and requests, that a smoke signal feels like it would be more appropriate than incense or a candle. An occasional reminder that the little fire is part of a bigger fire is no bad thing.

Word verification: "eateator"

maggi said...

brillant. marvellous. laugh out loud wonderful.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

It sounds fantastic. May I borrow some of it for my All Age Worship service in a couple of weeks?

Your experience with the barbecue reminds me of one Ash Wednesday a couple of years ago. The minister had decided to get all the congregation to present a palm cross to be burned in order to obtain ash for the Imposition. Well, it was a Circuit service, and a BIG congregation. And when she lit the palms, they went up with a whoosh.....

Which wouldn't really have mattered, but just then a fire-engine went past in the street outside... whereupon the entire congregation totally lost it!

Mary said...

Kathryn, on a technicality, how long did you have the church open for the liquid bit before you gathered for the Eucharist? Our alt worship has always been either liquid or Eucharist.... I love the idea of combining the two.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this, it was both very moving and made me laugh, just what I needed at a difficult time. I found the comment about this being the place where I need to meet with God at the moment to be particularly helpful. Thank you.