Thinking allowed

The Eucharistic Assembly

Earli­er this year I atten­ded a dean­ery con­firm­a­tion ser­vice. In his address the retired assist­ant bish­op who was presid­ing posed the con­greg­a­tion a ques­tion. He asked us to con­sider what we should do if we wanted to see the face of God. After con­sid­er­ing vari­ous pos­sib­il­it­ies he sug­ges­ted we turn our heads to left and right — to see the face of God in our neighbours.

Each of us is made in the image of God; each of us is a child of God. We meet togeth­er as the people of God — a sub­set of God’s people who recog­nize that role and are able to be in that par­tic­u­lar place at that par­tic­u­lar time. The assembly, the com­munity, is trans­formed by the act of wor­ship, trans­formed by recog­niz­ing the image of God, not just in our fel­low wor­ship­pers on that occa­sion, but by recog­niz­ing that the image of God can be found in each human being.

What then does it mean that each is made in the image of God? It means a num­ber of things, among them that each per­son has value, each per­son is of worth, as an end in them­self, and not as a means to some oth­er end. That applies both to the ‘me’ and to the ‘oth­ers’: each per­son needs to remem­ber that they are made in the image of God, and that every­one else is also made in the image of God. And it applies regard­less of wheth­er the oth­er per­son recog­nizes it.

These are the people who come togeth­er reg­u­larly Sunday by Sunday, or per­haps occa­sion­ally; these are the people who togeth­er con­sti­tute the euchar­ist­ic assembly. They come in faith and hope in order to wor­ship and cel­eb­rate togeth­er, respond­ing to Jesus’s call to sin­ners and out­casts to sit with him at God’s table. Week by week, togeth­er they con­sti­tute the ‘church’ in that place, the loc­al ‘eccle­sia’. They come togeth­er as the chil­dren of God, the people of God, made in God’s image. They are nour­ished, doubly so, by the Word of God. And they go out as the Body of Christ. They come togeth­er as indi­vidu­als, chil­dren, people. They are trans­formed by wor­ship into one cor­por­ate group, one body.

They do not gath­er just to watch or listen to a show or a per­form­ance, to a great preach­er, or a won­der­ful choir, or an inspir­ing con­cert. They do not come to par­ti­cip­ate from the side­lines like a foot­ball crowd cheer­ing their team on. The liturgy is not some spec­tat­or sport or piece of theatre. Nor, equally, do they come to make private indi­vidu­al devo­tions, a private rela­tion­ship between each wor­ship­per and their God.

Instead, each mem­ber of the assembly is import­ant and has a role to play in what the assembly does as a whole; each per­son is an act­ive par­ti­cipant in the cor­por­ate wor­ship­ping group — because each is made in the image of God. The action of each mem­ber of the assembly, that com­mon pur­pose, con­sti­tutes them as the assembly, and that per­son as a mem­ber of it. With­in the assembly dif­fer­ent people have dif­fer­ent roles. Some may read, some may lead inter­ces­sions, oth­ers may lead singing or play music­al instru­ments, someone will preside and oth­ers assist, someone will preach. Oth­ers will par­ti­cip­ate by join­ing in vari­ous responses, hymns and songs. Each of these (and oth­er) roles is a min­istry, an act of ser­vice to the assembly, an act that facil­it­ates and enables the wor­ship of the whole assembly to take place. Some of these roles will have form­al appoint­ment, and oth­ers will be by inform­al agree­ment of the assembly. Either way, they per­form their roles with­in the con­text of, and with the expli­cit or impli­cit agree­ment of the assembly. Some of these roles help to con­sti­tute the assembly itself, in par­tic­u­lar the role of pres­id­ent or presider.

Togeth­er all these people, con­vened for this pur­pose, form the euchar­ist­ic assembly, the loc­al church, the eccle­sia. The adop­tion by the early Chris­ti­ans of the word ‘eccle­sia’ to describe their assembly indic­ates both their past and their future. The eccle­sia (Greek: εκκλησία) was the term used in ancient Greek city-states for the demo­crat­ic decision-mak­ing gath­er­ing of the city’s free-born men. When Chris­ti­ans began to use the term such semi-demo­crat­ic city-states were already long gone. The word indic­ates per­haps the Chris­ti­an inten­tion of a free gath­er­ing of equals. But a gath­er­ing trans­formed from just free-born males to include Roman cit­izens and non-cit­izens, slaves as well as the free, poor as well as rich, female as well as male. This was a revolu­tion­ary eccle­sia rep­res­ent­ing the people liv­ing in God’s king­dom. Truly, the euchar­ist­ic assembly, the eccle­sia, was a trans­form­ing act.

In the same way, we gath­er today as a revolu­tion­ary gath­er­ing of all sorts and con­di­tions, the people of God, shar­ing in God’s love. Recog­ni­tion of this plays a part in the trans­form­a­tion of the wor­ship­ping community. 

We are trans­formed by our wor­ship in many ways; the one that will be focussed on here is how we are trans­formed by recog­niz­ing in each oth­er the image of God. As the bish­op said, we can look to left and right and see the image of God in our imme­di­ate neigh­bours. In most churches we will not gen­er­ally see the faces of our fel­low wor­ship­pers dur­ing the ser­vice, but there too we will find the image of God.

This is an ideal: it has to be recog­nized that not all our ser­vices live up to this ideal, not all those who attend are ready or able to par­ti­cip­ate in this way, and not all our build­ings make it easy. We shall explore in future posts how the assembly can address these lim­it­a­tions, how the assembly gives legit­im­acy to its min­is­ters, how the loc­al assembly is part of a wider assembly across the world. In many situ­ations, a simple explan­a­tion to the mem­bers of the assembly, both clergy and laity, may be enough for them to begin to real­ize their voca­tion, their min­istry, as part of the assembly which comes togeth­er to wor­ship and to hear and be present with, and be trans­formed by, the Word of God.


Vestments, robes and canon law

The Gen­er­al Syn­od, meet­ing at York, on Sat­urday debated the man­dat­ory use of robes and vest­ments for clergy at some ser­vices. The record of the pro­ceed­ings states:

Private Mem­bers’ Motions

Can­on B 8 (GS 1944A and GS 1944B)

The Revd Chris­toph­er Hobbs (Lon­don) moved:

‘That this Syn­od call on the Busi­ness Com­mit­tee to intro­duce draft legis­la­tion to amend the law relat­ing to the ves­ture of min­is­ters so that, without alter­ing the prin­ciples set out in para­graphs 1 and 2 of Can­on B 8. the wear­ing of the forms of ves­ture referred to in para­graphs 3, 4 and 5 of that Can­on becomes option­al rather than mandatory.’

The motion was voted on and passed by the Syn­od. The three amend­ments were not carried.

The audio of the even­ing ses­sion is avail­able here.

The press reports this as the Church sweep­ing away the rules and allow­ing clergy to wear what they like

  • The Mail — Church gives OK to vicars in shellsuits
  • The Express — Church gives its bless­ing for vicar dress-down Sundays

John Keble

John Keble’s litur­gic­al impact, like that of Bene­dict, is indir­ect but sig­ni­fic­ant. It was on this day in 1833 that Keble preached a ser­mon at the Uni­ver­sity Church in Oxford. It was a fairly obscure ser­mon to the Assize Judges on what we might regard as an obscure top­ic (the sup­pres­sion of a num­ber of Irish bish­op­rics by Par­lia­ment), but it was regarded by John New­man as the begin­ning of the Oxford Move­ment — a recov­ery of the sense that the Church exists inde­pend­ently of the State. That Move­ment was sub­sequently respons­ible for a con­sid­er­able litur­gic­al enrich­ment and diver­si­fic­a­tion of the life of the Church of Eng­land, lead­ing to a renew­al of the Euchar­ist­ic life of the Church and an increased aware­ness of ritu­al and sym­bol­ism. Keble did not play a sig­ni­fic­ant part in these later devel­op­ments, liv­ing instead the life of a coun­try par­son, schol­ar and poet. His poetry con­tin­ues to be greatly val­ued and sev­er­al of his poems are still sung as hymns.

Keble was born in 1792, the son of a priest, and stud­ied at Oxford where he became a Fel­low of Ori­el Col­lege at the age of nine­teen. His col­lec­tion of poems, The Chris­ti­an Year, was publsi­hed in 1827, and he was elec­ted Pro­fess­or of Poetry at Oxford in 1831. In 1836 he left Oxford to became a par­ish priest at Hurs­ley near Winchester, and he served there until his death in 1866. In his memory, his friends and sup­port­ers foun­ded Keble Col­lege, Oxford.

Fath­er of the etern­al Word,
in whose encom­passing love
all things in peace and order move:
grant that, as your ser­vant John Keble
adored you in all creation,
so we may have a humble heart of love
for the mys­ter­ies of your Church
and know your love to be new every morning,
in Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.


Additional Texts for Holy Baptism (GS 1958)

Updated with press reports

The addi­tion­al texts for bap­tism were con­sidered by the Gen­er­al Syn­od, meet­ing at York, on Sunday after­noon, and sent to a revi­sion com­mit­tee, which is the nor­mal pro­cess. The offi­cial report records that:

Drafts for First Con­sid­er­a­tion intro­duced by the House of Bishops

The Chair of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, the Bish­op of Sod­or and Man, moved:

‘That the litur­gic­al busi­ness entitled “Addi­tion­al texts for Holy Bap­tism” be con­sidered for revi­sion in committee.’

The motion was approved by the Synod.

Press reports

There is cov­er­age of this in some of Monday’s papers:


Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism

Benedict’s interest to liturgy is indir­ect. As the author of the mon­ast­ic Rule that bears his name, he did much to encour­age the spread of mon­ast­i­cism in the west­ern Church, and con­sequently was a major influ­ence on daily litur­gic­al pray­er down to the present day.

He was born in Nur­sia in cent­ral Italy around the year 480. As a young man he was sent to study in Rome, but was soon appalled by the cor­rup­tion in soci­ety and with­drew to live as a her­mit at Subiaco. He quickly attrac­ted dis­ciples and began to estab­lish small mon­as­ter­ies in the neigh­bour­hood. Around the year 525 he moved to Monte Cas­sino with a band of loy­al monks. Later in life Bene­dict wrote his Rule for Monks, based on his own exper­i­ence of fal­lible people striv­ing to live out the gos­pel. He nev­er inten­ded to found an ‘order’ but his Rule was so good that it was dis­sem­in­ated and widely fol­lowed, becom­ing the mod­el for all west­ern mon­ast­i­cism. Bene­dict died at Monte Cas­sino in about the year 550, prob­ably on 21 March, but he is gen­er­ally commme­or­ated on 11 July in Anglic­an and oth­er Calendars.

Etern­al God,
who made Bene­dict a wise master
in the school of your service
and a guide to many called into community
to fol­low the rule of Christ:
grant that we may put your love before all else
and seek with joy the way of your commandments;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.