Thinking allowed

A community of forgiveness and reconciliation

bread and cup

Read­ing the gos­pel accounts it is clear that Jesus spent a fair amount of his min­istry eat­ing. Wheth­er he’s hav­ing private meals with his dis­ciples, pic­nick­ing on a hill­side with a few thou­sand listen­ers, invit­ing him­self or get­ting him­self invited to din­ner, or bar­be­cuing fish on a beach, the gos­pels record a sub­stan­tial num­ber of meal­time occa­sions. Clearly there must have been many, many more meals which are not spe­cific­ally recor­ded, but which are part of the same pattern.

For Jesus some of these meals were teach­ing oppor­tun­it­ies, occa­sions to share with his fel­low diners a story or par­able or some oth­er teach­ing. But they were more than just this. Quite a few of the meals are in the houses of out­casts – tax col­lect­ors, col­lab­or­at­ors, the ritu­ally unclean, adulter­ers, and oth­er sin­ners. Jesus preached the good news of joy, peace, social justice, free­dom from our slav­er­ies; that in God’s king­dom our sins can be for­giv­en, are forgiven.

Jesus taught his dis­ciples to pray: ‘for­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us’ (Mat­thew 6.12, Luke 11.4); and he also taught them: ‘if you for­give any­one’s sins, they are for­giv­en; if you do not for­give them, they are not for­giv­en’ (John 20.23). For­give­ness and recon­cili­ation hap­pen when people for­give each oth­er. When oth­er people for­give us for the wrongs we have done to them then we are for­giv­en; and when we for­give oth­ers for the wrongs they have done us, they are for­giv­en. Jesus, in his life and death, in his teach­ing and in his actions, lived a life of for­give­ness and recon­cili­ation, even at the last, and inspires us to try and emu­late that life: liv­ing in the king­dom, for­giv­ing and being for­giv­en. In this way we are recon­ciled to one anoth­er and are at one with God. In God’s king­dom such for­give­ness is freely avail­able: all cit­izens of the king­dom will will­ingly and freely for­give the people who have wronged them, and no one will bear grudges or hurts. And every­one will be for­giv­en. (Of course, in God’s king­dom every­one will strive not to do wrong or cause hurt, but that’s anoth­er part of the story.)

So when Jesus sat down and ate with out­casts he showed – to every­one who was pre­pared to see it – how near God’s king­dom was, how it was already here among us. He showed how it was pos­sible to live in God’s king­dom of social justice and recon­cili­ation. For­give­ness was actu­al­ized. In the social aspect of shar­ing a meal togeth­er and being pre­pared to accept one anoth­er, to give and to receive for­give­ness, to be recon­ciled to one anoth­er: in doing these things we can glimpse the king­dom, and indeed not just glimpse it but enjoy a fore­taste – the king­dom in action, right here and now.

And that brings us back to the liturgy. Jesus’s dis­ciples con­tin­ued to share their meals as an enact­ment of the justice and peace of the king­dom of God, and in doing so they recog­nized the con­tinu­ing pres­ence of Jesus as they broke bread togeth­er. This meal con­tin­ues to this day, whenev­er Chris­ti­ans gath­er togeth­er and share bread and wine in remem­brance of Christ: Christ is present, for­give­ness and recon­cili­ation are giv­en and received, the king­dom is brought into existence.

This then is our vis­ion of the Euchar­ist. It is a vis­ion that the Church some­times seems to under­stand only very dimly, per­haps because the Euchar­ist – and Chris­tian­ity in gen­er­al – has become over­laid with so many ideas and prac­tices that add ‘reli­gious’, ‘cere­mo­ni­al’ and ‘ideo­lo­gic­al’ com­plex­ity. Some of those lay­ers can be help­ful, and oth­ers may be less so. Here we are con­cerned primar­ily with liturgy, and how the king­dom of God is pro­claimed and lived through the liturgy. How does the Euchar­ist exem­pli­fy the king­dom? What kinds of prac­tice are use­ful? What do we need to recov­er, in our lan­guage and our cere­mo­ni­al? What do we need to pre­serve, or enhance, what do we need to lessen or jet­tis­on? How has the litur­gic­al revi­sion of the last hun­dred years helped or hindered? Quite likely we shall con­clude that there is no single answer, but dif­fer­ent emphases in dif­fer­ent con­texts, with some lim­its, and sug­ges­tions for a range of ‘nor­mal’ usage.

But this is our start­ing point: the pro­clam­a­tion of the good news and the recog­ni­tion of the pres­ence of Christ in the shared meal where all are wel­come, where the hungry are fed, and where sins are forgiven.

‘Your king­dom come on earth, as in heav­en: give us this day our daily bread and for­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us.’

illus­tra­tion by Leigh Hur­lock, from Gath­er­ing for Wor­ship, Can­ter­bury Press, 2005, 2007; used with permission.


Modelling Liturgical Presidency

A Tale of Two Con­trast­ing Consecrations

The ‘Octave’ from the feast of the Con­ver­sion of Paul (25 Janu­ary) to Candlemas (2 Feb­ru­ary) was an event­ful one for the Church of Eng­land. York Min­ster was the ven­ue for the two epis­copal ordin­a­tions (or con­sec­ra­tions) which were the focus of this event­ful­ness. It provided the Min­ster with a won­der­ful oppor­tun­ity to demon­strate why Eng­lish cathed­rals have exper­i­enced such growth over the past dec­ade. The fusion of space, music, move­ment and col­our merged to provide that elu­sive and indefin­able, but tan­gible, exper­i­ence we often describe as ‘trans­form­at­ive’. The bal­ance, pace (and tim­ing) left you with the crav­ing to come back for more.

Peter Moger, the Min­ster­’s Pre­cent­or, deserves buck­ets of sym­pathy and admir­a­tion in equal meas­ure. It requires a cer­tain degree of insight and exper­i­ence to craft acts of wor­ship such as these, where the over­all impact is mem­or­able – as opposed to being over­loaded and exhaust­ing. In a pre­vi­ous life, I was respons­ible for arran­ging sev­er­al con­sec­ra­tions in the south­ern province. I know the com­plic­ated ter­rain intim­ately: the recip­roc­al horse-trad­ing; the end­less tele­phone calls; the missed dead­lines; proof-read­ing in the wee small hours; man­aging con­flict­ing expect­a­tions; not to men­tion the sleep­less nights. These are all ines­cap­able in the build-up to these occa­sions. Des­pite the fail-safe rehears­al plan, there is always the poten­tial for ‘some­thing’ to go awry on the day – object­ors notwithstanding!

My con­cern is with the strik­ingly dif­fer­ent man­ner in which litur­gic­al pres­id­ency was mod­elled at the two con­sec­ra­tions. The pre­text for this dif­fer­ence is well known and hardly needs rehears­ing here. How­ever, it was more than appar­ent that, behind all the agon­ised exeges­is of the Five Guid­ing Prin­ciples and the desire to mod­el gen­er­ous restraint, some­thing vital was lost in the second of the two con­sec­ra­tions. The cohes­ive shape and flow of the liturgy felt as if it was creak­ing under the weight of unreal­ist­ic expect­a­tion – pre­cisely because the pres­id­en­tial mod­el­ling seemed disorientated.

The first of the two con­sec­ra­tions (Libby Lane’s) was a mod­el of how to order an epis­copal ordin­a­tion. Reac­tions to the ser­mon have been mixed; but there is no doubt about the theo­lo­gic­al, eccle­si­olo­gic­al and litur­gic­al assump­tions which under­girded the rite. A sense of cohe­sion was self-evid­ent in the Arch­bish­op’s pres­id­ency, com­ple­men­ted by the appro­pri­ate litur­gic­al min­istry of oth­ers. As the intro­duct­ory note to the Euchar­ist in Com­mon Wor­ship acknowledges:

The unity of the liturgy is served by the min­istry of the pres­id­ent who, in presid­ing over the whole ser­vice, holds word and sac­ra­ment togeth­er [my ital­ics] and draws the con­greg­a­tion into a wor­ship­ping com­munity. The pres­id­ent … expresses this min­istry by say­ing the open­ing Greet­ing, the Abso­lu­tion, the Col­lect, the Peace and the Bless­ing. The pres­id­ent must say the Euchar­ist­ic Pray­er, break the con­sec­rated bread and receive the sac­ra­ment on every occasion.

The Arch­bish­op’s mod­el­ling of this ideal felt organ­ic, innate and con­trib­uted to a sense that, as the con­greg­a­tion was car­ried by the peaks and troughs of the liturgy, as dif­fer­ent voices spoke, silences emerged, pro­ces­sions moved and music intens­i­fied the pray­ers and hopes those present, the unam­bigu­ous centre of grav­ity was the Arch­bish­op as litur­gic­al president.

In the second con­sec­ra­tion (Philip North’s) it was far less clear how the unity of the liturgy was being served. Some will say, inev­it­ably, that the lack of pres­id­en­tial cohe­sion exper­i­enced on this occa­sion was an all-too-real reflec­tion of the uncharted eccle­si­al, litur­gic­al and theo­lo­gic­al ter­rit­ory being nego­ti­ated. But need it have been so?

Quite often, it felt as if the fun­da­ment­al ques­tion of how pres­id­ency of the whole liturgy would be expressed to give unity and cohe­sion to a great cel­eb­ra­tion, sank under the accu­mu­la­tion of so many oth­er com­pet­ing demands. The leg­al and canon­ic­al rights of the Met­ro­pol­it­an were well emphas­ised, as were ques­tions of who would, and would not, lay hands on the can­did­ate; not to men­tion the per­il­ous pro­spect of tread­ing a safe path through all the media dis­cus­sion about pur­ity and taint. The (doubt­less unin­ten­ded) out­come was that the Archbishop’s stated desire to mod­el ‘gra­cious restraint’ was under­mined by the appar­ently ran­dom man­ner in which he seemed to appro­pri­ate aspects of the pres­id­en­tial role.

Instead of there being a centre of grav­ity in the liturgy, there was an impres­sion of two bish­ops com­pet­ing for the same space in a litur­gic­al game of music­al chairs. The one who greeted the con­greg­a­tion, absolved them and then blessed them at the con­clu­sion of the liturgy, did not recite the Euchar­ist­ic Pray­er, break the con­sec­rated bread, or invite the con­greg­a­tion to receive com­mu­nion. The notion of the unity of word and sac­ra­ment being embod­ied in the pres­id­ent was frac­tured. The focus of litur­gic­al unity was obscured.

I am left ask­ing why the Bish­op of Chichester could not have been gran­ted the Arch­bish­op of York’s com­mis­sion to preside over the whole rite. The Arch­bish­op was always going to be a vis­ible par­ti­cipant, exer­cising his min­istry at key moments (as preach­er and as Ordin­ary who received the oaths of due obed­i­ence). Such a litur­gic­al ges­ture of gra­cious restraint, and respect for theo­lo­gic­al con­vic­tion, would not require him to cede his author­ity as Met­ro­pol­it­an in his cathed­ral. But it would have enabled him to allow the unity of the liturgy to be served by the pres­id­ent, where the hold­ing togeth­er of word and sac­ra­ment is embod­ied in one bish­op, who is the centre of grav­ity for the wor­ship of the whole people of God.

At a less the­or­et­ic­al level, it is largely assumed that cathed­rals exem­pli­fy good prac­tice. And they do – York Min­ster included. But I have this awful feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach that quite a num­ber of clergy, lay read­ers and oth­ers from the Black­burn Dio­cese (and fur­ther afield) will have come away from York Min­ster on Candlemas day think­ing that the mod­el of ‘pres­id­ency’ they wit­nessed at Philip North’s con­sec­ra­tion is a good thing (even down to wear­ing cum­ber­some copes instead of the tra­di­tion­al Euchar­ist­ic vest­ments usu­ally worn for the Euchar­ist in the Min­ster). ‘Let’s give it a try next Sunday,’ they will be thinking!

Much par­ish wor­ship in the Church of Eng­land is less than the trans­form­at­ive exper­i­ence it should be at present, pre­cisely because there is a lack of theo­lo­gic­al insight; a paucity of spa­tial and artist­ic ima­gin­a­tion; but most of all, con­fu­sion about what con­sti­tutes good pres­id­ency – and how good pres­id­ency enables the whole people of God to fully cel­eb­rate the mys­ter­ies of faith in the sac­ra­ment of unity. If this can be under­stood – and mod­elled prop­erly – before the next con­sec­ra­tion of a tra­di­tion­al­ist bish­op, it will be for the bet­ter health of the mis­sion of the entire Church of England.

Simon Reyn­olds is the author of Table Man­ners: Litur­gic­al Lead­er­ship for the Mis­sion of the Church (SCM, 2014).

Photo by Clive Lawrence, copy­right Dio­cese of Blackburn


Liturgical presidency

The term ‘pres­id­ent’ sig­ni­fies an import­ant shift in litur­gic­al think­ing. The words ‘priest’ and even ‘min­is­ter’, used in the 1662 Book of Com­mon Pray­er, appear to have a per­fectly clear and adequate mean­ing. But bib­lic­al under­stand­ings of priest­hood encom­passed ideas of a spe­cially-selec­ted per­son who might carry out func­tions on behalf of people from which they might even be excluded. The Holy of Hol­ies of the Temple was reserved for the priest­hood, who per­formed their func­tions largely in secret. 

A pres­id­ent acts in the midst of a gath­er­ing of the people of God. The most ancient Chris­ti­an churches are mod­elled on the spaces for civil gath­er­ings of the Roman Empire. This is our mod­el for the set­ting of the Eucharist.

Through­out Chris­ti­an his­tory, there has been a ten­sion between the roles of priest (min­is­ter­ing on behalf of the people in a holy place) and pres­id­ent. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, with the norm for the West­ern Mass being the daily duty of clergy, priest­hood was para­mount, and pres­id­ency could vir­tu­ally disappear.

  • The priest might be alone, save for one server
  • He had his back to the people
  • Some of the pray­ers were silent, or even delib­er­ately secret
  • Lat­in, a reli­gious lan­guage used to address God, was used in pref­er­ence to the ver­nacu­lar used to address the people
  • The priest might be sep­ar­ated from the people by a screen, a choir formed of a reli­gious com­munity or both
  • Women were kept away from the altar, and only men would serve

The Reform­a­tion began a reversal. In the BCP, Eng­lish is employed, and the priest must speak aud­ibly. But Cranmer’s idea of a gath­er­ing around the holy table set length­wise in the church with the pres­id­ent at the ‘north side’ soon lost its mean­ing when the tables were returned to the spaces formerly occu­pied by medi­ev­al stone altars.

For the Reformers there were few clear mod­els of pres­id­ency at hand, and this meant that the BCP does not provide adequate guid­ance. The BCP Euchar­ist begins, not with an act of litur­gic­al pres­id­ency, but with the private devo­tion of the priest. The priest alone says the Lord’s Pray­er, and the people are not even invited to respond with the ‘Amen’. They respond only after the Col­lect for Pur­ity. It seems as though the first task of the priest in this ser­vice is not pres­id­ency, but, once he has pur­i­fied him­self with his devo­tions, to admon­ish the people by remind­ing them of the Ten Com­mand­ments. Tra­di­tion­ally, the priest only turns to face the con­greg­a­tion at this point. What pic­ture must go through his mind as he turns from the vis­ion of saints in a sun­lit east win­dow to the people below in the nave? Is he Moses, com­ing down the moun­tain from his encounter with God to deliv­er the law to a dis­obedi­ent crowd of golden calf worshippers? 

Pres­id­ency is also not very evid­ent at the begin­ning of the BCP Order for the Buri­al of the Dead. The priest intones a series of bib­lic­al texts as the coffin is brought into church, start­ling the con­greg­a­tion with a boom­ing voice from the back declar­ing that ‘I am the resur­rec­tion and the life’. It isn’t a good pres­id­en­tial act. And Morn­ing Pray­er opens not with a greet­ing, but with the recol­lec­tion of ‘the wicked man’. That glor­i­ous address to the con­greg­a­tion, ‘dearly beloved brethren’, is lost in what appears like a great deal of fin­ger-wag­ging. The leg­acy of cen­tur­ies of inad­equate mod­els of pres­id­ency enshrined in the texts of the BCP has giv­en those called to min­is­ter a poor mod­el of how to lead wor­ship. What is more, the need to keep to a faith­ful adher­ence to the words of the Pray­er Book, without addi­tions, made it dif­fi­cult to assert a pres­id­en­tial role.

Today the pres­id­ent at the Euchar­ist is bid­den to address the people and greet them in the name of the Lord, invit­ing their response by estab­lish­ing the entire body as a gath­er­ing for wor­ship. This, crit­ic­ally, requires the use of mod­ern Eng­lish. The reten­tion of ‘King James Eng­lish’ at this point is dis­astrous because, whilst we might like to address our cre­at­or rev­er­en­tially as ‘Thou’, for the con­greg­a­tion to use the same expres­sion (and with thy spir­it) when respond­ing to the vicar sounds quite over the top. (The post Vat­ic­an 2 Span­ish trans­la­tion of the Lat­in Mass got it right when the people’s response was ‘Y con tu espir­itu’ rather than the respect­ful address in the third per­son used when speak­ing defer­en­tially to superiors.)

For­tu­nately Com­mon Wor­ship encour­ages flex­ib­il­ity in the open­ing greet­ing. The pres­id­ent may add oth­er words of greet­ing, and may then, after the greet­ing, give fur­ther words of intro­duc­tion in order to enable and enrich the par­ti­cip­a­tion of the entire gath­er­ing. The bap­tism party are acknow­ledged, and the can­did­ate is named. Returned former parish­ion­ers can be wel­comed, and sig­ni­fic­ant vis­it­ors are poin­ted out. The pres­id­ent may intro­duce him­self or her­self and name oth­ers who will take a sig­ni­fic­ant role in the ser­vice. The occa­sion for cel­eb­ra­tion is high­lighted. In short, the pres­id­ent ini­ti­ates ‘The Gath­er­ing’ of all who will share in wor­ship and sets out the journey.

With this begin­ning, the con­greg­a­tion will look to the pres­id­ent to keep them on course through­out the ser­vice. The days when the liturgy pro­ceeded without announce­ments, hymns were simply lis­ted on the board, and the reg­u­lar wor­ship­pers always knew what came next are over. That sep­ar­a­tion of ‘sheep’, who knew what would hap­pen next, and ‘goats’, who were com­pletely at sea, is unac­cept­able. The pres­id­ent real­ises the import­ance of includ­ing every­one so that they are able to par­ti­cip­ate; kneel­ing, sit­ting, stand­ing, speak­ing without embar­rass­ment. This has the advant­age of allow­ing flex­ib­il­ity into the ser­vice without giv­ing the impres­sion that some­how things have gone wrong when the usu­al order is varied.

Some may object that they do not want what can appear like an unne­ces­sary run­ning com­ment­ary on a famil­i­ar ser­vice. But the new­comers must be invited in. Indeed, this idea is para­mount in gos­pel stor­ies which provide mod­els for the Euchar­ist. At the feed­ing of the 5,000, when the dis­ciples want to send the people away, Jesus gath­ers the crowd to sit on the grass to be present for the break­ing of bread. 

The pres­id­en­tial role of Jesus at the Last Sup­per, as Pas­sov­er is cel­eb­rated, is clear in every depic­tion of the event. The ris­en Christ takes that role again, at Emmaus, and on the shores of Galilee when he invites the dis­ciples to ‘come and have break­fast’. Jesus presides at the break­ing of bread, and gives us the mod­el for the Chris­ti­an Euchar­ist. The mould, of the old priest­hood at the Temple, is broken, for the veil of the Temple has been torn apart. It is not the busi­ness of the Chris­ti­an priest­hood today to try to put it back.


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.


Parish Communion

It’s hard to ima­gine what the Church of Eng­land was like before the Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment — and yet the move­ment itself is vir­tu­ally unknown today. Through the major­ity of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, cer­tainly right up until the 1960s, the move­ment was act­ive in pro­mot­ing its vis­ion of life and wor­ship in the Church of Eng­land, attract­ing sup­port from bish­ops and syn­ods. But it very quickly faded from the scene, so that even those of us who grew up in the 1960s Church may well not have come across it.

At the same time as the Litur­gic­al Move­ment was grow­ing across the Roman Cath­ol­ic Church, recov­er­ing a sense of the cor­por­ate nature of the liturgy, the Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment (as it came to be called) was born and grew in Eng­land. The two move­ments seem to have begun and developed inde­pend­ently, though even­tu­ally they came into contact. 

The his­tory of the Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment is told in Don­ald Gray’s book Earth and Altar: Evol­u­tion of the Par­ish Com­mu­nion in the Church of Eng­land to 1945 (Alcuin Club Col­lec­tions 68, 1986). Its roots lie in the Anglo-Cath­ol­ic reviv­al and the Oxford Move­ment, begin­ning with John Keble’s Assize Ser­mon in Oxford in 1833. The res­ult­ing interest in sac­ra­ment­al wor­ship led to an increase in the cel­eb­ra­tion of Holy Com­mu­nion, fre­quently with an increas­ing use of cere­mo­ni­al. Because of the require­ment of many Anglo-Cath­ol­ics that the sac­ra­ment should be received fast­ing, it became the cus­tom for the main cere­mo­ni­al cel­eb­ra­tion of the Euchar­ist in many such par­ishes to be almost entirely a non-com­mu­nic­at­ing act. Only the priest and per­haps one or two oth­ers would receive Com­mu­nion. For the rest of the con­greg­a­tion, attend­ing after Sunday break­fast just as they had pre­vi­ously atten­ded Mattins, this was a chor­al, cere­mo­ni­al and devo­tion­al high-point, but one in which they were pass­ive rather than act­ive par­ti­cipants. For the more ‘devout’ there would typ­ic­ally be one or more early cel­eb­ra­tions at 8am and per­haps 7am so that they could receive the sac­ra­ment before break­ing their fast. 

At the same time, Anglo-Cath­ol­ic priests were noted for their work in impov­er­ished and neg­lected areas, par­tic­u­larly in the slums and dock­lands of large Eng­lish cit­ies and ports, and vari­ous group­ings of Chris­ti­an social­ists and oth­er act­iv­ists came and went.

The Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment com­bined two main aims:

  • it strove to make the cel­eb­ra­tion of the Euchar­ist the primary ser­vice on a Sunday morn­ing in each par­ish church, and to insist that it was a ser­vice at which the con­greg­a­tion should receive the sacrament;
  • and it emphas­ised the link between that cel­eb­ra­tion of the Euchar­ist and social action

Social action was con­sidered to be very closely aligned with the Labour move­ment, which itself was grow­ing in strength dur­ing the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. At a time when the Church of Eng­land was still very widely regarded as the Con­ser­vat­ive Party at pray­er, the Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment might be regarded as the Labour Party at pray­er.

In order for the con­greg­a­tion to receive the sac­ra­ment before break­fast­ing the time of the ser­vice had to be one that was earli­er than the norm of Mattins or High Mass at 11am, but late enough for them to have a bit of a lie-in on their weekly day of rest. 9am or 9.30am became a pop­u­lar time. Par­ishes which still have their main Sunday morn­ing Euchar­ist at this time were quite likely ones that par­ti­cip­ated in the Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment. Fre­quently the ser­vice was fol­lowed by a par­ish break­fast. Not all those asso­ci­ated with the move­ment were insist­ent on fast­ing before com­mu­nion — but its lead­ers and advoc­ates were adam­ant on this point.

And what about ‘social action’? This oth­er import­ant part of the life of the Church was focussed on a weekly ‘par­ish meet­ing’, per­haps in the middle of the week, at which such issues could be dis­cussed and sup­port giv­en to vari­ous ini­ti­at­ives, wheth­er loc­al, nation­al or international.

What the pro­moters of the Par­ish Com­mu­nion emphas­ised was the cor­por­ate nature of the Church, the cor­por­ate nature of the Euchar­ist, and the essen­tial and cor­por­ate nature of the social action that was intim­ately bound up with them. The great mani­festo of the move­ment was a col­lec­tion of essays, The Par­ish Com­mu­nion, pub­lished in 1937, edited by the Revd Gab­ri­el Hebert. Momentum grew, and after the Second World War Par­ish and People was estab­lished as a group to cam­paign for the goals of the move­ment. With the real­ity of a major­ity Labour gov­ern­ment from 1945, per­haps the polit­ic­al angle of the move­ment changed. By 1962, when Par­ish and People was cel­eb­rat­ing the 25th anniversary of the pub­lic­a­tion of The Par­ish Com­mu­nion, the Chris­ti­an Social­ist Move­ment (CSM, recently renamed Chris­ti­ans on the Left) was being set up. There was much over­lap between the two groups, and the CSM fol­lowed on from a pleth­ora of sim­il­ar social­ist group­ings, but gradu­ally the two move­ments sep­ar­ated. By the end of the 1960s, hav­ing to a large extent achieved its litur­gic­al aims, Par­ish and People had faded, although it con­tin­ued to exist until the end of 2013.

What then did the Par­ish Com­mu­nion move­ment achieve, and what can be learnt from it? Primar­ily it reminded large chunks of the Church of Eng­land (and oth­er Anglic­an churches too) of the cent­ral­ity of the Euchar­ist, and of the import­ance of a cor­por­ate cel­eb­ra­tion at which all received the sac­ra­ment. It was suc­cess­ful in pro­mot­ing this ideal not only across much of the Anglo-Cath­ol­ic world in which it ori­gin­ated and across the more cent­ral groups in the Church, but also into the more cent­ral-evan­gel­ic­al parts of the Church, so that a par­ish com­mu­nion on a Sunday morn­ing came to be seen as the norm. It linked this fun­da­ment­ally with what it saw as the social justice agenda of the Church’s mis­sion — though as social­ism was tried in the sec­u­lar world this per­haps became a party-polit­ic­al pos­i­tion that did not always sit well with those who were hear­ing the litur­gic­al mes­sage. It fell short, per­haps, in a lack of atten­tion to evangelism.

These three strands — the liturgy, action for social justice, and con­cern for evan­gel­ism — are the areas that we shall explore in this blog. The social justice agenda itself will largely be left to our sis­ter Think­ing Anglic­ans blog: here our con­cern is how that is linked to the liturgy. Sim­il­arly the top­ic of evan­gel­ism itself will be explored in the con­text of the liturgy: of what we do in Church, how our build­ings serve us as loc­al centres of wor­ship, justice and evangelism.