Monday, 19 April 2010

Priest-Bound and Exclusive?

Yesterday I went for a guest appearance at a church who have been in interregnum for 12 months or so.  Despite this they are making stalwart efforts to keep their pattern of services going - which means Mass at 8 and 10am every Sunday and Weds lunchtimes.
I admire their spirit, of course.  But it leaves me wondering about the extent to which we have made churches priest-bound.   Of course Holy Communion is the normative act of Christian worship.  But that doesn't mean that other forms are not valid.  Communion is an excluding form of worship; defining who is "in" and who is "out" in a way that other services don't.  And it leaves the church dependent upon the presence of a priest.  I should say that while I can accept reserving sacrament for home visits I don't agree with communion by extension as I don't find it has integrity.  It's a strange ceremony that seems to be saying "you should have been somewhere else, but this will do".

For once in my life I don't blame the Victorians for this situation.  Well OK, yes I do, indirectly through a link to the Oxford Movement.  But I mostly blame the Liturgical Renewal.  It seems to me that what happened was that the churches put the present experience and expectation of their existing members, above that of any future members.  I don't see Mass, Eucharist or whatever you want to call it as a very good form of service for people who don't know much about church.  And 25 years when I attended a service of Communion for the first time it scared the wits out of me.  Just a very odd thing.

It reminds me of a debate on banksyboy's and Sam Norton's blogs a few weeks ago regarding music and worship.  If the service is meeting the expectations of regular and commited worshippers - what effect is it having on those who are not committed, or finding their way, or looking at what church-going is about?  I wonder if sometimes communion has an effect similar to this:
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 1 Cor 14:23
So on the whole what I think would be a good idea for the church is less frequent communion.  It will mean the church is more friendly to those who are searching, to those who are uncommited - makes communion more special.  And means it can get on better, with fewer priests.


Kathryn said...

"Communion is an exclusive form of worship..."
Surely it neednt be? I'd hope that unfencing the table would be every bit as effective as moving away from Communion as our the core of all that we do as church. Can't, and shouldn't it, be a "converting ordinance"? What could possibly make faith more real than God entrusting Godself to us in a fragment of bread and a sip of wine? I know it CAN seem really odd, exclusive, esoteric...but it truly needn't. It's sharing a meal with friends, for goodness sake...offering hospitality. When we were in a group of N Cotswold villages, before I was ordained, our monthly "All Age Communion" drew in 50+ (in communities where usual Sunday attendance might make double figures on a good day) but the non Eucharistic informal worship just didn't attract anyone much at all. Y, I'm Catholic...Y, I would love to be somewhere where a daily Mass was possible - but I don't think this is what's shaping my response. I'm just certain that Communion is a way in which God is offering himself to EVERYONE - so we need to make that clear and possible (I usually use the Iona invitation "This is the table not of the church but of the Lord...") and then do more, not less, of it.

Sorry to find myself ranting here! I clearly feel quite certain about this...unlike the question of where to cast my vote!

G said...

I guess, Kathryn, that it depends upon your theology of communion. There are plenty of churches out there that still demand that the communicant has been confirmed or received adult baptism.
And I don't think I'd offer communion to someone who wasn't baptised, as that defines the church for me.