A caveat for this post is that the opinions and preferences expressed are my opinions , and do not represent the opinions and views of the whole of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, some may in fact be quite unique to me!
I have been mulling over this post for the last day or so, and think that perhaps the only way to collect my thoughts together is to go ahead and write it. Last weekend I was privileged to be present as some of my friends were ordained either as Deacons or Priests in the Anglican Church. The first group of ordinations I attended were set in Ely Cathedral and carried out with much pomp and ceremony as fitted the occasion and the place. The robes were splendid, the liturgy was solemn and yet celebratory and the music from the organist and the choir was wonderful. I enjoyed being there, but to borrow a phrase from Dave Perry, who is currently District Chair for Lincoln and Grimsby ( who was speaking on a not entirely disconnected matter) ".....As a Methodist (almost) presbyter, .... I found myself in a foreign land....."
On Sunday I set of early in the morning in order to be able to attend my good friend Mike Bursell's ordination, the bonus was that Iain Bendry another friend from ERMCwas also being ordained. Not quite the grandeur of Ely Cathedral this time, but the more intimate setting of St Andrew's Church Halstead. The ceremony was still very much in evidence however with all of the clergy robing for the occasion, processions in order of precedence and much more besides. Whilst I appreciate the solemnity of such occasionss and even believe that it is right and proper there were some elements again through which "....As a Methodist (almost) presbyter....I found myself in a foreign land...."
Practices such as reverencing the altar are foreign to me, I smile because Mike refered to it as a table several times in conversation so there is hope for him yet. I do believe that the table is no ordinary table, but becomes for us a sacred table and reminds us of the sacramental nature of our worship even when the service being conducted is a service of the word. To reverence the table for me would be to reverence a symbol, and therefore unnecessary, and potentially unhelpful.
On Sunday afternoon I felt honoured and privileged to assist Mike in his first Mass, and have to admit that there is very little difference in the Eucharistic liturgies that we use at first glance. Rather than going into what could be a very long explanation and exploration now I will wait to see how this conversation develops. What I will do is say what is important to me about the Eucharistic Service.
- We receive the sacrament in response to the word of God and at his invitation. Although we bring to the table the elements of bread and wine the invitation is given by God and we respond to God. The word read ( and preferably preached upon ) is an important part of the whole liturgy for me. Interesting because as Methodists we do not usually stand to hear the gospel read, and if I were to adopt any of the practices from Sunday that are not currently my own then this would probably be one. This is because I do acknowledge the uniqueness, importance and relevance of the gospels in relation to the incarnation ( God as Christ).
- The invitation to receive the elements needs to be heard as if it were given by Christ himself. For me this is an intimate meal, a thin place ( yes I am getting all celtic) where heaven and earth meet.
- We meet to participate in an active remembrance, understanding and embodying through our intention and actions what we have inherited from those who went before us. To quote the Methodist publication Share this Feast: " (we) re-enact the story and allow its meaning and power to shape our actions in the present world."
- The meal to which we are invited is a communal meal, this is highlighted in the Methodist liturgy where possible by the act of waiting together "table by table" for each group to be served, and then receiving together a blessing through the presbyter who has officiated.
- I believe in the transformative power of the reception of the elements, into which the Holy Spirit has poured life and power.
- The Eucharistic prayer should be a drama, let me explain, we act out and respond to the invitation of God in Christ to actively remember and receive from him. Therefore gestures and elevations etc are important, however I do not see them as a prescribed and set in stone group of enactions, my practicce may differ from one service to another and from one liturgy to another.
- I like to use creative liturgies ( Iona, Northumbria, and variations on both which I have constructed), but maintain that they must contain elements of confession, and thanksgiving, and that the Eucharistic prayer itself must maintain its integrity ( words of institution and the epiclesis).
- For mysefl I would prefer the elements to consist of real bread which can be torn and broken, and for all to share from the same loaf, and for real wine served from a chalice.... which just goes to show that I am a mixture, and will remain constrained by tradition, but willing to take it to its limits!
I am very aware that this list could go on and on, and so I leave it now in the hope that it will open a conversation, and will finish with a poem/ prayer that I have posted before.
I want to meet you
in chewable chunks of grace,
to savour the flavour
of your gift…
I want to spend time
contemplating the wonder
of your givenness,
I want to be
I want to gulp down
of your love,
to feel it’s fire
filling my heart and soul
warming my bones!
I want to be cleansed
as I meet you
in the brokenness of bread,
and in the cup freely offered.
I want to go different,
to be different!
Will you meet me here?
Is it right that
I should leave your table