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Worship in Lockdown

Recently a friend told me that she had been to receive Communion for first time for some months as her church was now open for worship: she was delighted to have been able to do so, as others are, as lockdown is beginning to be eased. Unlike my friend I haven’t been to worship in a church for a long time, worship there doesn’t currently feed my soul & it often leaves me feeling irritated & depressed. So its better for me to absent myself and look elsewhere. But rather than being a problem its become a gift, a challenge to think outside the box, and in a number of ways.  

It’s encouraged me to develop my own daily prayer pattern at home.

It’s encouraged me to recognise holy spaces outside religious buildings and beyond, and to spend time there.  For me that means, amongst other places, my shed, a quiet space by a nearby river, and a local woodland.  If I was in town it would certainly include an art gallery and perhaps a bookshop, when they were open.

It’s sharpened my awareness of the Quakers insight into Communion, namely that its to be found in all sharing of food and drink, wherever and with whoever;  so every meal is potentially Eucharistic.

Lacking the fellowship that’s an important aspect of church attendance, I’ve been encouraged to find it elsewhere. For me that’s been in telephone and live video conversations. Indeed, I’ve had more spiritual conversations in the past year that way then I would have had in many years of church membership.

It’s also widened my understanding of the communion of saints.  The wonderful American poet Mary Oliver led a very solitary childhood but she used to say that she never lacked friends because she was always reading books. She wrote “ I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way – they were strangers, & lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, & powerful, & amazing. That is, they said amazing things, and for me it changed the world.”  I have lots of friends in that way, poets, writers, composers, painters and sculptors included,  as well as family and friends, who have nourished me over the years & continue to do so. Some are still alive but most are dead, and for me they are all part of the communion of saints.  They form a loving, supportive and nourishing web of which I too am a part.  I never feel that I lack fellowship and certainly not when I pray.  

So, while this has not been true for many others, the closure of the churches and the lack of public worship have been a great gift for me, and I give thanks for it.  It’s widened my vision.

The church scored a massive own goal, in my view, in not allowing people who watch or attend streamed services, to administer Communion to themselves at home, rather insisting that they limit themselves to watching only the clergy leading the worship do so .  I can understand the reasoning behind this, but the consequence is that Communion is effectively restricted to clergy & their families, & that can’t be right.

The reasoning I suspect is rather like that that opposed the translating of the Bible into English many centuries ago.  What might people start to think and believe if they can read the Bible for themselves?  What might happen if we allow ordinary men and women to celebrate communion with whoever, in their homes?  They won’t do it properly and who might receive it?  That would be the argument, but in reality, of course, it’s more about the church holding onto power instead of empowering others.

So my communion has consisted of meals shared with my wife & occasionally others, in the presence of the communion of saints………. until last December that is. Another friend, for whom lockdown had eventually become a source of spiritual depth, like me couldn’t bear the thought of going to his local church over Christmas. “I’ve even been wondering about celebrating HC on my own at home” he told me.  “Hmm….” I replied “why don’t we do it together, online?”

So from Christmas day through to every Sunday since, that’s what we’ve done,  We’ve had a short conversation midweek to plan it, and have then met at the same time every Sunday morning using WhatsApp and our computers. The pattern varies a bit but has been much the same each week, interspersed with periods of silence. We each bring a piece if bread or biscuit, and a small glass of something, for the communion itself.

We catchup with each other.

Silence and an opening prayer

We read and reflect together on the chosen Bible passage

We look at and reflect together on some visual images of the passage

We read and reflect on an appropriate poem

We share a time of prayer

One of us says a simple Eucharistic prayer

We receive communion from our own hands

We listen to a piece of music

We say the Lords Prayer

We bless each other.

Its been wonderful, rich, deep and often profoundly moving. We both look forward to it each week.   Will we continue like this? I don’t know? What will happen now public worship is beginning to be possible again?  I don’t know that either.  Where will it lead? I certainly don’t know that. Clearly it has its limitations, not least it’s exclusivity. But I trust that the Holy Spirit has led us into worshipping together in this way and not just for our own benefit but to discover something that can be shared with others. I’m trusting that the way forward will come clear.  To paraphrase Gamaliel ‘If its not of God it will wither, if its is of God we wont be able to stop it.” For me, Communion will never be the same again.

2 Comments

  1. keith jeffries

    Hello Henry,
    Thank you for this interesting and thought provoking article. You raise some interesting points which are worthy of consideration. The Pandemic has altered the perception and understanding of many with regard to worship and church attendance. We need, more than ever, to focus on our life of prayer as our spiritual beings need nourishment which is sorely lacking in the Church which seems so caught up in social and political issues. I am somewhat ill at ease with lay celebration of the Eucharist but if one casts one’s mind back to the second World War, men in POW Camps celebrated in such a manner and one cannot deny that God’s grace was present and given to them.

    The Pandemic has compelled us to look inwards and draw upon our personal spiritual resources which is no bad thing as the Church consistently fails to address the crucial issues surrounding the spiritual life. With the present restrictions coming to an end I shall return to attending the occasional Mass as I believe worship in a social setting is essential for mutual growth and support, but that will be as far as I shall go. I am content to live my life of prayer as would those in desert of long ago. Cenobites who were reclusive and being ordained were able to celebrate the eucharist alone.

    It is high time the bishops of the Church gave serious if not a priority thought to the spiritual lives of the faithful and stop this endless courtship with the secular world, who at best cannot even sort out their own problems. Race, homosexuality and other moral issues stare us in the face and have been around since time immemorial. Let them be, they will all be dealt with in the fullness of time. Let the Church preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, teach the Catholic faith, administer the sacraments and be alongside those who struggle to believe in anything.

    Thank you again for this. More to meditate on and to pray about.
    Keith

  2. Alice Nunn

    Hello Henry

    Thanks for these thoughts. Like your friend I feel deeply the the lack of Communion and as a (fairly) conventional Anglican priest I long to celebrate it again with my people.
    I am aware that so many have had to accept or endure a Eucharistic fast, and I have chosen to do the same. I resolved early on that I too would abstain, till the right time.
    Interesting thoughts about the validity of doing it online with people, though I guess some Bishops might be a bit antsy about that. But on the whole I agree with the comments you cite from Gamaliel…..

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