For a few years in France, we turned up to an Anglican church for holidaymakers that ran for a few weeks. For the last couple of years it hasn’t ran which has been a shame: the space to say ‘thanks’ and listen gives a deeper feeling of gratitude & humility for what we have been able to enjoy.
This year we heard of a Catholic Church that runs for the expat community. The French RC bishops have taken a decision which I think is unique; any person of any church who turns up can receive Mass.
So we rocked up and the priest welcomed us and said ‘Are you in ‘good standing’ with your church? Then come and receive.’
Now I am not going to go into faux rhapsodies about the ‘deep joy’ of this moment, but it was just so refreshing that the ecumenical nonsense and doublespeak that typifies British ecumenism didn’t happen here. OK: there are differences in church practice and stuff that I wouldn’t agree with in Roman Catholicism, but at the moment we ate and drank together that really didn’t seem important.
And I liked that.
I have a lovely small card in my study of a chalice and a candle. It is a battered and faded card, valueless to anyone else. It was given to me by someone on my ordination, over 11 years now. This person- a gifted musician and writer- found that communion held her through her struggles with her own mental health. Last year, many of her gifts were robbed by a massive stroke.
I think of her often as I look at this card; one item that has resisted most of my study tidy ups over the years.
I’m reading the above book at the moment and have underlined this quote which I will use today as I celebrate communion:-
‘There is no pain avoidance in the Eucharistic celebration, no dodging of the world’s darkness, or denial of human ugliness. There is a genuine acknowledgement that life can be rubbish. But ultimately, love, mercy and beauty triumph.’ (p60).
If not now….one day…
..Taking a chunk of bread at communion. It was good bread and thinking ‘I am still hungry’. Then, being a professional god botherer thinking ‘This works on many levels’.
I used to think that ‘intimacy with God’ was just an inner journey. I don’t now and steer clear of ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs and stuff advertising ‘intimacy with God’ (and don’t get me started on phrases like ‘This will release and empower your inistry to a new level’. Don’t). Don’t get me wrong- I think there is an inner journey and I need still spaces, prayer and deep conversation.
I just don’t think ‘I need you Jesus’ is enough. I’d like to think ‘I am still hungry means things like ‘for God’s reign to come on the earth and to work for and long for Luke 4 stuff’.
I’m just weary of ‘intimacy with God’ to be marketed like a product/an experience- it conforms too much to our western individualised consumer centred world.
So I hope that I am still hungry…
There is a song by The Divine Comedy called ‘Eye of the Needle’ (next time I do a ‘songs of redemption’ series, that may feature). It is a really searching and yearning song from someone who once had faith/wishes he still has. It includes the lines:-
‘And during communion, I study the people threading themselves through the eye of the needle’
The line is repeatedÂ three timesÂ as a chorus; on the third time it becomes ‘stare at the people’. He wants faith, he longs for God to answer and then he sings with a mixture of bitterness and wistfulness: ‘I’ve prayed till I’m blue in the face’.
Arguments about ‘real presence’, ‘the power of the sacrament’ really do nothing for me (arguments about theology most often make me yawn or want to walk away..)Â What always gets me is people walking down for communion; whether I’m up front or skulking at the back. I always find it moving; particularly watching older people – often getting there with difficulty-who have seen and experienced more than I ever have, yet they are still there.
Being part of an established church our congregations are often ageing (although as I often point out, I’ve yet to be part of any group where people are ‘young-ing’)…yet at times like this, perversely this seems very powerful: I live in a culture that promotes the values of ‘you can be whatever you want to’/’you can chose your own path’/’makeover your life’/’isolate yourself: make your home your private, individualised entertainment box’…and ignores ageing and death. The reality is we all age and die and often suffer increasing decreptitude (hmm..this would be another of my happy posts again)…yet we try and ignore it.
Watching communion with older people helps me face this truth and yet shows the power and possibility of Grace shining through. I can’t articulate how this would ‘prove’ God for Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy (and anyway the lectures I sat through on proofs for the existance of God made me fall asleep)Â , but I’m not sure that God would be interested in those kinds of ‘proof’ anyway…
Today is a ‘bits and pieces day’: the day before a long holiday (and don’t worry kiddies- eager followers have the pure joy, by the miracle of wordpress of a post everyday on this blog. Let merriment be unconfined!). A day of lists and some good feeling of ‘closure’: albeit temporary.
Some observations of where things are at here:-
—-In most ways I like it here. This is a place of connections. I was doing a sleepover this weekend and a volunteer for Youth for Christ laughed when he realised the multiple community roles people here had. He then said wistfully ‘I would like to live in a place like this’. Yesterday when I dropped my car off, I asked the mechanic for some advice on playing minor barre chords on the guitar. ‘I’m learning the guitar’. ‘I know you are’ he said….and then dropped my car back at my house- I did not tell him my address….
—- I can’t imagine moving and entering into the hell that is the Methodist stationing system. I don’t know how much I see myself as a ‘traditional Methodist minister’ anymore. Someone said to me in the pub last week ‘You don’t mind me saying: but you don’t seem like traditional clergy do you?’ I was suprised at that. I want to be ‘Rev’ but heavily involved in one community- not exclusively stuck in a church or becoming a kind of ‘church manager’ over several locations.
—- Having said that, I can imagine doing something else for a few years and attempting to plant something/do something more incarnational which may lead to a worshipping community.
—- My kids feel connected and part of something. That makes me happy. I wish we/they could be more connected in a church/Christian community.
—- Frustration. The way forward is to do something more ‘discipleship based/community formation based’. At the moment, even the most ‘innovative’ things I do are ‘attractional’. This is a weakness of church culture and a weakness in me. There are roots here- have I the courage and ability to develop them?
—- Deep Frustration. Traditional ecumenism is slowly killing me. It is focussed around ‘how can we agree/get on’ and not around mission questions. I don’t go with the trad evo view of ecumenism to be avoided and do your own thing as that seems just like buying into a culture of individualism. HoweverÂ I find itÂ draining to meet intransigence, ‘eucharistic exclusion’ and a reluctance to engage heartily with a world where God is alive and active but which our traditional churches are not touching.
Overall on a scale of happy/not happy, I am ‘quite to very happy’. ‘Happy’ is not the right word- perhaps ‘Generally hopeful’ is better. This disturbs me. I used to be more angsty…..
Sunday morning. Communion. I follow my usual practice- forget to ask someone to help until the hymn before. I ask someone who is (I believe the jargon goes) ‘in good standing’. He mouths to me ‘I can’t’ and points at his legs or more specifically his shorts. Time is running out and I’m thinking ‘why on earth not?’
I stand at communion and recount what has just happened. I talk about the incarnation (without using long words- I’m using them here as I know you are discerning readers), about God being one of us and although ‘special clothes’ may sometimes be relevant and important to some times and some people, the really fantastic thing about it is that Jesus meets us where we are, however we are and God looks at the heart.
I’m still waiting though for someone to say ‘I heard what you said, but that man had shorts on’. At least no one noticed my Grenadier Guards uniform, feather boa and Amy Winehouse wig……