Yesterday I took part in quite a unique event. I deaconed at an All Souls Day eucharist at the Rochester Bridge Trust. Not only was the experience unique but the location of the Bridge Chapel was also quite special being built in 1387 as a place for travellers to pray. During the reformation worship in this chapel was stopped and it, sadly, ended up being a storeroom until 1937 when it was restored as a chapel.
I quote from the service booklet regarding the service:
‘The service on All Souls Day 1990 was the first celebration of Holy Communion in the Bridge Chapel since the Reformation., and the annual All Souls Service has now become a continuing tradition commemorating the founders and benefactors of the bridge. The form of mass used daily in the Bridge Chapel during medieval times would have been the Requiem Mass, and today’s Commemoration has been modeled on that service.’
It was an interesting experience and the irony of the situation, while dressed in black vestments and listening to our lay clerks since in latin, of me as a pioneer in this setting this cause me, and a fellow priest sitting in the front row, to smile.
As I listened, however, I was struck by two thoughts. The first was the beauty of the music as the lay clerks sang which was quickly followed up by my thoughts of inaccessibility. By that I mean I could not just listen to the music and words as I do at evensong. To understand the worship I needed to be able to read the translation which felt quite cumbersome. I guess, then, that the reformation and its putting of the ‘the word’ into the vernacular was a good thing!
As I reflect today, however, and especially after a KCME morning in which we were reflecting on worship I was struck again by the need for a rolling reformation outlook as we attempt to worship in a way that engages people in the place they are at. Language, symbols and meaning seem to be constantly changing in our society (e.g. the current meaning of the word ‘sick’ to describe something as ‘excellent’) which I think means if we are to remain relevant then we need to be constantly looking at how we use language and symbolism – God may be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow …. but our understanding grows and our language develops and so we should welcome experimentation and change as surely this is the only way people will be able to have access to their God?