awesome Eucharist

Baptist communionThe end of term at the Koinonia Federation is always busy for everyone, the chaplain included. Being the end of an academic year, there are people moving on and new people joining. This week there were will be both sadness as we say goodbye to some great people and excitement as we look ahead to working with a new team.

One of the exciting things for me this week as chaplain was presiding at the first ever school Eucharist in our secondary school. During the preceding two weeks I had the pleasure of teaching all 6 classes an RE lesson on The Eucharist. This was an interactive lesson which the students responded amazingly well to with some great conversations as we discussed the meaning and names of Eucharist across the Christian tradition. One student summed it up by saying … ‘So … Rev Rob … you are saying this one meal is the same thing but we all call it a different name and think some slightly different beliefs about what is happening … but they are all the same and all equally valid?’ Job done!

During the lessons we came up with a practice of ensuring all students and staff felt included in this celebration. We decided that people should have the freedom to come forward or stay seated. We discussed that some might want to come forward forward for a blessing rather than receive bread. We then discussed that some may feel left out who did not want to receive bread or a blessing and so decided people should have the freedom to come forward and say no thank you or simply shake their head.

On Monday morning we celebrated Eucharist for the first time. The students were fantastic in their level of respect and there was an amazing atmosphere of inclusion as most students came forward, some of faith and some of none, to receive bread, or a blessing or simply to come forward as part of the school family. There was a tangible sense that this was a special time for all of us who were there.

Sometimes being school chaplain means you get the privilege of being involved in some amazing things.


come … because all are invited

eucharistToday is Maundy Thursday; a day which, for me, over the last 5 or so years has been a day to contemplate, reconsider, and dwell on the whole basis of my faith. In particular on this day I am always drawn to think about what celebrating eucharist is all about.

It’s quite pertinent for me this year as I have already had a number of conversations with around a dozen people which have fallen into two broad categories; one being of whether children should be ‘allowed’ to take part, the other with (Roman) catholic friends about who should be allowed to share.

Both questions shock me really. The first really saying, ‘when do children fully understand?’ To that I answer when do any of us fully understand what God is doing in Eucharist? If, as I heard the other day, a child saying ‘..but I love Jesus just as much as anyone else…’ then surely that understanding is enough. I know that is a simplistic viewpoint, but sometimes simplicity is necessary.

The second question really makes me shiver. This question really talks about people in some form of authority making a judgement; it’s people deciding who is or is not worthy of receiving communion. I think this midset betrays a forgetfulness. A forgetfulness that is missing the fact that this is Christ’s table, and that it is Christ that invites because, actually, none of us are worthy to join Christ around his table. No human can refuse to ‘allow’ someone to come to Christ’s table for it is not us inviting others, but Christ himself.

In the gathering we have started too use this invitation which i have seen versions of flying around in various places, but this is taken from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

come to this table
you who have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time;
you who have tried to follow Jesus,
and you who have failed;
It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

In his daily thought today, Richard Rohr shares:

‘The issue is not worthiness; the issue is trust and surrender. It all comes down to “confidence and love,” as Thérèse of Lisieux said.  I think that explains the joyous character with which many celebrate the Eucharist. We are pulled into immense love and joy for such constant and unearned grace. It doesn’t get any better than this!’

Today I shall be walking into the Chrism Eucharist this morning reflecting on this meal, and remembering the immense love, acceptance and grace that welcomes and draws me in … and that that welcome and grace and love is not just for a few, but for everyone.

This Easter time come … because you have a personal invite from Christ himself.


It’s been an interesting few days with a fairly big variety of things.
Wednesday morning I returned to St Stephens to preside at the the 10 am Eucharist. It was good to see some familiar faces.

Wednesday evening I led evening pryer in the crypt. 3 minutes before starting our ‘normal’ group of 3 or 4 was suddenly swelled to over 40 with a massive influx of visiting Dutch teachers who decided to join us for Evening Prayer, which made things a lot more interesting when we were praying for the unity of the church.

Thursday morning saw me visiting a local prison. chatting to the chaplain and walking around meeting some of the staff.  This was a very powerful and humbling experience which got me thinking on what freedom actually is.

Thursday afternoon I led the leavers service for a local girls grammar school.  This was a good service planned by the Head Girls and was creative in places. It was, actually, a real joy to be involved. The irony of coming from a prison where people were locked up partly as a result of lack of opportunity while overseeing a service developed with creative young people who have great opportunity ahed of them was particularly apparent.

Thursday evening I went to my normal film club and watched quite a harrowing film which I’m glad I went to see … but to say I enjoyed it would not be correct! I currently feel as if my day has gone full circle …from being trapped by lack of opportunity passing through great opportunity to returning to being trapped again.

The variety continues tomorrow as I meet up with my wetherspoons friends and then get ready for the Sweeps Festival. If you are a pray-er, please pray for us over tis weekend … thanks!

undignified eating

I’ve fallen behind in reading stuff recently but caught up on Maggi’s Corpus Christi post recently. It has challenged me in my thinking on the eucharist:

the word for “eat” in the phrase above – τρώγω (trogo) describes the kind of enthusiastic eating of a hungry animal. Imagine a dog knawing on a bone: teeth bared, mouth wide, getting stuck in for all its worth.’ ….                go read more here.

a rolling reformation?

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?

Sunday pt 1: the wonder of BCP? (did i say that??!)

Yesterday I experienced some of the extremities of my role as a pioneer curate, charged with developing a new way of being church, while based at a cathedral which by many is seen as very traditional in its out look and practice.

My Sunday started at 8.00am as it was my turn to preside at the 1662 Book of Common Prayer service of Eucharist. I do find the language of this service quite a challenge to me but there are some parts where God causes me to think. I particularly like the BCP language after we have shared bread and wine which seems to capture more of the mystery and responsibility of the meal than the Common Worship text does.

In the BCP yesterday we read at the end of the service:
Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear Son.And we most humbly beseech thee , O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

whereas in CW we say:
Almighty God, we thank you for deeding us with the body and blood of your son Jesus Christ. through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your spirit to  live and work to your praise and glory. Amen
CW seems to go down the power line with the image of being sent out for mission quite aggressively. The language seems quite dry compared to the BCP which is quite artistic in its language here as it calls to mind our mission responsibility by reminding us that the mission we are called to has already been prepared by God. With this language it seems to me that is easier to remember that I am called to see what God is already doing and join in. BCP language reminds me that we are called by God, to work with God, and incorporated by God in some mysterious way into the Body of Christ. 
I believe that it should be quite hard to leave a BCP service without having eyes reopened to what God has already started and is calling us to do in partnership with him. I guess, for that reason, it is a shame that we have lost this language from our Eucharists for the majority of those in church. Maybe we, as the gathering, should be looking at BCP language as as well as CW language as we share eucharist together.?

approaching the table

Another good podcast to listen to here called ‘Approaching the Table’ from Moot. It’s fairly short and I think helpful for peoples thinking on the eucharist.

Quote from the Moot website:

In this podcast recording of the homily in a Moot Community Eucharist on the 19th September 2010, Vanessa Elston explores the gift of Communion or Eucharist as a sign of God’s unconditional love of us.  Not only this, but such a gift of belonging in the community that is the Triune God, opens the importance of human community, and tha challenge to sink roots that are beyond the temporary.

One way?

Today has been another day of firsts.

This morning I went to my first ever BCP communion service. In hindsight I probably should have gone to one before today as I was presiding and had no reference points to work from! The language of the prayer book takes some getting used to as there are so many words of traditional form.

I was rescued by Phil, the Canon Pastor, who pointed me in the right direction so it all went smoothly in the end. On reflection, though, the service is simple in its wordiness. It challenges us to think before we take communion and calls upon us to examine ourselves, which can’t be a bad thing.

Following BCP was the Cathedral Eucharist which I presided at and which I still see as an immense privilege to play any part in. Although very different to BCP but both an expression of that joining around the table with God himself. Both were valid and both spoke to me in different ways.

I guess in a way my reflections on today have reinforced my thoughts on moving away from the hardened belief in one system only being the right one: one correct belief pattern, one correct Eucharistic practice, one correct way of being church. There are a variety of valid ways and I wish we could see that more regularly and openly rather than feel we need to protect or stand up for our preference.

Surely there must be some ways (rather than one way) that we can talk about our preference while we still give value to the preferences of others?

Can it really be that hard?

amazing eucharist

Another interesting day today at the cathedral. It was an opportunity for me to preside at the cathedral Eucharist and while I always smile at myself as pioneer minister in procession behind a massive choir, dressed in chasuble and having to sing solo as the opening three lines of the Eucharistic prayer – I cannot help but see what a massive privilege I have.

The privilege is not just in the fact that I am doing this in a cathedral, although that in itself is pretty special, but that I am involved like this at all. As I pray on behalf of the people present and serve and/or pray for people I find the whole of this worship very very special. I get to certain parts of the liturgy and people have remarked how I break out into a big grin or smile – but I have to say how can one say
‘therefore WITH angels and archangels and with ALL the company of heaven we proclaim your great and glorious name’ or
‘and LOOKING FOR HIS COMING IN GLORY we celebrate …’ or
‘we thank you for counting us worthy to STAND IN YOUR PRESENCE AND SERVE YOU
without smiling or getting excited about what we are saying, what we are claiming and what I totlly believe to be true.

Sometimes I think it is easy for the words to become familiar, or for the celebration itself to be so common to us that we forget what is actually happening and what we are remembering.

This is about journey, interaction and transformation with THE living God. A living God who chooses to reveal himself, amongst other ways, through the Eucharist. That is something to be pretty amazed about!

called in

Today I had another study day mixed with a bit of a packing day until I had a phonecall from Neil asking if I could take the 1.00pm Eucharist as the priest scheduled to do this was unwell.

To be honest I did not hesitate at the opportunity as I still see this as quite a privilege to be able to do – and the last time I did a week day Eucharist I made a mistake by forgetting to pray – I remembered to do that today. But …. because I had not presided in the Lady Chapel before I could not find where the chalice and paten had been placed. I could see the purificators, bread and wine … but I needed Ben (thanks) to discreetly point for me. Just a little embarrassing but I hope it did not distract from the worship too much. At that point in the service the rain was smashing onto the cathedral roof which I think distracted people from my failings.

Again it felt very very odd just taking wine myself and only giving bread to everyone else – I know God is fully present in however we celebrate and so I find it interesting that I am developing a bit of a hang up about this. Maybe if we did not consecrate wine at all the issue would not be as intense in my mind.

All that aside, to share communion with the other 5 people present this afternoon was a joy. It’s a special experience which I am finding really hard to explain.

Being in the lady chapel rather than the crypt meant we were far more public. People were passing outside and putting their heads in to look for a while. I gestured to invite them in, most declined. It led me to wonder what people passing make ofthis service; do they see it as a pointless ritual, or some quaint custom? I don’t know, and most had gone by the time we had finished. It would be interesting to know what visitors thought and so I am going to think about how I might be able to achieve this.