Sunday, September 04, 2005

Wholly communion

When I was at Greenbelt I went to three very different services of Holy Communion and combined with some of the stuff from the liturgy week with SAOMC at the beginning of the summer (was it only that long ago? feels like an eternity!) I've been reflecting a lot about how we do Holy Communion.

I'm quite a traditional (though liberal), catholic Christian. I consider that in the communion service, the bread and wine becomes Christ. I'm not sure I'd say that the wine actually becomes blood and the bread becomes flesh but I know that it is utterly changed. It is different. It is special and to be treated with due reverence. This kind of traditional view of the Eucharist might seem like one that wouldn't welcome too much in the way of experimental worship. I certainly did object when there was a suggestion that we could "do a Eucharist" with doughnuts and "duff beer" at a youth event themed on the Simpsons. I can't exactly put my finger on why I'd object but I would. I wouldn't have minded people sharing doughnuts and talking about sharing of food being an import, fundamental symbol and literal enactment of companionship. In fact we did something much like that with bread at the late night worship which my friend and I led at our diocesan youth holiday recently.

I run quite a lot of alternative worship (on a small local scale) but as someone who is not ordained, this has never been Eucharistic so I was excited to go to some alt worship that was.

The first service I went to was the Marvin Gaye Service. I didn't actually know it was going to be a Eucharist (which I would say was slightly disconcerting but ok). We walked into the room and the set up (by COTA) was just amazing. Two huge rear projection screens and a long "path" of newspaper which was used in the intercessions. The service was clearly extremely well thought out and prayed through in its planning. The leaders had worked out exactly which songs would fit where in the flow of the communion service and stressed to us at the start that it was a service of listening. The sense of community was still strong and we were asked to share the peace by smiling at people for being there and making it the service that it was. I really felt a closeness to God through the listening, letting the music wash over me. In all honesty I can't really remember how much of a Eucharistic prayer there was. It was there but I can't remember how. Yet it felt right. People served each other with communion with the word "love". It worked. The service just spoke of Love and the word of communion just echoed that. The service was slick but not in a bad overdone way. It was prayerful and calming. I don't think Holy Communion could be like that every week (or as in my church, everyday) but as a special one-off specifically designed service it was excellent.

The next Holy Communion I went to was led by Sounds of Salvation a Ska band made up of young people. Their enthusiasm was positively contagious. It wasn't slick and well run like the COTA service but it had such energy to it that it didn't matter. One of the great things about it was the way they used THEIR style of music. They even adapted some well-known songs to Ska style which were just incredibly funny and funny was ok. It was still worshipful. (Fore example; my friend pointed out the great two tone stole that the priest was wearing - class!) The style of Ska does engage with sillyness and the band certainly did this in the service. Yet it wasn't derisory. It wasn't funny at the expense of God or at the expense of the service it was just funny. The bit that I found a little strange but still good was the singing of the Eucharistic prayer. As someone who has been to Choral Eucharists, this was particularly strange. It was like the way the Eucharistic Prayer is usually intoned and yet it was SO unlike it. All the words were there and even the sung elements for the people were there but in Ska style. It was genius. It was class and I will totally be taking some of mine along to one if they do one again locally which hopefully they will as they're pretty near me! The one point at which it showed very clearly that the service lacked the slickness of COTA was the distribution. It wasn't made clear what people should do. Three corners of the room did it well and formed large circles then passed the bread and the cup round but our corner was kinda random and sporadic. I had wine then bread and some people had to chase the wine to get some. However despite all of this, the fact that young people played such a key part in energising the worship, leading it, planning it and praying through it made up for so much.

The last Eucharist I went to was in many ways the most likely to be like a regular service (there was a service sheet!) yet it was also in other ways the most unlike it (the service sheet had a tree for doodling on). It was held outdoors which I found just amazing. I love some of the architecture of churches that is the backdrop for our worship and an enhancement of it but having the most perfect blue cloud filled sky as the "reredos" to our communal altar was just stunning. Everyone had been asked to bring their own bread and wine and their picnics. If I'm honest this unnerved me a touch. I didn't want the sharing of bread and wine to be confused with the sharing of snacks. However my nerves were soon appeased.

At the beginning of the service, there was a shout and a great poem (Paul talked about these) and some actions (which, if I'm honest, I could have lived without!) . The responsive reading again used a bit of humour. Then the Eucharistic Prayer was replaced by an allegorical, metaphor heavy story which I really liked. Jonny Baker is hoping to post it under worship tricks if he gets permission. The story included the recollection of Jesus' words at the last supper and at the end of the story we were encouraged to share our bread and wine. After we'd done that, some people in our circle also shared cocktail sausages and tomatoes which I thought would upset me, as there was still bread that had been consecrated there to be eaten and wine that had been consecrated to be drunk. My friend was really sympathetic to how I might be feeling and checked that I was ok with it all and I actually found that I was. I would have thought that I would have needed all the bread and wine to be eaten before the meal was eaten but actually I rather liked the fluidity of the Holy Communion with the meal. It was important to me that all the bread was consumed, was eaten and not thrown away, but it didn't matter as much as I thought it would that it should be eaten before anything else was eaten. The Communion reflection our communion as a group and I really valued that.

Three very different very alternative services of Holy Communion and three services which you couldn't recreate as a regular service of Holy Communion in a parish setting. Yet there must be something from each of them that would transfer. Something of the inegrity of preparation of COTA, the trueness to self of the young people of Sounds of Salvation, the embracing of nature and the community focus of the Sunday Eucharist. The question is how would we do that? I'm not posting an answer merely posing the question. How can special services teach us about our regular worship? How can our regular worship be special each time without necessarily varying?

1 comment:

Andrew Edwards said...

Hi, i have just read your bits on the communion services you went to at Greenbelt, I am one of the trumpet players in Sounds of salvation, and must admit it was really nice to hear such nice things about the Ska Mass we put on. The whole reason of doing the ska masses is to enthuse everyone about God, and take the old traditional communion services and make them fun, a good laugh, yet still not taking our eyes from God. It is great that you enjoyed it, and we plan to do another one at this years greenbelt. Hopefully we can take you comments about the distribution and improve that part this year. Andrew