Monday, 9 February 2009

Woughton Ecumenical Parish - a new perspective and a good story

On Sunday I was invited to lead services for the Woughton Ecumenical Parish, part of the Milton Keynes Mission Partnership.  This involved a Holy Communion at 8.30 and 9.45 at St Mary's Woughton on the Green, followed by an 11.15 Service of Worship and the Word at Woolstones. The latter was cancelled because with thick snow still on the ground, the track to the church made access very difficult.

Both the 8.45 and 9.45 were ecumenical congregations, but using a liturgy which had a very close resemblance to Common Worship, and with people coming up to the altar I did feel somewhat Anglican, and more importantly, priestly! 

As Baptists, our common practice is for people to be served in their seats with the cup and the bread. Normally the cup comes in small cups, although some congregations use a common cup at least occasionally. There was something strikingly different about people coming to the presiding minister, and not just in the physical action of 'coming to' rather than 'being come to'. I've received communion in Anglican churches on many occasions so I know full well what happens. What struck me was the interaction which took place from the perspective of the serving minister, which in nearly all cases involved significant eye contact which felt meaningful. I recall something similar when as part of a Maundy Thursday service I've been involved in foot-washing.

As Baptists, and for good reason, we shy away from the priestly function, but on Sunday that felt unavoidable. And the experience was profound. From my perspective it had a greater sense of connectedness than my normal practice of presiding yet serving only the deacons. In both services, communion was the climax of the worship, while in most of our Baptist churches, it's an add-on to the more familiar components of the service in which the climax is either the sermon or the worship that follows. It would be interesting to see whether I thought the same if my occasional experience became the norm. I guess that's what's so fascinating about a new perspective.

I needed to tailor my sermon to ten minutes and fifteen accordingly, although if I'd got to the third service I could have preached for twenty! This was instructive too, and I enjoyed exploring the lectionary readings. I chose to concentrate on 1 Cor. 9.16-23, 'Woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel', and as a way in I used Jamie Oliver's, Ministry of Food, as an example of a  man compelled to pass on the good news, in his case, of good home cooking! I recalled a story my brother-in-law, John, told me nearly twenty years ago, with which I concluded. It went down really well.

Jonathan the Monk joined the Order but was scared stiff on the first occasion he was asked to preach.  He stood up and asked a question in a very faltering tone, ‘Do you know what I’m going to tell you?’  To which the answer came back, ‘No’.  ‘Neither do I’, he said and sat down.

He was strongly encouraged by the Abbot to have another go, so the next week he stood up and asked the same question in a very timid fashion.  ‘Do you know what I’m going to tell you?’  On this occasion the answer came back, ‘Yes’.  ‘In that case I don’t need to tell you.’

By this stage the Abbot was getting a bit cross, and so had a chat with Jonathan.  The next week he stood up yet again.  And asked the same question, ‘Do you know what I’m going to tell you?’  Half said, ‘Yes’, and half said, ‘No’.  So Jonathan said, ‘Those of you that know, tell those that don’t.’  

1 comment:

Reverend Lee Stewart said...

For the past 6 years I have lived in California, and unlike many places in the world; the rest of the US included, things are different here. One of them is the style of "worship" that is conducted. One local Baptist church use a "Common Cup" every week for communion, where upon you take a piece of bread yourself. For me, this reminds me of an Anglican service that takes place in a Cathedral. Another church here, actually has communion sets on various tables scattered around the church, where you simply go up & help yourself, a kind of "cafe style communion". It has also become common place for the Charismatic wing of the Anglican church to have Baptism by Immersion!
Maybe the lines of division are finally being pushed away for simply a Christian Community sharing together, and just opting for a "style" that suits ther own "comfort zone".