Sunday, 29 January 2017

Congregational choreography

Up at first light, to be sure of getting out of the house to walk to St Nicholas' Kenilworth for the eight o'clock Communion service for the feast of Candlemas, which is being observed in the CofE today. It's next week in the Church in Wales calendar. Interestingly the 'Sunday Worship' smartphone app gives Candlemas readings as an alternative for this week and next, as the fortieth day of Christmastide is this Thursday, so it can be observed in anticipation or retrospectively. It keeps us on our toes, I guess.

The Reverend Stella, a confident and outgoing priest, seemed a little tentative about keeping two dozen eight o'clockers on their toes, when at the start of the service she asked communicants to approach the rail and fill it from left to right, instead of the other way round. Exit from the high altar through a side chapel is to the right, and this simple logical measure could possibly serve to decongest the area before the sanctuary, so long as people standing in the choir stayed put until there was a pause in the flow from the rail. 

Habits formed over decades of routine worship are not easy to change. Success depends on people's ability to hear and obey one week, remember the next, and so on. It presupposes a degree of awareness of others which is going to vary depending on who's in the congregation, and who follows whom up to the rail. Having a steward place to direct worshippers may or may not be helpful, depending on their experience and tactfulness. Giving choreographic directions to a congregation isn't easy at the best of times. I sympathised with the Vicar's nervousness, something I recall well when trying to do something differently during my life in charge of a Parish. 

The change seemed to work as proposed. Perhaps there'd been a survey or a discussion leading to this? It's such a small thing, but an early, said service in an English Parish church is a model of respect and good manners. Participants, whether they are complete strangers or have known each other at church for a lifetime, give each other space and silence to be completely inward, engaged with the liturgy as much or as little as they desire. The peace is exchanged, as it has been for some years at St Nicholas', done briefly with warmth, courtesy and few words. I wish it were the same at every church service.

I enjoy the early morning walk to church here as the sun rises. The Reverend Stella preaches a modest length, well prepared sermon. Early birds don't get Liturgy Lite. Talking of which, on my way up the avenue of lime trees to the church, I saw several thrushes on the ground, plus a pair of blackbirds, one with a worm in its beak just tugged out of the ground. I haven't seen that since family camping days.

The house was quiet for a good hour or more after I returned, before the family awoke and came down for breakfast, well brunch. Then it was time for me to head back to Wales, as early afternoon they were going to Coventry to meet a student film crew, making a music video to accompany one of the songs on Sonrisa's forthcoming album, being crafted by Anto and the band in the attic sound studio above their house. It rained all the way back to Cardiff, but the roads weren't crowded.

Looking at news and photos on Facebook later, I was reminded that this afternoon was Archbishop Barry's farewell at Llandaff Cathedral. The place was packed with clergy and representatives from all over the diocese. Even if I'd been able to get home in time, I doubt if there'd have been a free space for me, and I wasn't aware in advance of how I might get one. Some time ago I decided to settle for sending him a personal letter of appreciation and farewell. He'll certainly remain in my prayers as he makes the transition from being a very public servant of the church to private citizen who happens to be a retired priest. May God bless and prosper him in his new way of life.

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