It seems that everything shifts- no day is the same for one’s inner world and time is needed to process so many things. So, I do not feel in danger of accepting anything as a new normal.
Right at the beginning of lockdown the thought of presiding at a virtual Eucharist- either recorded or live streaming felt weird, and antithetical to everything I believed. I just wanted to opt out. I wanted us to experience a sort of fast because the alternative seemed just too difficult. Presiding at the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday- normally a joyful and poignant time was incredibly difficult. I felt bereft and empty- and that was not the grief of an anticipated loss. There was no vigil- no quiet waiting together. There was me alone wondering what it all meant.
But we are all needing to find ways of sustaining what Michael Mayne describes as “The Enduring Melody” of our calling.
What strikes me at the moment is the commonality that we share with all God’s church and more specifically with the members of our two churches.
Priestly calling is only one of many callings. I wonder how the members of the congregation are managing this time. Those who love to be in the building, cleaning, arranging flowers, welcoming visitors, giving hospitality- food, coffee. An image of people at both churches chatting to visitors and guests– taking them seriously and sharing a joke. Those who light candles and silently pray. Those who minister on Sundays- being with the children, interceding for those whom they love and care for- and for a hurting world. Those who read or preach or assist at the altar. Those who play the piano or organ or experience the joy of singing together.
Our serving and ministering bind all these together to create the fabric of worship and lead us all into tasting the glory of God’s shared kingdom.
My faith can often feel fragile and fractured and I am constantly sustained by the truth of the story of God’s love and care when I preside at the Eucharist. It becomes real and nourishes me in a very particular way. My calling feels like a true gift from God who knows my need for feeding and sustenance. It is out of that true weakness that I am strengthened. I feel a sense of closeness to all who reach out to God in the Eucharist- and I try to hold everyone who yearns for God’s love and healing in that space.
I am reminded of a time when I was a medical student for three months at a Roman Catholic mission hospital in Cameroon, West Africa. I spent a week with a Belgian priest-Henri Slott, in a very isolated part of the country. I shall never forget the experience or him. We would drive for miles along unmade up roads in a battered Toyota pick up making for villages where the mass was celebrated about once every three months. We were greeted by the Muslim village chief; chickens were killed, and he presided on the grass. We would stay overnight and make off for another village the next day. They did not have the luxury of a beautifully crafted weekly liturgy- it was messy, unpredictable and utterly joyful.
My experience of leading worship and presiding at the Eucharist has a flavour of that time. Will my broadband give way, how can I really read people’s reactions, missing their physical presence? Who is here- and more importantly who is not here- and why? When will we together physically again?
But despite that anxiety, I have shifted.
We are all hungry, we are all longing to be together, we are all experiencing in a true way what a partial vision of the Kingdom we all have. But God’s words still touch us, we are still renewed by sharing-even at a distance the bread of life and companionship that feed us. That sharing is beyond theological argument- if we choose to share bread and wine in our own homes, we are still sharing the “fruit of the vine and the work of human hands.” which is real and tangible. We are recognisably the community of God’s people who try to love each other and try to understand what God might be calling us to. That is so precious, and the words of Romans take on a new meaning.
“For I am convinced that nothing in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ”.