August 2nd, a Service of Benediction, St. Julian’s

St. Julian's sanctuaryI was here a year ago. I think on that day we arrived a little late and missed part of Evensong, I don’t even remember having a service book. I suppose I must have had one, but all I remember is being unsure of what I was attending. Yesterday evening I was back, and it was such a different experience.

St. Julian’s is a Church of England church, but very much an Anglo Catholic one. Around the walls are the Stations of the Cross, there is a statue of Our Lady where you can light candles, there is a lot of incense.There is also a lot of genuflecting, people crossing themselves, chanting and traditional language. Just a few years ago this would all have had me running for the hills. But my faith has changed shape and now this all seems a lovely way to worship.

Here is something I have had to unlearn: Anglo Catholics are not snooty people, not aloof or puffed up in any way. On the contrary, the people I have met at St. Julian’s are some of the friendliest, most gentle and humble people you could ever meet. For some reason I thought for the longest time that Anglo Catholics would be hi-fallutin’, perched up on their smugness. How wrong I was.

St. Julian’s is not just another church that I visit sometimes. Two years ago I became a Companion of Julian of Norwich and so make a kind of pilgrimage here in the summer, to spend time at the Julian Shrine (attached to St. Julian’s) and to see the people here, to reconnect. I wonder how much difference that makes to how welcome I feel, since I am, in some ways, coming home. People ask me, are you a visitor? Yes, I am, but I am also a Companion of Julian, I belong here.

Yesterday evening I was made welcome, and given all the books and sheets of paper I needed. The wife of one of the priests made sure I knew what was needed when. I sat for a while before the service and looked through the service book. Although it was traditional language and more would be chanted than I was used to, it was familiar enough. It was a regular service of Evensong, with the Benediction after that.

A Service of Benediction. Amazingly simple, but also potentially mind-bogglingly perplexing. I suppose the crux of it is, do you believe in transubstantiation? Do you believe that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ? Or do you believe that they are symbols of the same? Believe the former and a Service of Benediction is for you. Believe the latter and I don’t know what you make of it.

This has been part of my journey, too. Not so long ago I would have said that the bread and wine are symbols of Chirst’s body and blood. But in Tokyo I serve as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (LEM) and administer the chalice at the Eucharist. Some Sundays I look into the chalice and see that the wine has become blood. I have seen that. I can’t explain it, but I look into the chalice and it’s no longer wine. I drink, and it’s still wine, but in my heart I know it’s not.

At a Service of Benediction, a consecrated host (wafer) is put in a monstrance, which is an elaborate and beautiful container for the host. A monstrance is usually round, almost like the sun, with rays radiating out from its centre. It is on a stand, which is first on the altar, and then lifted by the priest to bless the people.

I attended the service last year, and went back to Tokyo perplexed. It was a consecrated wafer. On one level I knew that it was the body of Christ, but on the other . . . really? I asked my priest, if that is how we can be in the presence of the consecrated host, then surely at every Eucharist we should be beside ourselves? Yes, he said.

St. Julian’s has a Service of Benediction at 6:30pm on the first Sunday of every month. I timed my arrival so I could attend. I wanted to try again. I had spent the last year thinking over what I had seen at the Service of Benediction, I felt better prepared, ready. Evensong was beautiful, the sanctuary was full of incense, the canticles were lovely.

The Benediction.

Both priests (one the parish priest, the other a retired priest) knelt before the altar, offering more incense. The parish priest was wrapped in a further vestment before he picked up the monstrance. We were already on our knees. As he held up the monstrance, we bowed our heads. With tears in my eyes all I could do was repeat the Jesus Prayer. In the presence of such holiness, what else can you do? I totally got it. I loved it.

After the service, someone approached me and asked if I was a visitor. When I told him I was, but that I was also a Companion of Julian, he told me that he had noticed me and wondered if I would know what to do ‘but you knew how to do everything’.

Yes. Yes I did. Because now I am Anglo Catholic too.

I know there is a Service of Benediction once a month in Tokyo, and I’m going to find out where it is. I don’t want to wait another year.

 

July 7th 2013

CJN2Last Sunday, I became a Companion of Julian of Norwich. After twenty years as a member of the Friends of Julian, it was a new step, a new commitment.

The Companions started in 2009, as a more committed group within the Friends. I remember receiving the quarterly newsletter and reading about the Companions, how my initial feeling was, how lovely . . . but it’s too much for me. It seemed too much of a stretch. Regretfully, I concluded that it wasn’t for me.

At the beginning of 2011, our previous rector left and we began an interim period at church with a temporary priest. I am sad to say, I feel like I pressed ‘pause’ on my faith in some ways. I don’t mean to suggest I had doubts, if anything I knew very clearly how I felt, but the priest and the services in that two-year period left me feeling isolated, out-of-sync with the church. A year ago, that priest left, and we had another interim priest, this one only for a few months, but I started to feel better; she was someone I felt comfortable with, I enjoyed her sermons, and started to feel like I could feel at home again at church. Autumn brought two candidates to visit, and by November our new rector had arrived, and I felt fully home at church. Amazingly, I discovered that he was an oblate in the Order of Julian of Norwich.

As Lent approached, I decided that this year I would spend the year re-reading Julian, but this time I would read her aloud. As I read, I felt a connection with Julian, with her voice, in a way I had never felt before. Something else started to grow, too. I started to feel that I could become a Companion, that the stretch was still a stretch, but not an impossible one.

And so began a process to start to live the rule, to make an application, and finally, last Sunday, to be received as a Companion. I had expected the process to take much longer, and I think in my mind I had imagined that maybe by the end of the year I would know if my application was successful. In the end it all happened so quickly; I first discussed my desire to become a Companion with the rector only three months ago, and now, here I am.

I had also imagined that, if I was received as a Companion, that it would happen at the Julian Shrine, but last Sunday’s short ceremony took place at church in Tokyo. Of course, I’m going to visit Norwich when I’m back in the UK over the summer, but it felt right to have the ceremony at my home church, in the space where I worship every week, in the city where my life is, where my friends, my job and all the other parts of my life are focused.

So I was received as a Companion at the end of Evening Prayer. There were only a few people there, but three dear friends who had prayed with me about this step and who had supported and encouraged me were there. There were no Companions there to take part, but there was our rector, ObJN, my Tokyo part of the wider Julian family. The quote I chose from Julian’s Revelations was this:

“Let us fly to our Lord and we shall be comforted, touch him and we shall be made clean, cling to him and we shall be safe and secure from all manner of peril; for our courteous Lord wants us to be as friendly with him as the heart may conceive or the soul may desire.”
(Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 77)

I am feeling very blessed, and I am feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I have created another page detailing the Companions’ commitment, which you can find if you click on ‘CJN’ at the top of the page. It may seem like a big commitment when you read it; alternatively, you may wonder why I thought it was a stretch. I suppose it depends on the circumstances of your own life and the commitments you have made yourself.

I am feeling very connected, even though all the other Companions are many miles away. To know that I have joined them, I have joined my prayers to theirs, is a wonderful and powerful feeling. I am making a short retreat at All Hallows in Norwich next month and am looking forward to meeting the people there, at the Julian Centre and the Shrine.

I spent two years feeling a little numb, feeling a little cut off from the other people at church. I see now that it was a necessary step to spend time thinking and praying about how I felt and why. In that time, my father died and in Tokyo we lived through the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. It wasn’t easy but having come through it I can say I am glad it all happened. Just like Lent before Easter, I needed a time in my own little wilderness to prepare for the technicolour delight of where I find myself today.

I am a Companion of Julian of Norwich. I am blessed. I am right where I’m supposed to be.

Amen.