August 9th, St. John the Evangelist, Ridgeway

St. John the EvangelistLast Sunday I went back to a church I hadn’t been to in about fifteen years.

I grew up in this village, went to the primary school here, and was confirmed in this church. I was a member here for several years, and when I first lived in Japan I maintained my membership here. Even though I come back regularly, I stopped going to this church a long time ago, and for many years thought I would never go there again. For the last couple of years I have been to the parish church when I’ve been here, and for the record, never saw anyone from St. John’s there. About a year ago the parish priest retired, and during the interregnum there were no services at St. John’s. In January the new piest arrived, and now there are two services a month; on the second Sunday there’s a Eucharist, and on the third Sunday there’s a Family Service.

About a fortnight ago I found the church’s Facebook page, and within a day was welcomed in a comment by Reverend Ian, who I believe is a non-stipendiary minister. I replied in a comment and explained my former connection with the church, which he apparently passed on to people at a joint service at another church on August 2nd. Through Facebook I was able to ask him about services at St. John’s and so found out that there was a Eucharist last Sunday. It seemed time to go back.

I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by Richard, who was the sidesperson that morning. I believe he’s also a member of the PCC and a church warden. He greeted me warmly, as did his wife, Diane. I sat between them during the service. I was also welcomed by Janice, Sue and Gaynor. I hadn’t seen them all in so long, I felt a bit sheepish and not deserving of so much affection after being away so long.┬áThe service should have started at 11am but was ten minutes late, because the priest, Reverend Andy, had to rush from the parish church after the 9:30 service there.

There were between ten and fifteen people there. The service used a Family Communion booklet from Common Worship. The Peruvian Gloria was led with great gusto by Reverend Andy, Richard and Diane read the lessons. There was no organist, so we sang hymns accompanied by recordings of an organ. It felt a little odd to see the organ closed and not being used, because my father was the organist here for a number of years after he retired.

The sermon was shorter than I am used to, but I remember sermons always being quite short at St. John’s. Reverend Andy preached on the Epistle reading we had heard, from Ephesians, then paraphrased its message of emulating Christ in a North East Derbyshire kind of way, comparing it to the children’s game, Simon Says. ‘If Jesus did something it’s probably a good idea for us to crack on and have a go at it ourselves.’

It was good to be back, it was good to reflect on where I started my faith journey. As I worshipped last Sunday, in a church that used to be my home I realised how far I have come. I realised how much the shape of my faith has changed. A quarter of a century ago I set out on this journey and was most at home in this low church way of worshipping. Recently I have been noticing just how Anglo Catholic I have become.

Last summer I blogged about the churches I visited and the services I attended and found myself reflecting on how visitors are welcomed, what I could learn about how my home church is. This summer I am turning it all back on myself, learning about what is going on for me and clarifying exactly where I find myself. Turns out I’m in an interesting place, and I’m wondering where I’m going to end up.

It was humbling to go back to St. John’s and be welcomed so warmly when I had stayed away so long. And it was lovely to see this window again.

St. John's altar and window

 

 

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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.┬áBut 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.