In which Ruth ponders the housework of ministry

Following on from my musings on ministry (last blog post) I came across this quote from Kathleen Norris’ book The Quotidian Mysteries. This spoke to me today.

I found it remarkable – and still find it remarkable – that in that big, fancy church, after all the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink.  The chalice, which had held the very blood of Christ, was no exception. And I found it enormously comforting to see the priest as a kind of daft housewife, overdressed for the kitchen, in bulky robes, puttering about the altar, washing up after having served so great a meal to so many people. It brought the mass home to me and gave it meaning. It welcomed me, a stranger, someone who did not know the responses of the mass, or even the words of the sanctus. After the experience of a liturgy that had left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework. This was my first image of the mass, my door in, as it were, and it has served me well for years.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.

The Giving of Communion

For six months I was Interim Pastor at our neighbouring little flocks of Bo’ness and Grangemouth. While there I helped them prepare their Congregational Profiles which will be given to any prospective priests. I met some lovely and interesting people while working with them and hope that they find the right person to travel with them.

At Easter I found that it was just getting too much for me. Caring for three churches was becoming a real struggle and I take my hat of to those clergy who do this, and more, on a day to day basis. Getting cover was the really time-consuming part of it, as many city-clergy seem to be reluctant to travel a few miles out of town to help out. I could spend two days a week easily phoning round old friends trying to call in favours. Even the Supernumerary system which is meant to provide cover in emergencies didn’t seem to work. (I’m told now that this system is now changing and cover is being arranged from the Diocesan Office which seems to be a much better plan. I just wish it had been in place back then!)

When I left I was given generous book tokens from both churches which was a lovely surprise and always much appreciated. One of the books I ordered was Unfolding the Living Word by Jim Cotter who recently died. It is a book of new Kyries, Canticles, Gospel Acclamations and Collects and already I have found some beautifully poetic pieces which I shall use. In the Appendix I came across a little paragraph for use in a communion service which reads:

On a church door there was this notice:
Everybody is welcome to receive communion here.
Only one thing is asked of each and all of us, that we be hungry.
However, some people prefer to come to the altar for a blessing:
if so, please incline your head rather than holding out your hands.
Or you may prefer to sit quietly where you are.
May there always be pillars to hide behind for the shy, the puzzled, and those
who are searching and seeking.


pillars church-of-our-lady-liebfrauenk

In which Ruth ponders hands at the Eucharist

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver time you get to know your little flock’s hands inside out. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you were to pop their hands through one of those fun-fair things where only parts of the body show, I would know whose hands were whose. I know who has a curled up pinky; who wears shell pink nailpolish and tries to capture the slippery wafer with an ever-ready thumb; who has callouses at the base of his fingers from manual work; who was Presbyterian and collects in between two fingers; who has arthritis and can’t straighten them; who wears a gold pinky ring; who has been colouring in… As a result I quite like hands. They tell a lot about a person. They tell you what a person does, how they live, what they do with their time, how their health is.

Yesterday ‘little Eleanor’ came up to the communion rail for her blessing. She used to put her hands out but now she looks at me very seriously. I made the sign of the cross on her pig-tailed head and said to her: “I bless you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And may Jesus be your best friend.” And then I added: “Can you say Amen?” She looked at me solemnly. Then she nodded her head. I laughed. Of course she can say it. Whether she chooses to is another matter!  I posted it on Facebook and her mum told me that when she went back to her corner she shared crisps with mum and ‘tall Eleanor’ but made them put their hands out to receive them. How glorious is that?

In my journal I have a poem called Real Presence. I don’t appear to have an author or reference from where it came so please forgive me if its yours (and do let me know).

Hands overlapping, right over left
or sometimes, left over right,
and occasionally, just one hand –
all held out in anticipation
waiting to receive
‘the Body of Christ…’

A farmer’s hands here –
scrubbed clean, yet stained;
the very earth with which he works ingrained,
so that it has become a part of him
‘…broken for you…’

And here his child,
not yet really understanding
yet hands held out –
a little sticky I suspect
from the sweetie hurriedly swallowed
so she could receive;
innocent hands – unblemished.
“…keep you in eternal life.’

A woman’s hands – the farmer’s wife,
mother of the child – and others –
hands rough from many washings,
yet still a hint of that ingrained dirt,
testifying to the shared task
of nurturing land and family.
These hands I know are gentle
yet strong – like the woman herself.
“The Body of Christ…’

Another farmer; rugged hands,
oil stained I think,
adding to the beauty of ingrained earth.
(Perhaps he had trouble with the car
on the way to church,
or with the tractor yesterday.)
‘…broken for you…’

Young, delicate hands now,
their bearer not yet adult,
but no longer a child.
Her eyes meet mine and she smiles
and raises her hands to meet the gift
‘…keep you in eternal life.’

One hand here,
the other supporting the tiny babe
sleeping peacefully – downy forehead
offered for the sign of the cross
“The Lord bless you and keep you.”
“The Body of Christ…’

These hands are old and gnarled,
misshapen, barely able to stretch out,
telling of long years lived
and pain endured,
yet open they do,
expressing love and longing
“…broken for you…’

Dusty hands draw my eyes to his face;
a cheeky grin – an adult body
with a child’s mind.
His hands were probably clean
when he left home –
but I know he collects pebbles
and no doubt his pockets are full of them.
And now, hands outstretched, he waits
‘…keep you in eternal life.”

And there are more – and more.
As I move along the row of waiting hands
I see another –
his hands pierced, his body broken –
and I know he is present.
‘The Body of Christ, broken for you
keep you in eternal life.”

Seeing and Believing

As part of our Diocese’s Adventures in Faith programme, the Rev’d Anne Dyer is offering a course called Seeing and Believing looking at art and theology. I missed the first session because I was in Windsor, but yesterday was the second. One of my little flock and I went to Embra on a bus – yes, a bus! That must be the first time I’ve been on a bus for about 5 years and it was terribly exciting. The things you see when you’re not concentrating on the road. (And the things you do when everyone around you has a free bus pass.) We were a little early so we managed to squeeze in a Starbucks with a bacon buttie which was all terribly cosmopolitan to someone living in the sticks, but of course we’d got the time wrong and walked in 15 minutes late.

First we adored some lovely pics of the catacombs at San Callisto, and then some mosaics from San Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna and San Vitale, Ravenna, and some Giotto frescos at Padua. All rather gorgeous.

We then moved on to diptychs and Books of Hours, in particular the one shown – Mary of Burgundy’s Book of Hours. (I thought the little angel sitting holding a candle in front of the man in burgundy was actually a West Highland Terrier.) Love the fact that she is using a piece of green silk to hold her book and stop it getting marked.

Then we trekked over to the National Gallery and had a wander round the upper floor where the Netherlandish, early Italian, and Renaissance stuff is. One of my favourite rooms, actually and we got a nice man to keep turning the Scottish diptych for us. Lots of Virgin and Childs to adore.

I also noticed that Poussin’s Seven Sacraments were back in place, having been out on loan when I was last in. My fave is the Eucharist just because the light is so beautiful.

And after a few hours of culture we got back on the bus and meandered home through the back roads of West Lothian.


Why go to Church?

In my search for a suitable Lent book/course for my little flock I came across Why Go To Church? : The Drama of the Eucharist by Timothy Radcliffe. As it wasn’t specifically written for groups I passed it by as unsuitable but have been reading it myself this week. What a fabulous book.

Timothy Radcliffe is a Dominican and it might seem strange that the ABofC has chosen a Roman Catholic to write his Lent book on the subject of the Eucharist which is the biggest cause of division between us. However, it is senstively written and I can see a series of teaching sermons on the Mass in the future using this book. My little Quotes Journal was fair bulging after I finished it last night.

It has made me think seriously about why the Eucharist is so important to me. I can’t imagine life without it which is why I will always find a church whilst on holiday.  As a member of my little flock is wont to say: “I need to go to get the gaps in my aura plugged back in!” It is the same question as ‘Why must I eat?’

Timothy Radcliffe proposes that the Eucharist is a Drama in three acts and each act prepares for the next.

By listening to the word of God, we grow in faith and so become ready to proclaim the Creed and ask for what we need. In the second act, belief leads to hope. From the preparation of the gifts to the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, we remember how on the night beofre he died, Jesus took bread, blessed it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘This is my body, given for you.’ Faced with failure, violence and death, we are given hope, repeating Christ’s own prayer. In the final act, from the ‘Our Father’ onwards, our hope culminates in love. We prepare for Communion. We encounter the risen Christ and his victory over death and hatred, and receive the bread of life. Finally we are sent on our way – ‘Go and serve the Lord’ – as a sign of God’s love for the world.


I can’t recomend this book highly enough. And it is not just for Lent – it is for all time.

Babette’s Feast

Finally I got around to watching Babette’s Feast yesterday on DVD. What a treat. Now I see why everybody raves about it. A meal of grace, indeed.

Babette’s meal is a means of grace, just like the sacrament of the eucharist. For some the eucharist may have become a routine ritual, but for those open to the movements of divine grace it can be an occasion of reconciliation and renewal.

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Ephesians 4:31-32