The work of the people?

Today in Rothesay, the vestry had a conversation about the peace:  what works, what doesn’t; things we might do differently.

There seems to be no bit of the liturgy as likely to cause conflict as the peace.  But today’s conversation was interesting, because Rothesay is not, on the face of it, one of those congregations in which the peace is politely endured.  It is jolly.  It seemed to be working.  And yet, it seems that for many, it still causes tension.

Now, that’s a fairly easy situation to deal with, and we found a way forward. But the conversation led me to another question.  Who decides what a liturgical action means?

I have often assumed that the main ‘problem’ with the peace is that people misunderstand it.  It gets confused with ‘saying good-morning’ and is perceived as a social intrusion on an otherwise sacred time.  So, I find myself defending the peace as a liturgical action:  pointing out that it is an important sign of the communal nature of our worship — that the eucharist is not about ‘me and God’, but ‘us and God’.  We need it precisely because it might interrupt our private train of thought before we approach the altar.  We need it because it connects us with the body of Christ, which is the church, before we receive the body of Christ in the eucharist.

And I believe all that.

And I remember the people who have quietly worked their way into my life though that simple weekly action of turning to each other and saying ‘peace be with you.’

But if this only becomes clear through explanation, is it still true?

I have always assumed that the underlying theology of liturgy is where the truth lies.  And I therefore think that it’s important for congregations to talk about the liturgy, study it, and explore meanings.  But today I wonder:  where does the truth lie when there is a repeated gap between the theologian’s explanation and the congregation’s experience?

7 thoughts on “The work of the people?”

  1. I find this interesting. It’s only recently that we shared the peace in HT, and I used to find it problematic. But when I was at Mass once in a church in Portugal, I found it extremely moving to be warmly greeted by a little old lady sitting next to me – so much so that my attitude began to shift.
    I wonder if it’s harder, in a way, with people you know well?

  2. Kimberly,
    Your liturgical explanation for the peace is exactly how I have always viewed it. I feel that we need to remember that we are all members of the body of Christ before we share in the Eucharist, and that the gifts we receive at the altar are not selfush ‘presents’ that we keep to ourselves. We do indeed recive for ourselves, but for ourselves as members of that body of Christ which is the Church.
    I have felt a deep lack when I have attended services where it is missing.
    Incidentally, these thoughts tend to fit in with the way my intercessions are shpaing for Sunday.

  3. Of course liturgically it is possible to have the peace much earlier in the service – to use it, again figuratively speaking, to introduce and bind together the people before they set off on the journey of the Mass. I personally prefer it earlier than later – to me it does seem to interrrupt a train of thought or a growing concentration wheras taken almost at the start of the service (as happens sometimes and is provided for) it sets a scene.
    And for many Scots (a little insecure, a little introverted, a little lacking in confidence) the enforced jollity and closeness can seem off putting – seriously. I have felt it myself and seen it in others. It is, as Chris observers wisely, also easier amongst strangers and in unfamiliar places. In the almost familiar or the nearly known it can seem more presumptious than personal
    Anyway, perhaps all this is is an admission that I have difficulties with it too – not always, but from time to time….

  4. You see, the trouble is: the more often people tell me they don’t like it because of things like Scottish reserve and lack of confidence, the more likely I am to think that we need to do it as part of a process of Christian growth and healing.

  5. Indeed, I don’t disagree with that – except that I ams sure that you recognise that changing people is a task that needs to be undertaken with determination, certainly, but also with sensitivity and recognition of where the problems and the blockages are…. Taking people with you is always better than driving them along.

  6. Don’t worry Michael. It took me about 24 hours to realise that it was easier to herd cats than rush a congregation from Argyll.

  7. Oh the Argyll people are quite plilable compared to some I know in Scotland…. I wasn’t of course trying to teach anyone (let alone the rector !) to suck eggs, but merely making the point that change is the hardest thing for most folk. Surveys actualy put it , in terms of fear, only one place behind being forced to speak in public, and actually ahead of fear of dying……thus statisticaly proving that many people would rather die than change!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s