when planning for new worship spaces, and when renewing inherited spaces
it should be clear that the altar is the community’s table – not somehow exclusively the possession of the ordained
and if there is a procession of the gathered community to receive communion
it needs to be seen as one of the processions
and it needs to be towards the altar NOT away from it!
In some communities, when I come to their celebration of the Eucharist, it is as if they are always celebrating it for the very first time. Those leading seem unsure of what to do next; those assisting in leadership seem unsure what the leadership will do next. Distribution of communion seems each time ad-libbed.
Even some recently-designed/built worship spaces seem to have taken no thought for how communion will be received (“recently” in this context means: since the Eucharist has become the normal primary service).
And so some communities distribute communion by “stations” [a perfectly good way to distribute communion where those distributing stand side-by-side, and those receiving process up, receive, and return to their place]. But what is happening in many places is the stations are not up the front so that those receiving communion move towards the altar – in some/many places, stations are organised so that people are moving away from the altar to receive communion.
There may, as I suggested at the start, be very exceptional circumstances in which nothing else is possible. But if moving away from the table to receive nourishment from the community meal is happening in a contemporary worship space then this is a significant issue. And if a new worship space is being designed and the architect is not taking this into consideration – sack the architect.
It is of concern that senior clergy not only follow this practice of sending people away from the table uncritically, but advocate this practice to others in worship spaces in which other solutions are perfectly practicable.
The NZ Anglican rite invites to communion with the words, “Draw near and receive…” Do we mean what we say? Or should in some places the presider be saying, “Go down the back and receive…”?
This post can be seen as another in architecture reflections on this site.