Cluttered Vestibule

Our entrance rite has long fittingly been called our cluttered vestibule.

Christmas holidays is one chance to worship in quite different communities, and to pop into church buildings as one drives around, also looking at their Sunday service booklets or pew sheets.

From this it is clear that in many, many communities nearly every last option is squeezed into The Gathering of the Community (the start of the service leading up to the Readings).

People nod in agreement when I suggest to leave out most of the “may” stuff, to start from the essentials and only add some “may” stuff if it enhances a particular season or celebration, and that less is more. But, in actual practice, there is no way they can bring themselves to leave out their, and others’, favourite bits. Most return from the head-nodding resolutions to clear out the clutter of the Gathering rite, but, like most resolutions, faced with reality it is just easier to live with the clutter than to deal with the discomfort of decluttering.

So this is not an atypical Gathering rite in NZ Anglicanism:

1) Hymn or bracket of songs
2) Informal introduction either before or after (1)
3) A couple of greetings and responses from the Prayer Book
4) A sentence from the Bible here or after (13)
5) The Collect for Purity
6) The Gloria here or after (12)
7) A New Commandment with a response
8) Kyries
9) Three or so of the confessional sentences from the Bible and the
10) Introduction to confession
11) Confession
12) Absolution
13) “The peace of Christ…” with a response
14) A collect

Let’s be clear: not even going to the flexibility provided by A Form for Ordering the Eucharist which specifies nothing for the Gathering, if you are following the NZ Prayer Book’s rite from page 404 all that you need is ONE greeting, introduction to confession, confession, absolution, collect: 3a, 10, 11, 12, 14 (from the numbers above). The rest is just being added at the whim of the one leading.

I should not be surprised that, after such a verbal onslaught, the community is bloated, suffering from rhetorical stuffing, and that the reading from God’s Word is cut back from three readings and the psalm, to a couple of readings, or just the gospel reading.

In other words, the whole point of the Gathering has been hijacked by priest and people’s pious penchants, and its purpose to PREPARE the church to hear what the Spirit is saying to us through God’s Word is derailed.

We are so exhausted by our preparation, that we cannot endure what we have been preparing for!

Then there are those who instinctively feel that there is something wrong with the clutter and, rather than tidying up the rite we share with others not just in world-wide Anglicanism but in historic Christianity (eg RC) going back to Jesus’ day (and beyond), these people try one of the other eucharistic rites in our NZ Prayer Book which, when we are honest about them, end up being even more didactic as we recite pious poetic creedal-sounding stuff to each other (more than praying to God), and all with eyes fixed firmly on books or sheets or projector screens – because those long stretches of didactic poetry we are reciting certainly are not easily memorable.

For the Gathering, one greeting is enough (3). And make sure it is actually a greeting. “This is the day…” is not a greeting. [It is the relic of a 1964 draft as placeholder for the Introit when the Gathering was an option to replace Matins].

What is the purpose of using “The Sentence of the Day” (4). If it has no purpose – leave it out. The ones that are provided so often end up being just another nice little prayer, lost in the pile of other nice little prayers in the service.

The Collect for Purity (5) is one of my all-time favourite prayers. [It is people who love it, like me, who are tempted to include it in a service. Resist the temptation!] I regularly use it to begin my personal prayer. Its origin is private preparation before a service. That’s where it belongs. Encourage people to use it as their private preparation before a service – but there’s hardly anything more downbuzz than to have this publicly early in a service. [OK – use it Ash Wednesday, maybe, and other times you want people to be particularly introspective, and more individualistic…]

The Gloria is sung (6). Enough said.

A New Commandment (7): what is this “Spirit of God, search our hearts” and then not even a breath’s pause. So we didn’t really mean, “search our hearts” did we?! It was just more meaningless words piled into the vestibule’s clutter. Leave it out. Same with the sentences before confession (9).

“The peace of Christ…richly” (13). Again: remind me what the point of this is? Leave it out.

The collect has four movements: the presider calls the community to prayer; we pray silently; the presider proclaims the collect (it is the central prayer of gathering/Ministry of the Word, of collecting – it is not written with the cadences for group recitation); we all respond with a resounding “Amen” (cf the Eucharistic Prayer – the central prayer of the Ministry of the Sacrament). But you knew that.

I have written more about this stuff in Chapter 6 The Gathering of the Community in my free, online book Celebrating Eucharist.

If you haven’t seen the video that stresses all this, do watch:

Do comment from your own experience, and if you are from beyond NZ Anglicanism, do translate this into your own context, and tell us how this is in your own experience.

To be continued…

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