Sacramental Positions

Fresh Expressions has a dvd out called Sanctus: fresh expressions of church in the sacremental tradition, an ideal companion probably for the book Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Traditions: Ancient Faith, Future Mission by Steven Croft and Ian Mosby (eds). The existence of these resources highlights three things; firstly, the fact sacramental traditions are back in fashion, secondly, that there is a determined effort to make sure fresh expressions doesn’t end up an evangelical or low church phenomena and finally, the way church unity has a long way to go. Oh and the cynic might also say it is a way of saying Fresh Expressions is a Methodist/ CofE initiative, remember where the money is coming from.

For somebody like me, from a very low church background the sacramental stuff was just, I thought, an extension of the other Orthodox, Catholic and Celtic stuff which was influencing modern forms of protestant worship. How wrong I am. A very interesting discussion with TOH has led me to understand that there is far more involved in the re-emergance of sacramental tradition as a flavour of the month than may meet the eye. After getting my head around consubstantiation as a concept, (which we in the end got sorted by using Celtic thin places as a starting point for shared language), we moved on to why who said the prayer over the sacraments was important.

Now, for me it could be anybody praying and speaking before the bread and wine are taken….I am v. low church. I accept there is mystery around the sacraments and “something” unexplainable happens, but to me that something relates more to what happens within the congregation than the actual elements. My acceptance that it is the role of the presbyter in the Methodist church comes out of respect for that’s their tradition more than a belief that’s the way it has to be in every church. Anyway apparently for those who come from slightly up the candle it actually matters who says what….and this gives us the issue. It turns out this is a huge part of the whole debate over women and the church and what they should or shouldn’t be able to do aswell as a bunch of other stuff. Does the person who prays over it have to be male? Do they have to have been ordained by a bishop? These are apparently relevant questions to some in the sacramental traditions. Now this was a revelation to me to some extent. Coming from my perspective I thought the whole issue about female bishops had to do with headship…apparently I am wrong.

In the discussion what I also found interesting was the implications for sharing communion with others and wider church unity. I am used to an open table where all who believe can partake of the bread and wine. I knew that some Catholics and Orthodox peeps I know couldn’t share with those from other denominations and I was told by them I couldn’t take communion in their churches because of something to do with their beliefs relating to transubstantiation. Anyway it turns out some Anglicans take a similar tone, although somewhat more broad. TOH and I had a facintaing discussion about where she would and wouldn’t take communion, and how the person praying over it all had to be ordained by an approved organisation for her to be ok with it. Have to say I find it all quite sad and perplexing, particularly when the implication is that there may be times where the two of us would not be coming to the table together if we were in some low church eccumenical event.

So going back to the beginning, this has all got me slightly more worried about the emphasis on sacramental fresh expressions than I might have been. 24 hours ago I thought they were great, I’d loved the stuff Visions did in the big top at Greenbelt last year and thought that looking to include them in fresh expressions was a great step forward to greater church unity and widening the experience of peeps. Today, I’m not so sure….how do we bring the treasure from them into the latest ways of being church without letting them turn another generation into people who exclude themselves from coming to the table with others?

I leave you with the You Tube trailer for the Sanctus dvd:

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5 thoughts on “Sacramental Positions

  1. The closed table of the Orthodox Church does not come from a view of transubstantiation; it is more that our oneness with Christ and His Church exists in its highest form in the Eucharistic Mystery. All Orthodox Christians are to prepare to approach the cup through prayer, fasting, and recent confession. The cup of salvation is where we give witness to one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. This body is not an primarily an intellectual body but it is a familial body. We receive all persons baptized as Orthodox at the cup, including the infants of the Church and the severely mentally and physically handicapped. Fencing the table is primarily about guarding who Christ Himself says that He is. How can I declare a oneness of heart, mind, and spirit with someone who denies the Resurrection of Christ? Every time I approach the chalice, I do make a choice to declare my oneness with those around me. First and foremost, my obedience must be to Christ. If people do not believe that we are offering Him in His Real Presence in the Holy Mysteries, then it is best for them to abstain. However, the Orthodox Church never tries to establish how the Holy Spirit enacts this divine Mystery; Roman Catholic teaching groups have also moved away from a mechanistic presentation as well, but they still hold to a particular doctrine of transubstantiation as an official position.

  2. Lindsey, thanks for taking the time to explain where you are coming from on this. It was useful and interesting to hear your position.

  3. Also, a closed table need not indicate a closed community. In the Orthodox Church, a common tradition is to celebrate 3 distinct and interdependent services in a “day” — Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy. Further, Liturgy divides into the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Offering. Everyone present, independent of creed and confession, is welcome to participate fully in Vespers, Matins, and the Liturgy of the Word. What is further is that in many, many, many Orthodox parishes there is a practice of sharing the “blessed bread” (also called antidoron) with people not partaking of the chalice. Many, many, many, many Orthodox parishioners have a custom of distributing antidoron after they have received the Body and Blood of Christ. I consider it to be an exercise of being a poor host for an Orthodox person not to provide a non-Orthodox friend with blessed bread during the distribution of the Mysteries. Some parishes have a different practice.

    The exhortation during the Liturgy is also very interesting: “With fear and with love, draw near.” We should approach the chalice with a healthy fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. Our God is a consuming fire; it is interesting to see this reflected in the prayers said both in preparation and thanksgiving of reception. As an example: “Consume me not O my Creator, but enter instead into my members, my veins, my heart.”

    To be sure, attending an Orthodox Liturgy without a host can be a bit of a disorientating experience, but that does not mean that a particular community is not trying to be hospitable. But it’s very difficult to understand Orthodox hospitality until one has been on the receiving end of it directly 🙂 If God so wills for me to study in England, then I would consider it a great honor to host you during an Orthodox service.

  4. I think I should add that the discussion we had took place against the backdrop of a degree of confusion on my part. On the one hand, I believe that catholic order (which includes the Three-fold Ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons) is very important. On the other hand, my time flirting with Methodism and particularly attending a friend’s confirmation has caused me to question this…

  5. Lindsey if the Lord does will you to study in England I would consider it a great honour to be hosted by you.

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