Just the Ordinary Thing…

Everything we’ve been saying for weeks about green tea being the perfect compliment to fruit and nuts is realised in tonight’s tea. It’s an almond green tea that would be much too sweet were it herbal. As it is it’s a beautifully balanced cup that tastes a bit like drinking an almond slice. We’re drinking it in leisurely fashion and musing on church and family, because part of them visiting means trying to explain Scottish Episcopalianism to long-term Presbyterians.

There’s no good way of explaining why this is fraught and complicated except to try and describe the service from the ‘other side’ of the pews, as it were.

 No one is thinking very hard about the clockwork and how it fits together because we’re all doing six different things at once. The thurifer’s censing the choir, who are trying not to asphyxiate because they are trying to sing, and while all of that is happening the priest is preparing the altar for communion and the congregation is anticipating the moment the thurifer turns on them so they remember to bow, and so it goes on. And because it’s Christmas there are half a dozen furbelows that have been added to make sure everyone knows it’s Christmas (because the midnight service mightn’t give that away), which means we’re all guessing. The choir are trying not to melt the folders and the organist (who only has half the asperges and that in a completely different setting to the one his choir is canting) is approximating how long to improvise for and watching the communion queue to see whether to deploy the emergency communion hymn, and there’s always going to be a surplus of wafers ‘just in case’ because it’s one of those occasions when you anticipate the 500.

The point is, none of us knows what we’re doing, not really, and it doesn’t really matter. We’ll still try and explain, because that’s part of giving them welcome, and we’d hate for them to feel all adrift somewhere that’s made us so at home. Also, we know the service book isn’t exactly expansive in its communication. We’ll do our best, but  S. J. Forrest still says it best in his critique of services, and we’re seriously tempted to let him have the last word.

What’s The Use?

by S.J. Forrest

(transcribed by Father James Siemens, AF)

‘Oh just the usual thing you know; the BCP all through,
Just pure and unadulterated 1662;
A minimum of wise interpolations from the Missal,
The Kyrie in Greek, the proper Collects and Epistles,
The Secret and the Canon and the Dominus Vobiscum,
(Three aves and a salve at the end would amiss come);
To the “militant” and “trudle” there is little need to cling,
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; we’re C of E of course,
But beautify the service from a mediaeval source,
With various processions, and in case you shouldn’t know,
There are tunicled assistants who will tell you where to go;
And should you in bewilderment liturgically falter,
Just make a little circumambulation of the altar.
The blessing, like a bishop, you majestically sing;
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; but very up to date,
Our basis is the liturgy of 1928,
With lots of local colouring and topical appeal,
And much high-hearted happiness, to make the service real;
Our thoughts on high to sun and sky, to trees and birds and brooks,
Our altar nearly hidden in a library of books;
The Nunc Dimittis, finally “God Save The Queen” we sing;
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know, we trust that you’ll be able
To mingle with the reredos and stand behind the Table;
(For clergymen who celebrate and face the congregation,
Must pass a stringent glamour-test before their ordination!)
Patristic ceremonial; economy of gesture,
Though balanced by a certain superfluity of vesture;
With lots of flanking presbyters all gathered in a ring,
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

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