Saturday, 3 April 2010

How much scripture?

How much scripture should we read at the Sunday Eucharist? The Church of England suggests three readings, sometimes quite long ones. I habitually edit the selection down to two, and often only parts of those two (although those who attend are always given a sheet with all three set out in full if they wish to explore further at home).

I have and have had colleagues who think my heavy editing of the official provision is irresponsible, failing to allow the scriptures to speak for itself. I have and have had colleagues who value my highlighting aspects of the official provision, allowing the scriptures to be taken in and savoured.

A member of St Nicolas’, Great Coates have approached my colleague there on behalf of herself and others to request restoration of the full provision. It is always difficult to react to such lobbying; what one person says may be a very helpful safety valve drawing attention to a significantly build up of pressure, but it is also difficult to judge the significance of someone saying he or she speaks on behalf of a group whose size and representative nature is unknown.

My perspective is this. St Nicolas’ pulpit is the best I have ever occupied. It is not very high nor is it huge, but it is brilliantly placed so that a preacher has immediate eye contact with all but the handful of people in the shadow of a couple of pillars.

So I always know by small shifts in position or expression exactly how my sermons at St Nicolas’ are being received. I know when I’ve lost people’s attention. I know when what I say has struck a chord. I know which subtle references are being picked up. I know which bludgeoning references are being resented. At least, I think I do.

I knew in the days when we still had three long readings that saying ‘and this of course explains what is going on towards the end of the second reading we have just heard’ often produced a reaction somewhere between embarrassment and panic. Body language shouted back at me ‘we can’t reclaim enough or anything about what was read a few minutes ago to stand a chance of beginning to make any such connection’.

I know in more recent times when we have had two short readings that saying ‘and this of course explains what was going on in the first of the readings we have just heard’ often produces a reaction somewhere between recognition and appreciation. Body language hints back at me ‘we appreciate that connection and are intrigued by where you are beginning to take it for us’.

But, as I say, I have and have had colleagues who think I’ve got this wrong, and the church has members who also now want to say so. The District and Parochial Church Councils are specifically charged with being the places at which ministers and people come to a common mind about such things, so this may be where any exploration would now take place.

Meanwhile, the churchyard fence was repaired during the week as we had hoped.

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