What Else I Miss

This morning a happy collection of accidents led us to a very special service at the Cathedral. Our parish church decided not to hold a mid-morning service because they have their Christmas Eve extravaganza of Christingles this afternoon: three sittings, and every one of them packed. Apparently there were other churches in and around Oxford that made similar decisions, so those who wanted to celebrate the Fourth Sunday in Advent, and receive Communion, had to go elsewhere.

As it happened, the Cathedral’s Choral Eucharist was also the first celebration of the Eucharist by Canon Sarah Foot, the Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, who was ordained priest last Thursday by the Bishop of Dorchester. The Cathedral clearly love her, because they pulled out all the stops to make it a cracking good service.

And incidentally it reminded me of What Else I Miss. Because my last post was chiefly about quiet, often almost private prayer in a holy place. I realised this morning that a great deal of what I miss in priestly retirement is also about public worship. I realise that it is quite a while since I have felt I have really ‘met with God’ (whatever that means!) in corporate, public worship. And the things that helped me to have that sense of worship and presence and communion this morning included

  • the beauty of architecture in Christ Church Cathedral (though of course this can’t be essential, as you don’t get quite this quality in most places)
  • really excellent music – by Victoria, Palestrina and Buxtehude (ditto)

but then also some things which you might more reasonably expect in other places, even parish churches, as well:

  • real Anglican liturgy, as decently and reverently done as circumstances allow
  • Bible readings thoughtfully and well read
  • sincere, intelligent and godly preaching
  • hymns you can sing that actually mean something, that express worship and prayer, that teach the faith and give you something to think about, and aren’t the kind of candy floss piffle in the wind that so many modern worship songs are.

We love our parish church where the people have welcomed us so warmly, and we know God has called us to belong here, not least to support and encourage the clergy in their ministry. But I’m thinking that, for my own spiritual health and well-being, I need to plan in regular times when I can get away to the Cathedral or elsewhere to be ‘blessed up’, and to get the sustenance I need for the desert walking in between times.

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