Thursday, 20 August 2015

No Communion for you!

Struggling out of my sleeping bag I think to myself, 'Sunday - Hallelujah!'

It's a quarter past seven in the morning and, as befits the month of August, the day has started well. The clouds are high and sparsely placed, the birds are singing and all around me is the sound of gentle breathing as others sleep on.

Feeling just a little guilty I shower, dress and, as quietly as I can, I make my way to the car to fulfil the first mission of the day: Communion.

The journey is painless for the sun is shining and the roads are empty as I make my way to the church I have chosen to visit this morning. Arriving with a couple of minutes to spare before the billed start time I reach into my pocket for some change to feed the meter and then I realise my first mistake; the change is in the other trousers!

'No worry,' I think as I pull out a five pound note from the back pocket (which should't be there but thankfully is)  I head for the shops to get change. But of course it is a Sunday morning and, being now just after eight, everywhere is closed! It's then that help, in the form of a dog walker, appears on the horizon. Well, he would have been helpful if he hadn't explained how the the last 'proper' newsagent had closed his doors a few weeks earlier and so my only hope was the large news and magazine (and everything else) chain store 'just up the road'!

When I got there, it was also closed but fortunately another dog walker (angels in disguise perhaps?) upon hearing of my quest for change as I sought directions to another shop managed to give me a pocket full of shrapnel in exchange for my ratty fiver - Thanks be to God or what?

I return quickly to the meter and pay up - It is now almost ten past eight as I make my way into the church building - and upon entering there is no sound to be heard (other than the new shoes which creak like I have some form of prosthetic limb  -  solutions for a cure most welcome).  I can't see, or hear, a soul. I look up the church and there's nothing! Walked to the Est end and found not a soul - 'Is this what church decline looks like?' I wonder as I walk back down the aisle.

But then, from nowhere it seems, there's a chap standing in front of me. I explain my quest and he points me to the corner at the rear of the building and the door set into the wall. Creaking off as I mumble my thanks I head for the door, which I cautiously open, and look in, to find a figure resplendent in their chasuble (green of course - this is obviously proper church!) giving communion to the last of the five people assembled at the altar rail.

Not wishing to interrupt the proceedings I step back, close the door and head for the exit - it is now nineteen minutes past eight!

As I reach the door the same chap appears, again form nowhere obvious (perhaps he's an angel or maybe a Troll - but as there's no bridge, I'll go for the former) so I explain what had happened. 'Oh, you should just have gone in and taken communion, the Vicar probably wouldn't have been bothered by you coming in at the end,' he says.

But I would have been - so I leave to see if I could find an eight-thirty kick off somewhere.

Making my way along the road along which I came I come to another church, which I had passed earlier but the noticeboard only proclaims a 'main service' at ten-thirty,  and pull into the car park in the hope that I might find some notice or person knocking around. The car park is deserted and so I head back to the car. As I am leaving I notice a light on in the church building - it is now eight twenty-four!

Filled with hope I find an unlocked door and head into the building. I hear a voice and so, feeling a little excited that I might have struck gold, I creep quietly in only to hear the priest pronouncing the blessing (eight twenty-five!) and so I turn around and head back to the car. As I do, I am greeted by someone in the car park (but at least I was greeted) to whom my plight is swiftly laid out.

It transpires that there's communion in their church every Sunday at eight am. I am almost accused of something approaching tardiness as they tell me that, 'The service it is publicised in the weekly notice sheet which we give out at the main service!' So had I been last week to the main service I would have known that there was something earlier on offer! The cherry is placed onto the situation when the words, 'It's not on the noticeboard because no one outside the church' comes to it!

'God help us!' I think to myself, ' Of course no one outside the church comes - no one else knows it's going on!' Then, before I begin to rant a look like a complete lunatic, I smile and mumble thanks as I head back to the car.

As I do, I'm told that they think there's am eight-thirty service at St Wobblplots in the ditch!

Well there are churches on the map!

I dive into the car and punch the name into the sat nav and set off. I arrive outside the door at eight thirty-six and dive out of the car like a man possessed looking for the way in(always a bad move as you find yourself entering the hushed building breathing like a candidate for an obscene phone call competition).

Rushing up the path to the door I grasp the handle and turn it. it's blinking well locked!

I try the side door (wouldn't be the first time I've visited a church where the early service is accessed by a secret door or via the tradesmen's entrance) but those too are locked shut!

Five minutes later I am accepting defeat.

There's nothing on the noticeboard proclaiming any times or services. No telephone number: Nada! Not a sausage. it's is a quarter to nine and I am accepting the failure stoically as I walk back to the car. In fact I am starting to find it funny!

As I reach the gate there's sheet of A4 in a plastic wallet on the grass which, being a nice bloke, I pick up to throw away. On it are the words (in Red): 'No Communion today!'

Too flipping right I think as I drive away :-)

Now some serious issues come out of this:

i. What's the point of having a noticeboard if you only have the 'main service' on it? 

ii. If you do only have the 'main service' on your noticeboard can you complain that, 'Only those in the church come to it?'.

iii. With the increase of 'point something' and 'multiple beneficed jobs' - have I experienced something that will only increase as the economy measures bite?

iv. Who the heck does communion in twenty minutes (and how - and why?)???

There are many more questions, but they will do to start with.

'unless we tell them - how will they come?'


Ben said...

I had the same experience this year while on holiday. I found a church near the campsite with a notice board with 8.30 communion on it. So I turned up for the service and found the doors locked. I saw the doors open during the week so stopped and asked what had gone wrong and was told that that was an old notice and the service had joined the service at 10.

J Drever said...

This is my experience to a T. I have been undertaking a tour or pilgrimage of my of England, parish by parish, Sunday by Sunday for the last 7 years. You can do a certain amount of research on websites like achurchnearyou (though, as I have found to my cost, it is often highly inaccurate and out of date). Some parishes have websites, but they either have no links to service times or link through to last months' services. Sometimes you can deduce the service pattern, but you often find that it shifts around, in a seemingly arbitrary manner (this is especially the case in multi-parish rural benefices). For about a quarter to a third of churches there is nothing online at all - and then you have to rely on notice boards that are (as you observe) often out of date. Sometimes there is no information whatever - not even a phone number. Fifth Sundays of the month are the worst. Nothing is more frustrating than travelling a long distance to get to an 8 AM service that has suddenly been cancelled, or has moved. Too many churches do not even get the basics right (i.e., advertsiing service times accurately and in advance) - they are in their own little bubble and then wonder why they are having problems with outreach.

BobB said...

Having been pointed to this by a colleague I thought I had to write and say than you for this challenging and rather worrying bit of prose. Can I put it in our magazine I wonder?

Bob B

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Of course you can - feel free to use it,


Forerunner said...

In retirement now, I value the opportunity to attend an early Communion service, just words and silence, no music and little ceremony as a respite from regular Sunday locum duties, generally Parish Communion services. Keeping track of the early service in multiple church benefices, whether urban or rural, can indeed be frustrating and disappointing. Service times advertised on the web, if they exist at all, may not be up to date, especially if the benefice has recently lost its incumbent and nobody has yet bothered to update the page as well as the notice boards. HOwever, last weekend I was away in Felixstowe, and googling local church services late Saturday night, with little satisfaction until I came across a Churches Together downloadable schedule for the town. Few eight o'clocks in town, but fortunately for me, one just five minutes walk from our B&B at St John the Baptist. Such a warm welcome, when I arrived, 18 people there, 1662 BCP and a decent address on the Gospel. It made my day. I've had similar a experience away from home at St Nicholas' Kenilworth too. There are still places where the early service works well, when given thought and attention. Would that there were more places where it was considered to be worth the effort of doing well and openly.

Anonymous said...

Service of choice here for familes who need to get their children to football matches on Sunday morning