After Church on Sunday there was a comment that ran ‘We are really building community here’. Then came an e.mail that said –“ I thought the service this morning was excellent. I enclose a moving piece from the 24heures of this weekend on various topics including that of ‘being allowed to be a burden’…! I feel we are moving towards being the Body of Christ in this place, like I’ve never felt before. Thanks for that.“ These comments made me wonder what it was that had happened on this particular Sunday that made at least 2 people notice.
I suppose I could have asked them, and if they want to contribute their reflections to mine in our ‘Facebook’ then please, feel free. But here is what occurs to me.
I am reminded of several events in the Eucharist that may have contributed. First of all we have roped off some pews to help people ‘bunch up’.
This contributes to the physical sense of ‘belonging and being a body.’ I remember once going to a theatre show that went for six hours. There were three breaks: two intervals of 20 minutes, and an hour long break for tea. Well at the beginning, everyone’s ‘self boundary’ was fairly much in place. As is the case in most two hour shows, people sit down and only speak to those whom they know. But in this show, our inherent need as social beings to communicate, meant that we could not keep our self boundaries ‘up’ for as long as six hours. By the time the third break came about, we were all best friends with the people next door and around us. Being ‘jammed together’ for long periods of time means that our self boundaries start to break down, and by the exchange of information, we begin to become a ‘body’.
So in Church, when there is a huge church, and many pews, it is possible to come in and say We are the body of Christ’ but act like individuals whose real connections are elsewhere. Inviting people to ‘bunch up’ in the pews invites them to relax their self boundaries a little as they come into physical proximity with others.
But this is not all. There were other occasions during that Eucharist when I could sense that some ‘self boundaries’ were being let down, and we were swapping information that allowed us to become a ‘body’. First was the welcome of newcomers and visitors, and the farewell f those who were going to be away for a while. This is the kind of knowledge that is only possible in a group that acts like a ‘body’ and cares enough to share that information. To welcome another, or to farewell members who are going is to show that we care about who is coming and going, and that we actually know this information.
I can imagine that some people might say ‘Well where I come from and where I am going is none of your business. I want to keep that private.’ That kind of privacy will not build a body from an aggregation of people.
Then there was the giving of the candles. To address each person and say ‘You…shine like a light in the world. This form of personal address also creates intimacy (as it does at the communion). Then there was the sermon where I shared some of the moments where the ‘light of Christ’ had been a difficult ‘light’ for me to let in. This is not the ‘exact’ edge of my journey with God. It is a story I can more easily tell you now, that some others. But none the less, stories that resonate with your story help the readings to come alive, and to create a bond between us. The content of the sermon happened to be about, in part, being able to ‘bear one another’s burdens’. This ‘bearing of one another’s burdens’ is also a sign of the crossing of the boundaries of privacy or loneliness in order to be able to share in what is troubling another.
Then Mark was a great help. In allowing us to minister to him we gathered around and offered him the support ad prayers of the whole Church, which will go with him now into surgery. This kind of sharing: one person sharing their situation, another group sharing their support also serves to bring down the ‘self boundaries’ to allow us to ‘feel’ like the Body of Christ that we claim to be.
Then came the intercessions. Unbeknown to the intercessor, we were going to pray for Mark who has been diagnosed with cancer. In the prayers was a log expression of hope and confidence in God, focused around the experience of having cancer. As I prayed this prayer with them, I got the sense too that that intercessor was telling God, in our company, something that was important for them. This was not just ‘formal’ prayer, but a prayer of the heart, forged in the experience of accompanying someone who is has cancer, and who is journeying their last days. I drew hope from that prayer, and unbeknown to the intercessor, it also happened to touch the Mark’s situation too.
So although there can be great moments of intimacy with God when one is alone, the focus when we come together to do the Eucharist, is now on our togetherness: how we show that we belong to one another. How we forge the intimacy of ‘body parts’ by the making known of ourselves to one another.
The other thing that I think contributes to our becoming a body is that we spend time together. It is one thing to lower one’s self boundaries for a small amount of time once a week in Church. But the capacity to really feel as though we belong is built up over time. It is built up by working together in preparing and staffing our Sales. It is built up in conversing together in study groups. It is built up in our Film nights or in just doing things together. The making of community depends upon our doing things together. It is in dealing with difficulties and sharing joys over time that we also become body of Christ.
St. Paul’s image of the Body of Christ is a startling one, because it does not depend upon a hierarchy to work. He does not want to get in the way of the glorious liberty that the Church enjoys, but he does want to see that liberty co-ordinated by the Spirit of Christ that is given to each member of the Church. So if we are talking about our own congregation as ‘feeling’ like the ‘body of Christ’ then the first thing we have to think about is ‘how does the Spirit of Christ work in us?’ This is the main theological point. What makes all the above possible is he belief that the One Spirit co-ordinates all of this. Sometimes it comes about because of the co-ordinating role of your Presider (me). Putting together the Sunday Eucharist booklets is not just a matter of ‘one thing after another’ but of building a coherent story out of the diverse elements (pictures, text, prayers and actions). But the one Spirit, whose presence is prepared for by all of the things I mentioned above, sometimes just comes to ‘touch’ us.