Last week I blogged about a new initiative for joint Eucharistic/communion celebrations. One of the students on our Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Christine Dawson, is an intern with Clonard Monastery’s Unity Pilgrims/Reconciliation Project and she attended the first event on Monday evening.
Many thanks to Christine for sharing her experience in this guest post.
In Joyful Hope: A New Step in Eucharistic Fellowship
On Monday evening I went to the first of four celebrations of Eucharistic Fellowship planned to take place between now and May next year. The celebrations will be held in churches of Ireland’s four major denominations; Methodist, Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian. The first of these services was in Knock Methodist Church just south of Central Belfast.
I arrived early and sat with some friends I know though Clonard Monastery. It seemed like a long time before the church began to look full but thankfully by 8pm it was just that! There were few young people there it must be noted. This could have been in part because there was not a huge amount of publicity for the service. However, amongst those present there was a good sense of community, many people appeared to know each other and there were many friendly greetings and smiling faces.
Rev Dennis Cooke appeared genuinely excited and pleased to have the honour of hosting this first of the four services. The readings of the service included The Feeding of the 5,000. This drew attention to the miracle of what God will provide to sustain the faithful.
Words spoken by Fr Gerry Reynolds were brief but wonderfully concise and they ended on the subject of all Christians needing to hold Christian unity as their ultimate aim and needing to say to each other ‘without you I’m less than I really am.’
The sermon was very thought provoking as it included an understanding of the Eucharist as a gift from Jesus to his disciples in the moment before he was crucified when they were at their most divided. The gift was something that would bring them together and reconcile them in the face of moments of adversity such as those. Linked to this was the word ‘Ubuntu’; an African philosophy that states ‘I am human by your humanity’ reflecting what Fr Gerry said earlier about Christian unity and what Jesus had intended the gift of the Eucharist to encompass.
Holy Communion was a slow process as there were so many to administer it to, and many to give blessings to. Whether receiving a blessing or Holy Communion, everyone was invited to kneel around the altar in groups of about fifteen people at a time. Though time-consuming, it was decided that it was a very positive thing that this part of the service did not feel rushed; being so central, it was better to have time to reflect, pray and appreciate it.
Another comment on the Holy Communion aspect was that it was great how it brought people together at the altar. Everyone was knelt there at the same level; Priests, parishioners and Reverends alike and no one appeared more important than anyone else in that moment.
Someone else pointed out of the quiet moments of the service that ‘the silence was beautiful.’ And another ‘that it was unlike any service I’ve ever been to before.’
I personally find that during services in churches that I am not accustomed to, there are many details of variance that I find distracting from the prayerful and spiritual elements. This might include when I’m trying to make sure I’m not the one person in the church putting a ‘Christ’ in the spoken response where there’s not meant to be one or getting the timing of standing up to sing a hymn just right.
That said, having been on some of the Unity Pilgrimages with Clonard Monastery, I am already getting used to some of these differences which means I’m more free to engage with the actual service. This alone, I believe would be a good case for why we should encourage more familiarity with the religious practises across Christian denominations.
Obviously, there was a much greater purpose to the Eucharistic Fellowship celebration on Monday than just increasing familiarity. There was a sense there that people wanted to go on a long journey together towards greater Christian Unity where this means that they understand and respect each other and learn to see what was once the ‘other’ more as something by which to further understand the ‘self.’ Knowing that this could be nothing other than a long journey, the people I met seemed prepared to embark on it patiently, joyfully and hopefully.
The next two Eucharistic Fellowship Celebrations will be
- January 25th in St Bernards, Glengormly
- March 7th in St Mark’s, Newtownards.
The clergy participating in and promoting this initiative are:
- Rev. Dennis Cooke (Methodist Church)
- Rev. David Cooper (Methodist Church)
- Rev. Ken Smyth (Church of Ireland)
- Rev. Jim Campbell (Presbyterian Church)
- Fr. Gerry Reynolds C.Ss.R. (Catholic Church)
- Fr. Daniel Whyte (Catholic Church)