Going out and coming in


This week I’ll have been at St Mary’s for nine years. It is the anniversary of my installation on Sunday. And this year I’ve decided to give myself an anniversary treat.

When I came to St Mary’s there was much to try to understand and much to take in. Just trying to get your head around how things work in a new congregation is always tricky. Every place does things almost the same. But almost the same means that every place does things differently. Slightly differently – and that’s much more difficult to cope with than learning something completely new.

One particular conundrum presented itself to me on my first Sunday. How did we get in? Did the clergy and choir go in singing a hymn and then turn and greet the people or did we process in, turn, greet and sing a hymn?

Trying to learn from those who ought to know, I took a couple of people aside and asked them. Their responses were enlightening.

Person number one told me very assuredly that the choir and clergy processed in singing and then greeted the people.

Person number two told me just as assuredly that the choir and clergy processed in, greeted the people and then we sang the hymn.

This was less than helpful. As the days counted down towards my first Sunday I needed to know.

The only thing I could do was ask another person and take their answer as the tiebreaker. And so I did.

“Oh, Provost, we do whatever the Provost would like us to do,” was the answer.

It was a slightly disturbing answer because one of the things that I knew I needed to be here was to be someone who didn’t have all the answers and who could let St Mary’s find a way of being where all the questions didn’t get thrown at the Provost to answer.

However, without being able to get a definitive answer from anyone, I did in the end say what we were going to do in order to get ourselves into place.

The trouble is, I’ve been regretting one detail ever since, particularly recently.

What I said would happen is that we would process in. Then the choir and clergy would bow to one another from either side of the communion table, the clergy would turn, greet the people and then we would sing a hymn.

It looks smart, it means we all start knowing what we are doing and we don’t flap about with music as we are processing.

But the thing that has been bugging me recently is that it only really includes those who are at the sharp end of the church.

We bow to one another to signify that God is present – that God is amongst us; that God is about us and within us.

But what about the bulk of the congregation? Isn’t God in them too?

This has been bothering me for some time and I found myself talking to Richard Giles about it on Saturday.

Now, Richard Giles is one of the most interesting liturgists to have emerged in the last few years. And on Saturday he looked me in the eyes and said the magic words – “Well, if you are not happy with it, just change it. It isn’t too late….”

And he was right.

So, we’re going to change things from this Sunday.

From this week, the choir and clergy will process in. They will then bow to one another from either side of the table. And then the clergy will turn and bow to the congregation who are invited to return the bow.

We’re all in this together.

The smallest of gestures can mean a great deal in the world of liturgical worship.

We’re going to try this one for a bit and see whether it works. My last thought on the subject has served us well for nine years, but it is time for a change.

Odd what Provosts give themselves as anniversary presents, isn’t it?