The space dominates this experience: the ancient, duplicitous space of the cathedral. Driving to the evening’s event with fellow study tour Australians I commented that I had not yet encountered anything in England which felt disorientatingly ‘foreign’ – then we parked in the cathedral car park and looked up. Upon entering the building, we were welcomed and orientated to the evening, and informed that Christians had been worshipping in this place for a thousand years. The only worship space we have that old in Australia is our remnant indigenous landscape.
The contemplative eucharist took place as one aspect of an evening with dinner and music entertainment. This is an event that the FEIG (Fresh Expressions In Glochester) and Cathedral communities put on for contributers to Greenbelt – to provide a space for nourishment as the gather together to offer service over the festival weekend. It’s a room full of leaders and agitators, artists and revolutionaries. Participation in the worship at close of the evening was optional and conversations light and serious continued in surrounding corridoors of the expansive cathedral space.
The vast nave was furnished with a fine, skupltured wooden table with simple cloth in the middle and picnic rugs spread out on the stone floor in a circle around the table where we sat, stood, laydown, or wandered as we felt comfortable. A labyrinth was laid out at one end, and a collection of postcards at the other but mostly there was space. The room was filled with space and the liturgy and spirit of the people breathed into it. An enormous screen with moving images was completely dwarfed by the grandeur of the organ behind it and the ornate pillars reaching to the heavens around it.
A guitarist and an african drumer set the auditory scene and playing well known taize chants in the liturgy. The leader was undistinguishable from other worshippers, apart from being ‘the person with the microphone’, sitting on the floor in the circle with everyone else, and shifting to several others for various sections of the liturgy. Words for the liturgy were printed in little booklets and handed out with pens to people as they entered the space, which also gave an opportunity for a short explanation of what was to come and our options for participation. There was no confusion or anxiety about what was about to happen, despite knowing the details would be unfamiliar.
The service itself included an opening call to worship through song, a guided meditation based on the Ignation daily examine (prayers and silence for self-reflection), a postcard writing activity where we were invited to write some thoughts to ourselves, a celebration of the eucharist which included a confession, some prayers read all together and retelling of the Jesus story and a final ‘sending out’ song and prayer.
The power of this liturgy was in the blending of everyday relationships with ancient practices. The longevity of the words and the rite bring a level of comfort to the everyday that has a power to put me and my small life into perspective – not insignificant, but equally not superior. There was a comfort with one another and a familiarity based on unspoken shared experience through the Greenbelt festival. But mostly, the supper draws attention to the foundational reason why this worship was moving – its the story of Jesus we share, it always has been, and it always will be.