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Is going to church a necessary requirement to being a Christian? When I was a young man, I read the Diary of Edward Wilson. You may know Edward Wilson was the Doctor / Naturalist / Artist on Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. He was one of the five who reached the pole but tragically died on the way back. His body was later discovered and his diary was found with him. Throughout the expedition, and when he knew he was going to die, he had written a diary showing a wonderfully deep Christian belief, which he had kept secret even from his closest companions. It was a personal relationship just between Jesus and himself. It had a profound effect on me and I envied his relationship with Jesus.
Quite obviously, he could not attend church while on the expedition, which lasted from 1910 - 1912. No helicopters in those days to whisk you to the British Antarctic Base! He also managed to keep his faith personal in a situation where he must have shared almost everything else. Is this something we should all aim to achieve?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, we all need that personal relationship with Jesus, but no, we cannot all become explorers or hermits and shut ourselves away from the world. Yes, we do all need to find space in our busy lives to develop a relationship with Jesus, but we also need the support of a Christian community and that can only come from church. Yes, we do all need a basis for our Christian belief by reading and understanding the bible; but if we don’t share our beliefs with others, especially from outside the church, then Christianity will die out.
In January, I attended a “Communion by Extension” course run by the Bishop of Hertford. “Communion by Extension” is a new service in the Church of England approved by the General Synod in 2001 as a form of Public Worship. It is intended as a way for congregations to have an opportunity to take communion when a priest is not available. This may be because there is a shortage of priests, or if a priest becomes ill, or in the case of rural parishes where one priest can cover several parishes. The church we go to when we are in Suffolk shares a priest with six other parishes! He has a NSM (Non Stipendiary Minister), but even if they both take two communion services every Sunday the mathematicians amongst you will realise three churches will ‘miss out’ on communion some weeks.
At present in the North Luton Group of Parishes, of which we are a member, there are two vacancies in the five parishes. We are having great support from the remaining priests and other local clergy, but there will be times during our vacancy when we cannot have an ordained priest present.
At the start of the vacancy, our PCC agreed we should try to have a communion service at least three out of four Sundays. It was to help achieve this that I was put forward by the Area Dean to attend this course.
There are three elements of the Holy Communion Service a non-ordained minister may not undertake. There should be no Offertory, obviously no consecration of the bread and wine and no breaking of the priest’s wafer (signifying the breaking of Jesus’ body on the cross). There are also recommended procedures. The minister distributing the communion should be at the consecration of the bread and wine and bring it to our church. I then place it on the altar in “God’s keeping”. The congregation should be told where the consecration took place as a way of “joining in communion” with the worshipping community celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. This communion is not visible, but because I tell you about it then it becomes real. Likewise, our communion with Jesus at his “last supper” with his disciples is not visible, but by sharing in the communion bread and wine, it becomes real to us.
As the season of Easter approaches please come and share in our church celebrations of Jesus’ death on Good Friday for our sins and his glorious resurrection on Easter Day to ensure our eternal life. However, don’t forget your personal relationship with Jesus, which is available to everyone, every day.
With all blessings