What are your 'immovable feasts of community'? (Katie Miller)

Monday, 7 July, 2014

Katie Miller wonders what the fixed festivals and and celebrations of our communities are.

Many of us who have grown up in the church have learned to appreciate the rhythm of its seasons; the changing colours and rituals of Advent, Lent, Harvest, The Passover suppers and Harvest dances - or whatever our particular community celebrates with regularity.

I remember as a small child being in awe of the Maundy Thursday practice of stripping the altars. The servers in our modern Anglo-Catholic church in North West London would, piece by piece, remove the candles, the altar fronts, chairs - in fact anything portable - until only a bare wooden table remained and a palpable sense of unsettled urgency. Into this we were expected to keep an all-night prayer vigil.

While we may not all have kept this tradition; the walk of Holy Week from triumphal entry to cross and empty tomb; or the herald of the angel to Mary through kings and shepherds to the heavenly host and Glory in the Highest, are deep within our perception of the Christian year. They are important to our sense of belonging and identity.

Recently we have been looking to move our small fresh expression of church, The Marlpit in Norwich, from its current home in a school to the local café. We decided to have a few trial runs and sat down to decide when these should be; Christmas of course, but when else? We were forced to accept that Easter, perhaps, was not such a key event to our local community and while we would seek to make it so, we needed to start where they were ready and needing to celebrate and find ritual.

What were the 'Holy Days of Obligation' for people in our area - whether or not they recognised any holy content in them? How could we meet with these days and offer some sense of marking them as a community? How could we create a space for people to create their own ritual and liturgy, their own coming together, and so reinforce our sense of belonging and identity as a whole community? For some people, these days will be the marking of a significant tragedy or loss, for some it will be a celebration; some may change from year to year; others may be more long standing.

For ourselves, we concluded that, while Easter may not mean more than chocolate and rabbits to many people, Mother's Day was clearly an immovable feast, so we duly set up the café for Mother's Day with plenty of accessible activities, posies and songs. It would be fair to say that it was not a resounding success as no-one, other than the church members, came through the doors - though we had a good time. Left therefore with many bunches of flowers at the end of the service we decided to simply go out, walk around the estate and give them to any woman or girl we could find, wishing them a Happy Mother's Day. The effect was wonderful. I spoke for some time with a woman who had recently lost her mother and was particularly touched by the gift. Everyone had a smile or a story to tell.

As we look to celebrate and tell the Christian story, it is important also to celebrate and tell people's stories - and for them to see how this is really one story. We shall continue to look for the immovable feasts of our community and we're learning that maybe the place to encounter them is not even in the café - but on the street and in listening.

About the author: 

Katie Miller heads a lay leadership team at The Marlpit, Norwich. She is training in pioneer ministry at Ridley Hall.

Comments

I'm really intrigued by this. I grew up in a small Welsh mining area in a Methodist chapel that didn't have anything to do with the liturgical shape of the year beyond the obvious highlights: basically the Sundays. It meant that we went from the celebration of Palm Sunday straight to the celebration of Easter Day and I was well into my 20s before I understood much of the power of Holy Week observance.
It still means that liturgical colours leave me baffled!
Looking at the question of which events work, it probably depends on your specific area. In rural communities a form of Harvest would undoubtedly still resonate - rural Cornwall and its farming community would engage well with anything like that.
I wonder whether events that tap into nostalgia would work: the Methodist Church has uncovered a real interest in Heritage as a springboard for mission so taking the story of a community as the basis of something and using it could work - Grandma's War, for example. Just a thought.

The Diocese of Chichester and The Arthur Rank Centre have produced a very useful Seasons and Cycles matrix - this can be found in the Rural Evangelism Course 'Journey to Faith' www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk

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