Sunday, January 8, 2012
a pastoral/liturgical conundrum...
All right, fellow sufferers, here is the Question of the Day.
St. Curious parish church: Sunday morning: two services, eight a.m., ten a.m. Both, except in truly exceptional situations, services of the Eucharist. Attendance at 10 a.m., between forty and sixty most normal Sundays. Attendance at 8 a.m., anywhere between two and twelve, ENTIRELY unpredictably, although severe weather naturally lowers that number. Not always the same folks, either.
So last night we have a forecast of serious freezing rain through the whole area. A regular eight-o'clock person phones me to say he won't try to attend (he has mobility issues). Nor will he be bringing the lady who usually comes with him. A third regular attender entered into rest on Wednesday last. So I have reason to expect FEW.
But. Freezing rain does not materialize, TBTG. I arrive at church without incident. I set up the chapel space for the Eucharist, and I get the vestments on.
Now if NOBODY shows up, I have two, or perhaps three, options: to do nothing, or to perform the Liturgy of the Word and stop there, or to say Morning Prayer. These I can do all by myself, and put "1" in the appropriate columns in the Vestry Book.
But. At 7:55, the front door creaks open, and Ms. X appears. Ms. X comes quite often. She is East Asian. She almost never speaks. She absolutely never makes eye contact, with anyone. When the other usual folks are present, she allows them to shake her hand at the Peace, and gruffly mutters, "You too. You too." in response to their greeting. And she absolutely never receives communion.
Now a side-comment for non-Anglicans. The denomination is somewhat OCD about the celebration of the Eucharist...CANNOT take place if the priest is ALONE -- but the wording is: "There shall be no Celebration of the Lord's Supper, except there be at least one person present to communicate with the Priest."
OK! So what does A do in these circumstances? Cancel the service? Didn't seem right. Curtail the service to just readings and prayers? Seemed unkind and impolite.
I applied some sort of home-made clawhammer casuistry, in the sacristy, and decided I couldn't PRESUME that she wouldn't suddenly decide, this Sunday of all Sundays, to take communion. Nor could I presume that nobody would come in after the service began (not unheard of).
So I took a deep breath, and we launched into it. I did read just the Gospel, I abbreviated the prayers. In the parts where all the people are to respond together, I did hear just the ghost of a shadow of a whisper of an echo accompanying my own voice. And I was, eventually, the sole communicant.