Part of the Diocesan vision for Llandaff diocese is an initiative called Seven Sacred Spaces. It’s based on the monastic way of life and draws on seven aspects and how they can useful to us as Christians as individuals and as Christian communities. In the Archbishop’s blurb he says “Seven Sacred Spaces is an imaginative way of helping us to realise that God is to be found in the midst of situations and encounters which are common to most of us. It is a means of helping us to recognise that our common life as Christians can be strengthened, by seeing that God is at work in all kinds of normal and routine activities and actions.” (http://llandaff.churchinwales.org.uk/mission/7ss/)
Seven spaces they use are cell (pray), chapel (worship), chapter (decide), cloister (meet), garden (work), refectory (share), and library (study). There’s an accompanying workbook and DVD that has examples of initiatives churches have done within this framework, and questions that encourage you to think about the effect it can have personally, congregationally and within the wider community.
In my benefice we were using these resources as a basis for our lent devotional series. We have 9 churches within the benefice, so we were able to rotate around 7 of the smallest ones. They were each led by a different member of clergy- either full time stipendiary or lay, which brought a nice variety to each session, with the continuity of working off the same resources. I say brought, these are still on going so I shouldn’t really be talking in the past tense.
Yesterday evening it was my turn, and I was doing it on refectory. There’s no set format you have to use for the liturgy, and most have been using a variety of compline, but as there is a lot of liturgy that goes around food, both in a Eucharistic sense and in terms of God’s provision, I thought it would be more appropriate to use something like that. After trawling through a variety of resources and getting a bit annoyed at the amount of them that slipped into talking about mother earth, I eventually decided to use this one from the Iona community: http://www.cws.org.nz/files/Food%20Week%20liturgy.pdf
The only thing I changed was the music- we sang ‘Spirit of the living God’s and ‘Let us break bread together on our knees’, instead of the suggested songs. I was a little concerned about how well it would go down but I had some very good feedback afterwards. One of my main reasons for concern was that I’d decided to accompany the singing by playing the organ myself, and I’m a bit rusty so it could have gone awfully wrong. I also gave a short reflection talking about how I’d asked to do refectory as soon as we knew we were using Seven Sacred Spaces because I thought it would be easy to talk about, and then realised that there are loads of issues around food- health, sustainability, fair trade, and that eating isn’t as straightforward as it was when we were children. Then I moved on to talking about how it can be a source of joy and comfort, and how it forms a huge part of our relationships with lots of social occasions happening around food. This included the importance of hospitality of a way of welcoming our friends and strangers, and of showing love and service to them; and how important this is in both our personal lives and our church community. I then talked about the role eating plays in the bible- Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, Ruth and Boaz, Jesus feeding the 5,000, the last supper; before moving to talk about the role of sharing a communion meal to unite us with God and with the wider church community. This led nicely into the prayers as people were asked to hold all these views of food in tension as they prayed for areas around the world where food production has gone wrong.
I wanted to demonstrate the idea of sharing food being a common bond and had baked a loaf of bread earlier in the afternoon. I’ve never properly hand baked a load before so I was impressed that it seemed to turn out ok. During the service I had the loaf and a tealight holder with 5 candles on a small table at the front of church; and at the end of the service I invited people to stay and share the bread together. I was quite surprised, and happy to find that everyone stayed after the service for at least half an hour, just eating bread and talking to each other. As it was a benefice event and the people there were from different churches, it wasn’t just them staying to talk to their friends, which was really nice. I was able to talk to a few people who I don’t normally have a chance to talk to, and I had some very good feedback from the service.
I had actually been quite worried about this one. Most of the time when I’m doing something different it’s because there are no other clergy there, but last night both of my colleagues were there, as well as a lay reader and a retired cleric, so I felt that the pressure was on. It was also in a church that I wasn’t used to, using liturgy I wasn’t hugely familiar with, trying to play an organ I’ve never played before when I was used to playing a piano, and reading a reflection that I had only written that afternoon because before then I’d struggled to know what to write. So there were so many variables, and what felt like a lot of pressure, over something that should have been quite straightforward and relaxing. Looking back now I clearly didn’t need to be quite so worried, and all the feedback I’ve had has been positive, which is just lovely. So, I guess next time I’ll learn to relax and trust in my ability to lead things a bit different slightly more.