First Easter in ministry

This Easter has been my first one since getting ordained and, although I managed to miss half of holy week by going away, I was still pretty busy when I got back. First on the agenda was the Chrism Mass on Thursday in Llandaff Cathedral. I haven’t been to one before; last year I was between dioceses and the year before I was snowed out. Clergy are supposed to go to the service though, it’s a chance to renew our ordination vows and collect any oil we might need for the year. It’s fine if you like cathedral worship but I dislike the pomp and ceremony that it comes with. There’s just so much pressure to be standing in the right place at the right time that it’s difficult to keep track of why you’re doing things. They also concelebrate because of the number of priests, which I’ve always found weird and unnecessary. It was an interesting service and I’m sure some people would really enjoy it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

When I got back it was straight into preparations for the Passover supper at St Athan. This is something that they’ve been doing for a few years but I haven’t done before so I was very much following their lead. Attendance was down on previous years but it ended up being a nice number. We set up our community hall with tables in a U shape, with each place setting having a small plate with parsley, horseradish and a sweet, mincemeat like food, the name of which I’ve forgotten. There was also a bowl of salt water and a bowl of matzohs to share between 4. The basic premise is that the meal is similar to the Jewish Seder, but with Christian elements. So it was led by a father and mother, with questions asked by one of the children. We started with our mother lighting candles and praying for God’s blessing on those gathered. Then the father blessed the cup of thanksgiving, ritually washed his hands, dipped the parsley into the salt water and ate it, and blessed the first matzoh (the Kiddush section). Then we moved into the Hagadah which is where the children ask questions and the father tells them about the exodus from Egypt. This was followed by us all saying the Hallel psalm, psalm 114, together. Then the father blessed the food and we ate it. Due to the limited cooking possibilities in the hall we had lamb koftas with vegetable soup and the second matzoh, followed by lemon meringue pie or Apple crumble, all made by members of the congregation. At the end of the meal the father shared the last matzoh as well as the cups of blessing and of Melchizedek. We then remembered the events of the first Maundy Thursday and the new meaning that Jesus has placed on the Passover meal by reading Luke 22:14-21, finishing with a blessing. It was a really nice evening and lovely to be able to sit and share a meal with the congregation, which we don’t normally do. Next year it might be nice to try and incorporate foot washing as well, as it is now a common maundy thursday tradition and would put more emphasis onto the Christian perspective of Passover.

I then went to the Maundy Thursday service in St Illtyds, which was a very solemn Eucharist service with incense, and finished by stripping the altar, turning out the lights, and processing to the Galilee chapel which had been changed to an Easter Garden with ivy around the Celtic crosses and Calvary on the steps up the wall, where we sat in darkness and silence to begin the Easter vigil. That was another service I hadn’t been to before but one that I found very moving.

Good Friday was, surprisingly enough, quite busy as well. We were joining with the Methodist Church in the village for a Good Friday holiday club, so I went to the Church at 9.30 to help set up. The children started arriving at 10 and went straight into their first activity of colouring in holy week wheels- two wheels with a cut out section on the top one to see each stage of the Easter story underneath- Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, good Friday and Easter Sunday. We had difficulty finding good resources for Easter for kids so we ended up using veggie tales, an Easter Carol. We showed it in 10 minute clips throughout the morning. With 26 kids aged between 4 and about 9, it seemed to keep their attention fairly well. After our first clip we started our second craft of making Easter bracelets. These were bought prepared in a pack containing 2 pieces of cord, a number of beads with pictures representing the Easter story and small coloured beads to put between them. All the children had to do was thread them on in the right order. It was tricky enough to keep the older ones occupied but not too difficult that the younger ones couldn’t do it. Some of the older ones ended up helping the younger ones when they had finished. After our second clip we had a break for squash and hot cross buns, and then egg and spoon races after our third clip. The races didn’t take as long as expected, but the kids were happy to use the extra time to finish the crafts they hadn’t finished yet. After our final clip we had a few minutes to talk to them about what we’d done and hand out prizes and Easter eggs for them to go home with. It was really well run and sensibly structured so there were no points when we were waiting around with time to fill. The kids all seemed to really enjoy it, and was great being able to talk to kids I’d seen in school assemblies but never on a one to one basis before.

After a quick lunch break I was back at the parish church to meet the group walking back down to the Methodists as a walk of witness for our Good Friday service. There weren’t many of us, but it was a good mix of kids and adults and a beautiful day to be doing it in. The service was a simple reflective one, with readings followed by a reflective activity, then a prayer then a taize chant. It was originally going to be moving around for each activity but we decided not to because of the mobility of the people who came. The previous year there had been problems with print not being big enough. This year it was all projected onto a screen, but as I wasn’t there the previous year I couldn’t tell if it was better or not and I didn’t have any feedback.

Saturday was quite quiet but in the evening we took a group from the parish to the cathedral to be confirmed in the Easter vigil service. It was a dramatic service starting outside around a bonfire and then the whole congregation processed back in with candles. The lights in the cathedral stayed off for the first half of the service, for the opening prayers and readings, and only came back on just before the confirmation. There were a couple to be baptised as well so we processed the font for that and then back to our seats while the archbishop flicked water at people. I always forget how short the actual confirmation part of the service is. It seemed to be over very quickly before we were into communion, which was much better than Thursday with no concelebrating. The candidates received for the first time followed by everyone else. At the end of the service we processed to the door and the gospel reading was read from the steps before everyone left. By the time we’d presented our candidates with bibles and had pictures taken it was about 10pm. I’d prepared 2 of the candidates myself so it was a very proud moment seeing them go up and kneel before the bishop.

Easter Sunday was then relatively straightforward. 2 services in the morning at Gileston and St Athan. Gileston went as normal and at St Athan we renewed baptism vows in place of the creed and we welcomed our confirmation candidate back. With quite a lot of kids I did the talk using a noughts and crosses board. I challenged the Sunday school leader to a match and ended up with her winning with a line of crosses along the top and me losing with a nought in the bottom left and bottom middle squares. I then removed the grid and drew a green line under the crosses and coloured in my bottom left nought. The point being that, it looked like I had lost but if we compared it to Easter when it looked like Jesus had lost when he ended up on the cross, two days later it turned out that he had won when the stone was rolled away leaving an empty tomb. Not sure how many of them got it but they seemed quite happy with it. They were even happier with the Easter egg hunt after the service.

I have enjoyed my first Easter and I’ve definitely experienced a lot more than I had before. Now that I’ve seen how things are done I’ve got lots of ideas for what to do next year. I think it would be good to invite people who were baptised during the year back to renew their vows, and make the service more children friendly so we could invite the local schoolchildren to come and celebrate with us. I can also see why clergy flop after Easter and the post-Easter week is so eagerly anticipated. Time to look forward now to my priesting and getting back into a normal routine.

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