Those people in robes …
We can all identify who the ‘presiding priest’ is in church on a Sunday morning during the Eucharist, and if there’s a second or even third member of the clergy present we can usually pick them out too. It’s easy – look for someone in a white robe wearing a coloured top layer (called a “chasuble”) or stole round the neck. Our Communion Assistants come up from the congregation in their normal street clothes, so they’re also easy to pick out. But sometimes there’s another person in a white robe, without a coloured top layer or stole. Who’s that and what do they do?
Well…if you remember Winston, he was doing the role of the Server. Sometimes you’ve seen me do this as well, and hopefully I’ll be helping out from time to time in the future. But it would be very good to put together a rota of people who would also take on this valuable service in church. And don’t worry – nobody would be pitched into it without some training, practice and a lot of support. It’s not really that complicated, especially in St Mary’s which doesn’t have a lot of room in the Sanctuary (the space at the front of the church) for ‘ritual.’ The main duty of a Server is to assist the clergy so that they can concentrate on being the leaders, praying for and with us, and not have to be concerned with all that logistical stuff which is distracting when trying to hold together the community in an important worship service. Dealing with the wine and water containers, jug and bowl for washing hands, putting things on the altar and taking them off, keeping a place in the service sheet for the person praying the Eucharistic Prayer – this is mostly what the Server does. At St Mary’s, sometimes the Server also carries the Cross in at the start of the service and out at the end. And yes, the Server does wear a robe. It’s part of taking on a type of anonymous identity underneath a ceremonial garment, in order to submerge your own personality in the more important activity of serving God.
One of the things I was taught as a Server was that “when you’re doing the job in the best way, nobody should really notice you.” Like the highly experienced waiters in a top restaurant, the Server should ideally be invisible – but right there when something is needed. More difficult at St Mary’s where everything is quite close to the altar, but the Server should never be a focus of attention. It’s interesting that when serving at the altar, it’s very difficult to pray – being more concerned with seeing that everything is going as it should. This is especially true when the wine and water containers are brought up to the altar and finding that the wine one is empty!! If, as then, something “goes wrong” the trick is to make it look as though the “mistake” is actually part of the proceedings, and to carry on and fix it without a big fuss. But having said that, we’re all quite relaxed about what ritual there is at St Mary’s, ritual isn’t the reason for worship – God is.
So…what’s the reason for this little article? It isn’t to provide a detailed description of what the Server does, but Simon, Peter or I can say a lot about it if anyone wants to know more. Or, have a look at what’s going on at and around the altar during the usual 11am service. What would be ideal is for a group of people to express an interest in Serving, and maybe trying it out after a bit of preparation. Perhaps only carrying the Cross at first? Women or men, girls or boys, it doesn’t matter. It would really be good to have some younger people (between about 16 and 30!) volunteer; and anyone taking this on would be expected to keep to assigned dates unless there’s a genuine emergency.
Don’t think “Oh, I could never do that.” Not true! Once over the initial nerves of “will I drop something” or “what happens if…” there’s a lot of spiritual reward. No theological education needed. Jesus said to the questioning prospective disciples, “Come and see.” Will anyone consider doing the same to join a Serving team at St Mary’s?