This was an interesting article at the Guardian; how many British people would be comfortable with the “must greet everyone” hugfest that the Peace is at St Nicholas? We’re certainly more comfortable with the flexible seating… but we did decide a few years ago that we wanted a (digital) organ after doing without for a long time. Still, summer Sundays the service is held in the air-conditioned Holy Innocents Hall, with piano, so the end result is a more relaxed and informal style until we move back into the worship space in the fall.
For the most part, let’s be honest, there is nothing very remarkable about the service: readings and hymns, the choir doing a turn, prayers, the slightly awkward business if you’re a proper Englishman like me of shaking people’s hands at "the Peace", listening to a sermon, saying the creed together.But then things change gear. The climax of an Anglican service is communion, or eucharist, but normally it doesn’t feel like much of a climax; one stays in one’s pew as the vicar gets busy at the altar, and then one lines up to receive the bread and wine. Here it is different: we all come forward and stand in a circle round the altar. The liturgy is mostly said by the priest, but we join in with a few setpiece prayers together, one or two of which are sung with gusto, and it’s at this point I get a strange sensation: we are not dutifully going through the motions, but performing a ritual that feels alive. It is a bit like participating in a play in a theatre-in-the-round. There is a sense of dramatic excitement. We pass the bread and wine round in a circle, announcing "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven", and "The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation". There is a palpable sense, that I have never really had in English churches, that this ritual is powerful. At the risk of sounding a bit pretentious, there’s a sort of primal force to it, not unrelated to a primitive rain-dance. We are doing something strange, other, mysterious: group sign-making of the most basic kind.