And so we move onto the notices; this can be done at other times in the service, although they shouldn't be done by the president before the service starts as it detracts from the opening words of "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
As you've seen for yourself, the feel of the service changes completely at this point. In our Church we also use this time to ask the children to come forward with their Sunday school work. It maybe that some find this a chaotic and time-consuming event, but it is crucial that we affirm our young people, their faith in God, and their involvement in the life of the Church - they are, after all, the hope of Christian discipleship for the future.
If necessary, we also read the Banns of marriage; when people used to live in small communities and all attended their Parish Church this probably worked well at detecting prospective marriages that should not proceed. However, with societies being fragmented, the reality is that few people will hear of the planned union, and it makes the process questionable, but it remains part of Ecclesiastical Law and therefore we abide by it.
We then all stand and recite another prayer after Communion. This is not required in the rubrics of the service, but its words do give us a clue to what the thrust of the 'sending' is all about. One of the prayers we use closes with, "Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory". There it is; mission! For our Eucharist is merely a pit-stop on our missionary journey. One writer likens the 'sending-out' to leave a motorway services - pointed in the right direction and helped to re-join the fast moving traffic.
At the very end of St. Matthew's Gospel Jesus gives his Great Commission, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (28:19). Yes, mission does not begin beyond the Church doors; it has to happen the moment the service finishes. I've heard several people say that we're good at making visitors feel welcome here at St. Bartholomew's. But let's not rest on our laurels, bearing in mind many people now attend Church as enquirers to the Christian faith; as such they 'belong and then believe'. Research has shown that when a person starts to attend a Church, they'll be far more likely to continue attending if they begin to forge relationships with six other Church members in the first six weeks. So let's continue to welcome our newcomers, for Jesus has already prayed for us and for those who will believe because of us. In St. John's Gospel it is recorded he said, "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word" (17:20).
We then sing the final hymn, which may again pick up the theme of the day, but frequently highlights our vocation - for we all have one, not just the clergy. For example a popular recessional hymn is, "We have a Gospel to proclaim". The change of gear at this late stage in the liturgy helps us turn our minds to the task ahead. As Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote, "The Eucharist is not a hot bath at the end of the day, when we lie back and forget all our troubles. It is more like the cold shower at the beginning of the day to zap us and energise us for what lies ahead".
We remain standing for the blessing, which again changes with the various seasons of the Church's calendar. Some may feel is un-necessary, considering Holy Communion itself to be the ultimate blessing. But not all members of the congregation will have come forward to receive bread and wine and therefore must be included. The blessing is given using the sign of the cross; as such we are marked out with Christ's cross, sent out to tell of his salvation, and some like to make the sign of the cross on themselves in response. This is not essential, but as a devotional aid as it may enhance one's encounter with that part of the liturgy.
Then the President (or the Deacon if there is one) dismisses the assembly "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord", and we all respond, "In the name of Christ, Amen." Responding at this or any other part of the service shouldn't be an optional extra; neither should it be quiet or sloppy. Whether it's our "Amen" as we receive the bread and wine, or these final words to end our worship, they should be made firmly, confidently, because we're proud we say them as Christians, and thankful we can say them aloud, without fear of persecution in this country.
And finally the clergy and choir process out whilst the organist plays a voluntary, a glorious reflection of our 'sending out'. In Fr Michael's sermon on the 'gathering', he stressed the importance of the clergy and choir processing through the congregation at the start of the service. Whilst the symbolism to reverse this at the end of the service is not required, there is till a need to exit the sanctuary in a reverent way, and by doing so, our liturgy is complete.
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Call the Rev Stephen Edmonds on 020 8676 8925