Common Prayer went out decades ago. While variety is said to be a virtue, many have lamented the fact that when you walk into the CofE nowadays you have no idea what to expect until it happens. The notice-board helps; that is not today’s topic.
But while ‘change and decay in all around I see’ (we don’t sing that much, either) some factors remain constant. In parish, daughter or groupie churches of whatever shape or integrity, you may rely on a small cluster of invariables.
One: confusion over the Responses. Whether it’s the Intercessions, the Gospel, the Eucharistic Prayer, or the Dismissal, some stick rigidly to the old words, others venture loyally on the new, a third group is still fumbling with its service sheets (‘page 5 paragraph 12A on the left hand side of the lilac card, beside the funny picture of John the Baptist’) while a fourth are strict ASBs – Aren’t Specially Bothered.
Two: the Peace. Enough has been said by others.
Three: they beg you to stay for Coffee. Whether in the aisle, nave, chancel, porch, crypt, hall, room, tower, vestibule, vicarage or vestry, coffee is the great uniting factor for today’s churchgoers. But once at the hatch, counter or table, what variety awaits!
An orderly queue may be receiving expertly professional service. Or a general scrum ensues, children first to the biscuits while the person before you walks off with the only teaspoon. Or a bottleneck is created by a small group catching up on the week’s gossip with those supposed to be serving (‘They all should serve; we only stand and wait’ – Milton).
There may be a bowl for coppers or a fixed charge of 30p (cakes extra). Or it’s on the house; namely, those on the rota. It may be instant, decaf, Traidcraft, Fair Trade, disgusting Nescafé or pure roast ground. The milk may be blue, red or green-top, or white powder from a plastic tube; the sugar, white, brown or yellow, lumpy or smooth.
But without coffee, no-one could be sure whether the event was a valid service. Can it be, as one visitor thought, that coffee and biscuits matter more than bread and wine?