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Lincoln ruling on a dual-purpose altar

19 September 2014


From the Revd John Whittaker
Sir, - It's not often that an article in the Church Times causes me to groan out loud. The report that Chancellor Mark Bishop of the Lincoln diocese has ruled that no faculty will be issued for St Michael and All Angels, Uffington, to allow for a new oak table planned to be used both for serving refreshments and as an altar, did just that (News, 5 September).

Apparently, the canon that forbids such "inappropriate" requests is F2(2), which places a requirement on the church to ensure that "the Lord's Table is kept in a sufficient and seemly manner".

One year ago, St Mary's, Hinckley, started distributing food through a foodbank. Now we regularly give away 200kg of food a week. The distribution happens right next to the altar area. A few months ago, as I watched the food being placed into the hands of the hungry, I was touched by the vision of the bread of life given out at communion on Sunday's becoming the bread of life in a different way, given out in the week.

The sacramental action of communion took on a new depth of meaning when expressed in this generous action of service - so much so that we are thinking whether our altar can be used more tangibly to be a physical expression linking the two actions.

It might be that keeping an altar in a "sufficient and seemly manner" involves keeping it pristine and clean, and away from the grit and reality of the world we are called to love and serve. Or it might be that using the altar as a tangible link between sacrament and service is a far richer and better way to honour Canon F2(2).

I believe that this is the case at that inspiring church St Gregory's, San Francisco. I hope it will be the case at St Mary's, Hinckley, and I would urge St Michael and All Angels to put in an appeal, so that their linking of sacrament on Sunday with hospitality in the week can be seen as it truly is: a wonderful and life-giving use of an altar, far surpassing the requirement for it to be kept in a "sufficient and seemly manner".

Parish Office, St Mary's
Church Lane, Hinckley LE10 1DW

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