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Raising the conduct of services

20 June 2014

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


How can I (a clergy widow, and therefore in an awkward position to comment) encourage our Rector to conduct the only service on a Sunday which is a eucharist with dignity? He is unconcerned about how the altar is dressed; his cassock-alb is very creased, and dirty, as are his shoes; but the most upsetting part of the service, taken at a gallop, is that after he takes communion to a disabled lady at the back of the church, he walks back to the sanctuary, munching the remaining consecrated wafers on the way.

It is probable that this clergy widow's understandable concerns about the undignified and irreverent conduct of her Rector are shared by other members in the congregation. If this is the case, it would be advisable and effective if a small delegation, with a written summary of grievances, went to the churchwardens to enlist their support.

Granted the delicate circumstances, this joint procedure would be easier than a one-to-one confrontation with the Rector, and certainly the issues are of such significant importance in the worship life of the parish to warrant reference to those who are elected to be "foremost in representing the laity", and who should use their office to "maintain order and decency in the church . . . especially during the time of divine service" (Canon E1).

With a memorandum from those genuinely upset by the casual and slovenly way in which their parish priest conducts the Sunday eucharist, the churchwardens will be completely within their rights to raise matters with him and offer practical suggestions to eliminate the causes for complaint - such as the appointment of a reliable person as sacristan, to be responsible for laundering the priest's cassock-alb, and for correctly setting up the altar for the eucharist to be celebrated with greater dignity.

The Rector would need to be frankly told that his unfortunate practice of consuming consecrated wafers is offensive to worshippers, and in future should be delayed until the end of the service - as the rubric allows - and performed unobtrusively and reverently.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

We have a hard-working and cheerful team of priests and Readers. Over the past year or so, an elderly worshipper continually complains that our sermons are too long: he would like no more than five minutes, or none at all. . . How should we answer this complaint politely, but presenting the value of a thoughtful sermon?

Sermon feedback is useful. Convene a meeting of people to discuss what they find helpful and unhelpful, and suggest improvements. If they favour the status quo, suggest to your complainant that he brings a book to read during the sermon.

(Canon) John Goodchild, Liverpool

Invite the parishioner for a meeting over a cup of tea. Give full attention to the difficulties he is having, and ensure that he realises that you fully grasp the points he is making.

Explain that the 15-minute sermon helps others, is liked, and is staying. Ask how you can work together to reduce the problem. Perhaps during the sermon he could go and see what the Sunday school are up to; pray in the Lady chapel; or read the Bible in another room.

Listen out for what is really behind the complaint - perhaps arthritis, which makes it uncomfortable to sit for so long; or a hearing problem. Is there a background worry that surfaces during that time? When did the 15-minute sermon become a problem? What other problems were around at the time? Where does the complainant's anger really belong? Or is it sadness or fear?

Reassure him that there have always been difficult times in Christian congregations, but that we always sort them out together.

(Mrs) Geraldine Pedroza

What became of the war-memorial choir stalls of St Edmund's, Northampton, with the names of the parish's Fallen, when the church was demolished in the early 1970s? K. K.

How can God be Jesus's Father and Jesus be God's Son if God and Jesus are the same person?

Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG. questions@churchtimes.co.uk

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