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Why parish communion spread

by
30 May 2014

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Why was the Parish Communion Movement so successful, changing the liturgical practice of the Church of England so quickly?

Not the least reason for the subsequent success of the Parish Communion Movement was the firm foundation that it was originally given in sound liturgical practice and doctrinal definition.

Walter Frere was a pioneer, and in 1890 was responsible for introducing a parish communion at St Faith's, a daughter church of St Dunstan's, Stepney; and similarly this was done by John Burns at All Saints', Middlesbrough, in 1893. Percy Dearmer commended a parish communion in the 1909 seventh edition of The Parson's Handbook. Charles Gore, in the The Body of Christ (1902), clearly stated the overriding principle of such a service, which he himself described as "the parochial communion", when he wrote that "it cannot be said too strongly that any practice which divorces communion or which rests content on a 'high service' with the communion of the priest alone, really represents a seriously defective theology."

The major phase of the movement came later, and was largely inspired by the thinking and writings of Fr Gabriel Hebert SSM. His Liturgy and Society (1935) became known as "the Bible of the Parish Communion Movement". This was followed by a series of important essays in The Parish Communion, edited by Fr Hebert in 1937, and which set out the theology and practice that transformed the pattern of Sunday-morning worship. Successful liturgical missions, organised by such well-known proponents of the movement as Brother Edward, made enormous impact on urban and rural parishes.

The Parish Communion Movement had the support of diocesan bishops from its inception, and was often the subject of episcopal charges that advocated the introduction of the new pattern. In the post-war period, the promotion of the parish communion was taken up by the Parish and People Movement, under Kenneth Packard, and many diocesan conferences [the precursors of diocesan synods] were addressed by him in the 1950s with outstanding success.

Most importantly, however, the parish communion appealed to and received a welcome from the laity. The slogan "Let the church be the church" suddenly became a reality, when communicants discovered their active participation in the eucharist. The sense of "being the church" rather than "going to church" revitalised parish worship, and the offertory procession with the bread and wine emphasised the link between Church and society, worship and daily work.

Another success story was the gradual way in which the parish communion helped to break down differences of churchmanship by uniting pulpit and altar, word and sacrament, in one central act of worship.

Admittedly the time of the service, be it 9 or 9.45 a.m., was extremely popular, and accounted for large numbers' becoming weekly communicants. It was also successful with generations of confirmation candidates who were taught to regard the Sunday eucharist as indeed "the Lord's own service, for the Lord's own people, on the Lord's own day". They came to their communions with that mantra in mind, and so often remained faithful and regular communicants; and that was the real measure of the success of the Parish Communion Movement in its heyday.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

My recollection of rural ("area" in an urban context) deans is of a locally long-serving cleric, usually an incumbent, taking the work on as an additional duty. Recently, the Church Times has advertised incumbencies that include the rural-dean responsibility. What, if anything, has changed? P. S.

Can anyone tell me of a supplier of Bible-reading notes who provides the notes in large-print form? I am trying to find such a publication for a young vision-impaired member of our congregation. My favourite suppliers do not produce such notes. I am very surprised when we consider how many elderly Christians there are who may welcome such help.  M. MacV.

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