Most of us are familiar with what has now become the more traditional acclamation following the first and second readings during the Eucharist; the reader concludes the reading with the words, “The Word of the Lord.” With it follows the response by the congregation, “Thanks be to God.” Of course this is true for services drawn from the Book of Alternative Services. Many of us will remember services from the Book of Common Prayer with its own set of acclamations and responses.
As time has passed a lot churches throughout the Anglican Communion have adopted a new acclamation following the reading of scripture. Both the readings conclude with the reader’s words, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” The response from the congregation remains the same.
As someone who quite liked the first acclamation mentioned above the newest addition came as a bit of shock the first time I heard it in a service many years ago now. However, as time passed it became clear to me that these newer words of acclamation were on to something. Rather than merely an affirmation of the content of what was read the newer acclamation does that and includes an invitation to the listener to continue the process begun with the readings. I like to think of it as the first step for all of us to discern what God’s word is saying and how the Holy Spirit is enlivening the word within us.
If you are growing concerned about my making a change in the way we say the readings put your mind at ease. I am bringing the matter to your attention for another, more pressing, reason. One which is crucial for St. Barnabas to carry in its collective heart over these next few days….
We are about to make a very important decision. On Sunday, June 5th, following the 10:00 am service, a special meeting of Vestry will decide on the path we will follow with regards to the Building Team’s plan for accessibility. So, it is at a moment like this that we do well to remind ourselves that discernment, that most characteristic activity of Christian faith communities, comes to the fore.
There are many fine theological approaches to the notion of discernment but for our purposes returning to the new acclamation used following the readings is most helpful. Regardless of whether you are against or for the Building Team’s plan what is most crucial is that we pay attention to what we feel God’s Spirit is saying to us with their proposal. Listening to both the content of the proposal and the manner in which your heart is moved by it and by the discussions which will also be a part of the Special Vestry is paramount. We are not only called upon to decide we must also create a space on that day where the Spirit of God can move freely and not be stifled.
By that I mean we not be distracted during our Vestry by any kind of chicanery or lack of respect for the feelings and views of our neighbours. That we not be so hard hearted in our own views that we diminish those of our neighbours. That we carry within us deference for others that will open the door to the breath of God moving without impediment among us.
Our task must surely be to come up with a decision; but at the same time uphold the earnest effort to “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” Bearing that in mind I would like to underline that there is no right and wrong answer to the question of where your opinions lie. There is quite simply the manner in which you are moved by the proposal’s merit, or not.
Is this an important decision? It certainly is, and will carry with it, regardless of our individual agreement or not, consequences for the life and ministry which St. Barnabas will embody for many years. Of that we should all be mindful. So, I hope you will do your best to critically examine the proposal over the next few days and let God’s Spirit move within.
But that does not mean that the process of decision making should be set aside as secondary to the actual decision itself. My experience in such matters has taught me that any important decision in the life of a church is deeply coloured by the manner in which it is achieved, and in some cases outlives the life of the decision itself – and not always to the good!
Every one of us must come to our Special Vestry (and I pray that the whole parish will be there) carrying two prayers in our hearts: that we will make the right decision for the long term vitality and viability of our church; and that we will have done so with Christian discernment as our guide on that day. That we will have, as the Body of Christ, presented no impediment to the free movement of God’s Holy Spirit in our midst so that we may say in all humility that, whether we agreed or not with the end result, such was the case at our Special Vestry; we did everything we could on the day to “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people!”