Sunday 9 October 2016

Why a Nave Altar does not work at Coventry Cathedral

This morning, as often happens on Sundays, I served Mass at Coventry Cathedral. The service went really well unlike last week.

Last week we used a nave Altar.

Now in some cathedrals such as Peterborough Cathedral, where I was a server for a year in 1997-98 during my industrial placement year at Perkins Engines (Peterborough) Ltd, you need a nave Altar as due to distance and architecture since you can't actually see the High Altar.

However in Coventry there are no thick pillars, there is no rood screen. The High Altar can be easily seen from anywhere in the nave.

In actual fact a nave Altar is harder to see as it is on the same level as the nave so if you are not sitting at the front your sight line is blocked. Do people not realise that the High Altar, being raised several steps above the floor is designed to be seen from the back of nave.

It is therefore clear that, in Coventry's case anyway, there is no architectural need for a nave Altar.

So why use one?

Clearly it can only be for theological reasons.

So therefore, having established there is no architectural reasons for a nave Altar at Coventry we need to consider what theological point those clergy who support a nave Altar are trying to push.

The general theory seems to be that bringing the "action" closer to the people is a good thing. However as we have established above the use of the nave Altar actually blocks sight lines and therefore moves the "action" away from the people.

Therefore we must ignore the reason stated and look for the real reason.

Unfortunately we must then consider the only reason is because people are wishing to downgrade what we actually do.

Let's stop a moment consider what we do in Eucharist.

Bread and Wine becomes the actual and real Body and Blood of Christ to us. So therefore then just standing around a nave Altar rather than kneeling at an Altar rail means we are not considering what we are doing. We should kneel. This is Christ himself we are receiving. As Cardinal Arinze said with regards to receiving the Eucharist kneeling. "If we believe, if we truly believe that it is Jesus, the Son of God, then why don't we kneel, why don't we crawl?"

This is God himself we receive. Ignoring our architecture, standing around a small table that is hard to see apart from the first few rows at the front, is this really a foretaste of the heavenly banquet? Is this really the House of God? Is this really the Gate of Heaven?

Now some people might say, it's only planned for a couple of times a term, why not be flexible. That is fair point. But are the cathedral being flexible or are they pushing an agenda? If they truly believe that this is about being flexible in our worship, then I would hope to match the twice a term nave Altar that twice a term we have the Eucharist celebrated at the High Altar with the celebrant facing east.

Yes that's right, not a service with clergy behind the altar looking out over the congregation, making the Mass look like a coffee shop, but the Mass being celebrated by a priest facing the same way as the people. A priest leading his/her people to God not being the star of show. Or, as I fear, is all the flexibility just one way?

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Wednesday 3 August 2016

General Synod, York, July 2016

At the start of July I headed up to my first York General Synod group of sessions.

[ York General Synod ]

I was able to share a taxi from the station to the University of York (where the General Synod takes place) as I heard the person behind me in the queue saying "Convocation of the Province Canterbury" so I was sure we were there for the same reason!

We were all staying in Halls of Residence at the university and I was really surprised with my room - it was even en-suite - much different to Coventry's Priory Hall where I spent 2 years.

[ York Hall of Residence Room ]

The first item on the agenda was a debate on Brexit. I was hoping to speak in this debate, as someone who voted to leave in the referendum I felt it was important to make it clear that it was OK to be Christian and believe in leaving the European Union. Unfortunately I was not called to speak Jayne Ozanne (Laity, Oxford) covered most of the points I wanted to make.

After a good debate both those for and against the EU in chamber voted for unanimously for the following motion :-

That this Synod, recognising the result of the recent referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, welcome the Archbishops’ call for all to unite in the common task of building a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world, and encourage all members of the Church of England to play their part actively in partnership with everyone in Civil Society in pursuit of this task.

There was a request that a recorded vote be taken, but a number of people (including me) had voting machines that were displaying the wrong name. Rather than vote the old way (by walking through doors just like parliament still do) the request for a recorded vote was withdrawn.

There were various other technical debates and items discussed a full set of decisions made cane be found at

The next day they had been fixed and were back in operation.

[ Synod voting device ]

There were various other technical debates and items discussed.

One interesting debate was on moving legislation forward to the next stage. This covered two items a change in the (ecclesiastical) law to remove any remaining restrictions on church burials for those who commit suicide and a change regarding the rules of vesture for Divine Service. As I support the former but not the latter I and many others did not understand what these had to be taken together. After these have been through a revision committee they will of course come separately.

It was a curtailed synod due to the Shared Conversations on Human Sexuality which were held in private from, Sunday afternoon to Tuesday morning. (On Sunday morning there was an opportunity to attend Mass at York Minster. I enjoyed the service and was particularly pleased to see that York have a number of children servers. This is something I have been pushing for at Coventry Cathedral and we have just starting doing.)

I was a bit unsure about the shared conversations (or as I heard some people refer to them as “The dreaded shared conversations”) But I think they went reasonably well, probably helped by the fact I appeared to have a reasonable group. I don't know how the other groups were.

I can't really say anymore about the shared conversations as what was said was confidential.
Following the end of the synod I travelled back to Coventry on the train Tuesday evening and then started a new job on the Wednesday!