Holy Week 2012
In 2011 we had a remarkable retrospective exhibition of the work of artist, Charles Lutyens. Above all, he is intimately connected to us and to our building through his remarkable mosaic cycle of 'the Heavenly Host' created from 1963-68. At the exhibition he also displayed his latest extraordinary wooden sculpture of the 'Outraged Christ.' When the exhibition ended in October 2011 the church invited Charles to keep his figure in the church temporarily while a more permanent home was sought. Thus it was still with us as Lent and Holy Week 2012 approached.
Even before Christmas 2011 the idea was proposed to the Church Council that since the 'Outraged Christ' clearly meant more to the congregation than just being an art exhibit, we might explore making it the focus of our devotions in Holy Week 2012 - an appropriate time at which all our thoughts are focused on the Cross and Christ on the Cross.
The brave people of St. Paul's, Bow Common readily accepted this idea and during Lent, as Holy Week approached, they were regularly reminded to be prepared for a very different appearance to the church in that crucial week in which the events at the heart of the Christian faith are celebrated. The Vicar (Prebendary Duncan Ross) was aware of the real risk he ran in re-organising the whole church to be centred on that figure and with that, possibly so disorienting people during Holy Week that their experience of this very precious time could be dislocated and seriously spoiled. But this amazingly flexible church lends itself so well to such re-configuration for liturgy and, in fact, for several years we have reconfigured the church during Holy Week, but still within the conventional east-west plan of the church. This would be something else - probably the most radical re-arrangement of the church for worship since it was built 52 years previously! Sleepless nights were not far off!
Two days before Palm Sunday, after the church had been used for the last time in its conventional orientation, it became clear what a major task this would be, physically, if nothing else, to shift all the church furniture around to face the figure of the 'Outraged Christ.' Fr. Duncan only had the ideas in his head and until benches were on the move he had no idea how it should go! Saved by our Reader, Chris, and churchwarden, Julian, he was helped to move everything around. It is fair to say that the fine tuning of the arrangement took longer than the actual shifting of furniture! It had to look 'intentional' and not just like an intrusion into an existing arrangement. This meant a lot of moving of items which would not be used, just to avoid visual distraction by remnants of the normal seating plan still being visible.
The views above show the way the church looked as church members entered on Palm Sunday, 1st April 2012. Even though they knew what was coming there was slight bewilderment. In churches the world over, people tend to have familiar places in which to sit. Thechurch plan was the same as it had been the previous Sunday but all of it had been turned through about 130 degrees! 'Where do we sit?' was the unspoken question hovering in the air as people entered! In many a church there would been vocal or hidden protests at 'our church' being 'played around with' in such a way, especially in this most crucial week of the year. It says a lot for the people of this church that they very soon understood why all this was done and used this extraordinary focus for the devotions of the rest of the week. One church member expressed the view that it is very appropriate for Holy Week, of all weeks, to take us out of our comfort zone.
An encouraging number of people then set off on our procession of witness into the streets surrounding the church, with palms having been blessed on the steps of the church and singing with faith and vigour. The views below show glimpses of the Palm Sunday Eucharist which followed, which included the reading of the Passion Gospel by representative members in parts and the congregation as a whole. as the Vicar reminded us all, there is no avoiding the crucified Christ in Holy Week and we have been fortunate to have such a focus for our worship & prayers.
Since 2003 we have followed Palm Sunday with the celebration of the Seder - the Jewish Passover - on the Monday in Holy Week, as an ideal way of setting the scene for what is to follow in the sacred drama of the following days. As mentioned already, a rationale has developed of having our celebration of Holy Week up to Easter in the body of the church, amongst the people.
The Seder is followed as faithfully as possible, with Kosher ingredients for the actual meal and a full celebration of the blessings and rituals of the Passover. It has always been a very popular part of our life of worship and - as with the Passover meal - very much a family affair with children much involved throughout.
In 2012, as we turned our focus towards Charles Lutyens' 'Outraged Christ' the Palm Sunday arrangement was re-configured and the altar of the previous day brought forward into the people's area with benches and tables for the meal facing across to each other. The table became the place for the 'Father' of the family (the Vicar) with the empty place for Elijah next to him and with the 'Mother' of the family next to him and thenthe rest of the family ranged around the square of tables and seating. (The 'Mother' of the family has always been the lady in the congregation who has organised the ingredients for the Seder and the meal etc., and without whom none of it would be possible! The 'Mother' lights the candles in our midst as the Seder begins.)
Below are views of the Seder in this configuration in 2012:
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