On Tuesday 14th July Wojtek and Madeline Rakowicz and the Catholics of Itchen Valley invited their Anglican neighbours to attend a Catholic mass at Itchen Abbas House followed by drinks and supper. This Catholic Mass in the Valley is a really important annual event for Christians in the four villages and in particular for the many families who have both Anglican and Catholic members!
We were invited to bring portable chairs with us and it was a good thing that we did as over 50 of us crowded into the Rakowicz residence and celebrated the Feast of St Swithun. Although the language of the Mass is a little unfamiliar to Anglicans, the service was engagingly led by Father John Catlin, in the absence of Canon Paul Townsend. Revd Amanda Denniss read the gospel reading John 21:15-25. Then both Father John and Revd Amanda each gave a short talk on the gospel reading. This they did as a joint homily sitting down – apparently in the style of a Catholic University Chaplaincy. Father John emphasised that Jesus’ injunction to ‘feed my sheep’ was a direction to care for our neighbours. Revd Amanda concentrated upon how St Peter is forgiven and restored by Jesus’ asking Peter if he loved him three times – the number of times Peter had denied him – and that this forgiveness and restoration is also open to us. The congregation was asked to share their thoughts on the reading as well. Only our host was brave enough to do this, but perhaps this sort of engagement during a service is something from which we Anglicans can learn! To have instant feedback in a service would be challenging for the clergy, but I think much more engaging for the congregation! We must clearly give this some thought as to how we might do this.
There was no general distribution of the eucharist, but we were all invited to receive a blessing from both Father John and Revd Amanda or from one or other of them, according to our preference. This was a moving demonstration of how we can be unified under God’s blessing in the presence of Jesus, even if not by sharing communion together. It was wonderful to be able to do this with so many people with whom we serve the people of the Valley in so many ways – at Little Rainbows, at CAMEO, in pastoral visiting and in Lent lunches.
Whilst there may be theological and liturgical differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism, it was great to worship God together. And as our host pointed out afterwards Jesus restores Peter after having eaten together with all the disciples. We then had the most delicious supper.
Thanks to our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ for this wonderful evening! And in particular thanks to Wojtek and Madeline for their very kind hospitality.
Revd Alex Pease