When I posted on twitter that I was doing a Silent Eucharist at St Brides on Sunday, to start our June series on Holy Communion, that was the question I was asked. How does that work, exactly?
If you google Silent Eucharist you'll come up with various rites for completely silent services. The rubrics (Anglican for 'instructions'!) are generally printed in a service sheet, and people read them as they go along. We didn't quite do that, though we used bits and pieces inspired by some of those.
But our themes are as much preaching themes as anything else, and this had been billed as a sermon series, so we did have a sermon! And we had three hymns. Other than that, it was mainly silent, built around a semi-mimed Eucharistic prayer to which I had been introduced by a Methodist clergywoman (whose name I can sadly no longer recall, and I've long since lost the handwritten instructions she gave me) at a retreat years ago.
So this is what we did:
Introduction, during which I explained what was going to happen. I explained that when the Tibetan singing bowl was struck, they were to look in the order of service for what was the next thing to read or do.
Then we stood to sing a first hymn - singing together is important, I think. And practically, I had thought there would be the kids with us, and we could all sing together before they went off to the FISH group. (In practice, all our regular children except my two were off as three key parents were ill!).
Then the bowl was struck, and the first instruction people read was to take the stone (these had been given out with the hymn books and order of service) and hold it in your hand, feeling its weight. The service sheet said:
Feeling the weight of all that is wrong in life in the stone which we hold, we acknowledge our sin before God.
Passing the stone to the table, it is placed in a bowl and water is poured over the stones.
That done, the bowl was struck again and people read:
We hold our empty hands open to receive forgiveness.
After a pause, the bowl was struck again. Then the reading was printed in the order of service, with the instruction to read it through several times and ask God to reveal its hidden depths to you.
There was then another silence - which I held long enough for me to read the passage four or five times. Then the bowl was struck, and our speaker gave some input (described in the order of service as Food for Thought). (This was Jonathan Clatworthy and he gave a brilliant talk on the history of communion).
There was another silence for reflection, and then we sang another hymn and had a time of silent prayer, with the option to light candles.
When the bowl was struck again, it was time for a silent peace - bowing to one another, making eye contact! People surprisingly really enjoyed this.
Then came the Eucharistic prayer. Everyone was asked (in the introduction) to gather around the front of the altar - they were reminded of this at this point by the celebrant - me - making an expansive 'come and gather round' gesture!
The Eucharistic prayer:
First, I leafed through the first few pages of the Bible, slowly. Then I slowly let the pages flick past, all through the Old Testament, stopping at the ribbon that marked the beginning of Matthew's gospel. I put the Bible down on the altar, put a finger on the page and paused.
Then I got the bread (a loaf is needed, not a wafer. In our case, a gluten free pitta bread), and wrapped it in a lavabo cloth. Picking it up like a baby, I rocked it in my arms.
I placed the bread carefully down on the altar, and slowly turned the pages of the gospel. About midway I looked up, smiled, and included everyone in a wide arm gesture of welcome and acceptance. Turning the pages again I stopped at the crucifixion. I touched the page, paused, then lifted the bread high and tore it in two.
I then placed a large wine glass on the altar, and opened a bottle of wine. From quite a height, carefully and slowly, I poured the wine into the glass. As it reached the top, I didn't stop, but kept steadily pouring. The wine brimmed over, and as the flow kept going, poured over the sides of the glass and began to stain the altar cloth (I should say I'd replaced the altar cloth with a thick and doubled tablecloth of my own that I knew would wash out!). I kept pouring until the bottle was empty, and held it there for a few seconds so that the last drips weren't wasted.
Then I took the bread, ate it, and passed it to the person next to me, with a gesture to do the same. And then the cup. The bread and wine were passed around the room, everyone either helping themselves or offering them to the next person.
When everyone had finished, they went back to their seats, and the bowl was struck. This directed people to their order of service, where they read that they were to mentally recall as much of the Lord's Prayer as they could.
Finally, we stood to sing our last song, and for the blessing and dismissal.
I'd only done this before in small groups, but this was the first time on a Sunday morning, and it was AMAZING! The quality of the conversation and reflection afterwards also bowled me over.