I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father.
Despite knowing each other for a good year or so, and even living together for a month, we had never made it through the doors of each other’s churches. Enough, we decided, was enough - last September, we kicked off our church exchange by throwing Jamie (a Catholic) in at the deep end at an international service at Jessica’s Methodist Church. It was many things, but it was not a solemn Mass. Jamie was heard to mutter, ten minutes in, ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore.’ It’s six months later now and we have dragged each other, more or less willingly, to a few of Jessica’s preaching appointments, Mass at a variety of Catholic Churches, a cheeky bit of Latin vespers and a United Reformed Methodist partnership in the middle of the countryside. We met up last week to discuss our thoughts and reflections. After a good half an hour of making the iPad work, ecumenical banter and general procrastination, we wrote our reflections.
Jessica - I absolutely loved being in Mass, having never been before and in spite of being used to services that are, objectively, stylistically very different, I felt so at home in the midst of incense, liturgy and tradition. Despite what Jamie says, it's way more embarrassing to keep going with the Lord’s Prayer when everyone else has stopped… I think that’s the main distinction for me, in fact. In terms of style, I could convert to Catholicism tomorrow; Mass encourages people to engage with the mystery of God, to behold Him in awe and majesty and to admit that there is so much about Him we don’t understand. The words of the liturgy reflect this, as does the incense that carries our prayers to heaven, the use of genuflection, kneeling, making the sign of the cross, the way that communion is treated as the holiest of holies. Mass is an experience rather than a meeting and, for me, that was wonderfully refreshing. It’s challenged me to change the way I lead worship - preaching and exposition are important, but so is giving people a chance to access the transcendence, mystery and otherness of God. I feel very strongly now that it is through a combination of both of these channels that we come to know God’s love most fully. I also love that Catholics are totally comfortable with adoring God publicly: they don’t miss a beat when kneeling or crossing themselves; God is right at the centre of their actions and pleasing Him a primary motivation. People can be fairly inhibited in wider society when making outward shows of faith, but not at Mass. I did struggle with some of the content. Not being able to receive communion is heart-breaking, and it took me till my third go at attending before I didn’t cry when I was left in my seat. Through God’s grace, though, I actually felt this became quite a profound spiritual experience: to live what it means to be excluded from something that you love, something that you need, something that you can see tangibly doing good in the souls of those around you. It was deeply humbling, and I was reminded of all those who feel left out by the way we conduct worship. John Wesley LOVED Catholicism, so I feel I'm walking in good Methodist steps. It is my prayer that our denominations would enjoy greater co-operation and learn from each other. I’d encourage any (even slightly) curious Methodists to get down to their nearest Mass and delight in the presence of God there.