Monday, August 26, 2013

A GOOD DAY IN CHURCH

Stained glass at St John's Episcopal Church, Thibodaux LA

Today was a good worship day for me at St John's.  For a change I was early, and I had the opportunity to sit quietly for a spell before listening to the Prelude, Beethoven's "Sonatina in G Major", performed beautifully by our music director on the piano.  Therein lies a lesson that rushing in at the last minute, or worse, following the procession down the aisle, is not the best way to arrive for a service.  The liturgy was done well and properly; the sermon was interesting and enlightening; and the musical choices were very much to my taste.

Still, good days for me have less to do with the service itself - the preacher, the music, who is present, than with an attitude of heart open to praising and thanking God.  Some mornings, my attention to prayer is limited, for distractions abound, and my mind wanders everywhere but to the meaning of the words in the prayers and hymns.  This morning, I slipped easily into prayer and remained attentive longer.  Grace, all is grace, but I expect not rushing into the service at the last minute plays a part.  As I've already said, there's a lesson here.  Still, what is also true:
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
After the service, our visiting priest did a show and tell about our fly spoon and said how rare it is to find such a spoon among the altar vessels.  He explained that in the olden days before air-conditioning, when windows in the church were open, insects flew in, and flies were attracted to the wine.  If a fly or other insect flew into the chalice and couldn't make its way out, the fly spoon was used for removal.  Below is a picture of St John's fly spoon.

Fly spoon

The spoon is silver, not gold, and is not tarnished as it appears in the photo.  The refection in the bowl of the spoon is of the stained glass window above the altar depicting St John the Evangelist, our patron saint.  The reflection on the cross may be the same.

I knew the purpose of the spoon, because I served eight years with the wonderful women in the Altar Guild.  Though I tried my best, I was not well-suited to preparing the altar, for I am not a detail person.  The priests I served under were understanding, and my fellow members were kind, but I suspect they sometimes despaired of me ever getting it right.  In truth, I never did. 

44 comments:

  1. Maybe getting it exactly right isn't the point. I always thought that presenting the worship space the best way we know how is the best way. I think God would understand. Most folks (especially visitors) wouldn't know the difference anyway.

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    1. Mark, thank you. I always thought God appreciated my best efforts, but I still believed I fell short, at least short of what the other women seemed to do so easily. How I continued for eight years in a ministry I was not suited for is a mystery to me to this day.

      One day as I was filling the candle holders with oil (we did not use real candles on the altar), the oil ran over and all down the side of the candle holder and onto the floor of the sanctuary. A four-letter word somehow escaped from my lips, and my partner, though she was startled, was also a good friend and knew me well enough not to be unduly shocked. Not all the Altar Guild ladies would have been so understanding. I raised my eyes to heaven, and said, "Lord, forgive me for my language right here before your holy altar."

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    2. Regarding the four-letter word, Did you ever hear Billy Connolly's 1970's "Four Letter Word" song? Tune of "A four-legged Friend?"

      "It shouldn't be said in polite company,
      "When aged old ladies are sipping their tea;
      "But if those ladies' pasts were revealed, sure as Hell,
      "They've not only said it, they've done it as well!"

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    3. L., need a "like" button on this one!

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    4. To relieve everyone's curiosity, the word was shit. The song would fit, because we all do it, ladies included.

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  2. We use a spoon like that to fish out globs of bread when we don't use wafers but use real bread. Otherwise they float about and look sort of baggy. Have not had the fly problem but an occasional bee taking a swim

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    1. Ann, we have air-conditioning now, and the windows are closed all the time. We have to keep the climate in the church controlled because of the organ and piano. The occasional insect still comes in, even the occasional bird, but the spoon, which is quite old, has not been used recently for scooping out insects.

      Maybe it is used for the purpose you mention, because it is laid out on the credence table for communion services.

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  3. What a lovely post! I so relate to your observations about having a "good day in church." Distractions do abound, don't they? Sometimes I think that church is not at all a good place for worship! I could do better on a solitary walk through the forest or during a quiet moment watching a sunset.

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    1. Prairie Soul, I've done some of my best praying on walks, and not necessarily with words.

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  4. Just seeing if this will post (fourth browser I've tried, multiple logins, at least this one might put it through, though probably as Anonymous)

    Porlock Junior
    who would like to post an item on flies in the chalice

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  5. (OK, this combination might work, though it tells me I'm posting as Anonymous)

    The flies in the chalice reminded me of something, and I find it in Garry Wills's recent book Why Priests?

    "If a fly is in the cup, one must capture it daintily, wash it thoroughly, burn it, then put the ashes and the water used for washing it inside the tabernacle." (p. 48)

    I presume that the tabernacle marks this as not Anglican. And indeed, this is Wills's summary of Thomas Aquinas. As he goes on to say, "Who knew that fly washing would turn out to be a priestly skill?"

    But the fly washing seems to be entailed by Transubstantiation, so I suppose your Episcopal fly spoons needn't have any facility for that operation.

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    1. Porlock, you're posting in your name. All is well.

      I read Wills' book and was quite amused by the anecdote about the fly. I doubt that priests at St John went to such lengths if a fly was removed from the cup, but I can't say with certainty. Wills is Roman Catholic and writes about priests in the Roman Church in his book.

      At St John's, two doors set in the wall just above the credence table open to a space which holds the consecrated sacrament in reserve for visitations which include communion. I don't know if the opening is called a tabernacle, but its purpose is the same.

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    2. Not having Wills book handy, but where does he get this? I know the Missale Romanum has several pages of instructions, including at present this:

      If after the Consecration a fly or something of the kind falls into the chalice, he is to take it out, wash it with wine, burn it after the Mass is over, and throw the ashes and the wine which was used for washing into the sacrarium.

      In the older version, from Trent, I believe, there was additional instruction that if the celebrant could consume the fly without fear of nausea, that was another option. Hand me the spoon please!

      I do wonder if Wills has mistaken the meaning of "sacrarium" -- which is not the tabernacle but the piscina; "throw" should be the clue, even if one didn't know the difference! I know the book is accused of many "howlers" but as I say, I don't have a copy.

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    3. I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, and look what happened to her. I don't know any priests who did so. Bless them if they did.

      St John's has a piscina in the vestry, so I suppose the fly could be disposed of there.

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    4. When I was a seminarian at St. John's Bowdoin St., Boston, we had a spoon but, being Boston, it was not referred to as a "fly spoon". I was told that in the old Anglo Catholic Liturgy, it was used to place a bit of salt and then a bit of honey on the tongue of the newly baptized, so they would know the way the bible preserved their soul and sweeten their lives. It was also used to give infants a sip of communion wine. It was kept in the safe.

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    5. Me? I just go by what the priests say. If the priests say different things, then I'm in a quandary. ;-)

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  6. Two thoughts:

    1. I just love that altar window, it's so simple, elegant, and lovely - it must surely inspire reverent thoughts.

    2. Many thanks to Porlock Jr. for answering the question that formed in my mind - what to do with a baptized, and presumably consecrated, fly?

    But the answer raises another question - what use are the ashes of burnt fly and his bath water? What would you ever use them for? Oh my, this gets us quickly into great and weighty matters, doesn't it?



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    1. The window dates to the construction of the church in 1844, and it is beautiful. The colors are exquisite.

      I have no idea where the final remains of the fly went. Scattered maybe, but not very far.

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  7. Before I read the explanation, I thought the reflection in the bowl of the spoon was a picture of a fly. It's a lovely spoon. Thank you, June. I had not heard of a Fly Spoon before this.

    I am glad you had a good day at church.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. About the picture of a fly on the spoon, ha ha. "Eeeww," is all that comes to mind. Sunday was a good day.

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  8. If the altar was properly prepared by the good sister in the sacristy, there would be a pall over the chalice to keep feathers, bird poop and flies out of the chalice. There would have been no need for the spoon. But you always need a spoon for those who don't know how to intinct.

    When I worked in Mexico and Honduras, you always had to have a pall if it was none other than the paten.

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    1. I have never seen the spoon used at the communion rail in place of intinction. I have read that intinction is more unsanitary than drinking from the cup. For persons with immune system deficiencies, it would seem best to take only the bread.

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  9. Now I shall have to consider the theological questions pertaining to the proper disposal of flies.

    More things seminary didn't prepare me for.

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    1. One can tie oneself in knots over disposal of the elements if one so chooses. I was told by one rector that we should consume any leftover consecrated bread, and the tiny crumbs could be brushed off under the nearby tree for the birds. I think Jesus would have liked that.

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  10. I actually own a mid-19th century, New York-made (never heard of an English one), fly spoon, bought on eBay in a whimsical moment, but I have never, until now, read a sensible explanation of its purpose and use. Guess it needed someone from "flies in the chalice" heartland to give it credible context. Intinction made no sense in the context of the 19th century PEC.

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  11. "The altar guild had long suspected Father Murphy of being an entomologist due to the large number of dried flies they found pinned to corporals on the sacristy wall. He was, however, merely scrupulous in his observance of De Defictibus in Celebratione Missarum Occurientibus."

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    1. I thought it was a spoof. I laughed right off.

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    2. Thanks, Mimi. I recall one true story of the chalice bearer who accidentaly spilled a drop of wine on the dress of a woman to whom she was administering. The priest who was near enough to notice, gave the administrant and the recipient one of those stern over the top of the eyeglasses looks, and then smiled and said to the woman receiving, "Mrs. Smith, I suppose you know this means we shall have to burn you..." and they all had a good quiet laugh. Good humor can reign even at the rail, at least for Anglicans, I hope!

      In my personal experience, I recall once administering the bread to a woman who liked to receive on the tongue, but who on that day was wearing what I suppose was a high-content polyester dress. The static electricity caused the host to leap from my fingers to her bodice, and I'm afraid all I could think of was that old hymn text, "Let me to thy bosom fly..." Perhaps a fly spoon would have come in handy, as I had to pry the host from her bodice digitally!

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    3. Oh, Tobias, I can't stop laughing. As Molly Ivins would say, "You can't make this stuff up." Look! A leaping host! Is it a miracle?

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    4. When it comes to hidebound, old school Anglo-Catholics, who an English archdeacon described to me 50 years ago as his "crouch and mutter brigade", there's no telling, Tobias.

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    5. And love the flying host story.

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    6. LapinB., it does seem that AngloCatholics seem to fall into two schools: the fussy and muttering, and the whimiscally amused. I'm certainly of the latter type. The former, for some reason, often find themselves wading the Tiber... ;-) As the airline steward says, "Buh-bye!"

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  13. Then there is the very bosomy woman with a large brimmed hat and low cut summer dress - who wanted to receive the wine without guiding the cup to her lips - unfortunate results when the wine did not reach her mouth but poured down her front.

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  14. The fun I have missed being raised in the Reformed Traditions.

    I knew we were missing out on the fun, but I had no idea how badly....

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    1. Never a dull moment, except at times during the sermon.

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  15. Did you catch the Billy Connolly song link I posted early this morning at the head of this thread?

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    1. I did, and I meant to respond earlier. I have now.

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    2. Didn't know if it was too far up there. Didn't want you to miss it.

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  16. What a fun thread following my post in which I profess my piety.

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  17. Posting for another person who could not get her comment to come through:

    I was never able to comment on your story -- for some reason -- but these are the spoons we use at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City. We have a larger one but it must have been in use. These were in the vault.

    Mary Louise Byrne

    View spoons here.




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