Tuesday, 23 June 2020

A poem: reflecting on communion, past and present


I chose carefully for my first time.
Slipping quietly off the marketplace
Into the taken-for-granted quiet of an old church.
Midday, midweek,
when I calculated that nobody of any importance
would witness my humiliation.

Drawn as I was to kneel and tacitly offer
My submission to this ancient order,
my faith was still too raw a wound
to hold it out for inspection -
not yet scabbed over enough to bear the thought
of people reaching out to touch and exclaim over it.

The few old ladies who gather at these things didn't count in my young eyes -
Nor the priest - by definition, irrelevant.
This was as close as I could get to privacy
For my capitulation.

It was just what I'd hoped for - A Ladybird Book of Church.
School-room-vintage chairs with rush seats.
Stone flags that had seen it all.
The noonday sun blurred through old glass diamonds.
Slim liturgy that neither patronised nor presumed.
One step, a wooden rail, an unassuming altar.

I took deep breaths and told myself I had a right to be there.
Smiled politely back at the welcoming lady who caught my eye.
Tried to look as if I often popped into a church -
People do, don't they? -
And just happened to stay for the service that happened to be about to start.

The moment that I knew that God had got me
Wasn't, as I'd expected,
When I knelt to receive the bread and wine.
It was when, at some point in the service, a latecomer entered.
I’d thought I’d got away with it until then.
He was one of my lecturers.
And not just any old lecturer, a half-recognised face in a crowd -
I knew him well. He taught just me, and one other student, that year.
He smiled in surprised recognition.
And in that small gathering it seemed inevitable
That we would end up kneeling side by side at the thin wooden rail.

Okay, I said silently. You win.
This can't be private. 

Twenty five years later, we’re in lockdown.
Now I’m the irrelevance.
Shielded, cloistered –
Unable to bustle about parsonically,
Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, celebrating the sacraments.
Unable to take your funeral, hold your hand as we pray through your pain –
Unable to offer a wordless hug.
Unable, however hard I try, to save the church.

My diary lies abandoned, a bookmark three weeks ago
Marks the last time my time was relevant.

Now my humiliation is finding a Red Cross parcel on my doorstep,
And needing it.
I want to say I’ll give it to the foodbank, but then realise
That this is the only pasta, potatoes, tinned tomatoes, in the house
And the shops are bare
And in any case, I can’t go shopping.
I take advice from a friend who writes post-apocalyptic fiction
And stock up on lentils online.

Those first Sundays, I hardly know what I am doing.
I tie my phone to a music stand with string
And try to look my congregation in the eye.

Perhaps, I say, this feels like that last supper
In a borrowed room; aware of darkness falling outside
And the exponential rise of hate.
Fearing a painful death, or the pain of loss.
Waiting for something to happen -
Helpless to do more than wait.

A ‘like’, a ‘love’ and ‘tears’ float up the screen in well known faces,
And God gets me again.
I realise we’re as close now, whatever our distance,
As we’ve ever been to those first twelve at that last and first supper.

And I say – take something, please.
We’re all broken.
Eat something, please,
As a sign of our communion.
This isn’t private.


This isn’t private,
But at first it feels it.
Daily, slowly, a small group gather.

Howls of protest fill column inches with complaint
That an empty church can no longer be taken for granted
For slipping into.
Our irrelevance is missed.

I feel the weight of others’ success, reports of hundreds – thousands! – of new followers,
Instagram stardom, converts flocking, a new Pentecost.
I post letters and liturgies to those not online,
And try to believe them when they tell me on the phone
That they’re quite happy with what’s on the radio.

I take a deep breath, and tell myself I have a right to be here,
Smiling back at the few precious fellow-travellers who gather with me,
Mid-morning, midweek,
In this new space we’ve found to slip into.

And as the weeks go by, strange traveller’s tales reach me –
Of people encountering our online church on the fringes of the marketplace
And popping their head round the door.
Some are enraged, seeing only some strange distorted masquerade.
Others have stories I treasure up in my heart.
And I wonder, who that anonymous priest was,
All those years ago,
And if any of us ever know what impact
Our faithful reliability has.

I never told my lecturer about that moment, before he died.
I wish I had.


  1. This is superb and really does weigh up a lot of what I was feeling with the social media services and that we have continued to faithfully be there for the people and serving the people. Those stories of people on the fringes I will too store up In my heart they are what have kept us serving faithfully daily with those who gather to hold Christ in communion together. Thank you for you amazing words may I share?

  2. I've only just read this - it is absolutely beautiful, powerful, and made me cry! Thank you Miranda. Louis

  3. Your poem spoke to me today. Thank you.