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The muddy curate's Christmas Communions

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This is a text-only version of an article first published on Friday, 19 December 2014. Information shown on this page may no longer be current.

Sue Morton continues her series on the life of a curate.

There are times when I have appreciated the distance between the communion table and the congregation. It has meant that the newly priested curate can generally get to grips with wine, wafers, water, purificators, corporals, palls and the like.

In small country churches having a deacon to serve at communion is usually a luxury, so you can often be flying completely solo with only a little experience in the cockpit. On the other hand, in tiny country churches you may only have a small number of communicants so it's a great place to spread your wings. Christmas Day - and my first as a priest - was a completely different scenario; there were congregations of up to 70 people in each of the two churches where I was taking services.

I threw caution to the wind and consecrated abundant numbers of wafers and copious amounts of wine.

I was busy concentrating on what I was doing, as row upon row came to kneel at the altar rail to receive wafers or blessings, when God surprised me.

It was the hands of a greatgrandmother that did it.

They were gnarled old hands, with love and care and sorrow and pain etched in lines; skin as thin as a wafer.

Once I had noticed them - really noticed them - I had trouble getting out the words 'the body of Christ'.

More and more hands came: young plump hands, soft and full of joy; manicured pampered hands that have been cosseted; large scarred hands that have suffered - just as the Christ child's hands will be scarred and suffer.

They came, line after line, waiting, longing, searching.

God was so very present in the wafers and the wine.

"One young member of the Body of Christ had said it all. "

Then onwards across the Valley on a beautiful bright crisp morning, watching deer cross the road ahead of me and not another car in sight; I drove to the next church to begin again. Once more I had rows and rows of communicants and those coming for a blessing and I was managing perfectly well - not getting overcome by the hands held out - until a little girl knelt before me.

I blessed her.

She gave me the most beautiful smile and said: 'Happy Christmas!' It was so simple and yet it was what it was all about.

My eyes filled up and once again the words that can so easily trip off the tongue - 'the body of Christ' - caught in my throat.

One young member of the body of Christ had said it all. Following these moving moments I was again presiding at a small communion service when I was in for another surprise.

At this particular church the wine is always on the right on the old stone credence shelf but, with both identical cruets being made of very attractive pottery and being not the slightest bit transparent, it was an accident waiting to happen.

For some reason this time I held on to the right hand cruet and proceeded to wash my hands in red wine, splashing it on to the crisp white cloth and making a huge mess.

Smothering an untimely desire to laugh aloud, I did what I could to redeem the situation with the water, but as I turned to begin the Eucharistic Prayer my hands were still sticky, with a reddish hue. As I said, I have often appreciated the distance between the communion table and the congregation.

It has meant that we can get to grips with wine, wafers, water, identical pottery cruets and red sticky fingers.

And yet thankfully we are not alone.

God is there in all the joy, the tears, the laughter and the mess.

Thank God. The Revd Sue Morton is a Curate in the Hambleden Valley.

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