Monday, June 05, 2006
Rush Sunday is an annual event at SMR, but this was my first time. It dates back over 500 years - this was the 512th Rush service. A former Lord Mayor of Bristol left a property, the rent gained from which was to be used for the vicar of SMR (or failing that, the Priest-in-Charge) to preach to the Mayor and Council of Bristol. Originally it was to happen for the three days after Pentecost, but (fortunately) this was changed at the Reformation to be a sermon on Pentecost itself. The floor of the church is strewn with fresh rushes (and also various herbs).
Arriving at church on Sunday morning, my first impression was that it felt like Greenbelt (a very unusual experience at SMR) - the smell created by the rushes on the floor was rather like that of a Greenbelt seminar tent.
The service begins with two processions (we do like processions here) - the church procession of choir and ministers and the civic procession of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors preceeded by the Lord Mayor's sword of office and the mace-bearers. The processions meet outside the church, where bunches of flowers are presented to the Mayor and to the vicar. Then we proceed into church (remembering to pick our feet up, so that we don't trip on the rushes!). When the Bishop licensed me to SMR, as we walked down the aisle together at the end of the service he said that it felt a bit like getting married. Yesterday I got my bouquet.
The service follows - Mattins with lots of fantastic music, readings (one read by the Lord Mayor) and a sermon. Preaching to a full church of about 1000 people was new, but very good. No audible snoring ...
Then we all process out, the Aldermen, councillors and others all taking the bunches of flowers from their pews with them. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress are escorted to the coach and horses, lots of photos are taken and all is good fun.
But it's not finished there. There is a reception at the Council House (sherry and madeira cake), also specified in the will that started all of this. The Deput Lord Mayor proposes the health of the Lord Mayor, the Lord Mayor proposes the health of the preacher (including making some comments that suggest he'd listened to the sermon!), and then I had to respond. The most nereve racking bit of the day! Finally, comes lunch at the Mansion House with assorted dignitaries. All very civilised.
So what is it we're doing? The question that must be asked, I think. Rush Sunday is a remnant of Christendom (and a sign that our time is not entirely 'post'). It is a bit of establishment in Bristol. All cities need their theatre, and it is a good thing that the church is at the heart of some of Bristol's theatre. There is an opportunity to say something to the city council, and that is not to be neglected. But what I think needs some work is how we ground Rush Sunday in the life of the city, rather than letting it become a pantomime.