I saw this post today in the Croydon Guardian about a Priest who is attempting to reengage with the local parish by carrying out a blessing on a local pubs beer. The article reads..
Next week, the holy communion of booze and the Bible will be consecrated at one of the more unusual Thursday night drinking sessions to take place in a Croydon pub: the blessing of the beer at The Dog and Bull.
The ceremony, whose origins are thought to date back to medieval monasteries, will involve a procession from Croydon Minster to the boozer in nearby Surrey Street, following a mass at the church celebrating the pub’s licensees, Lesley and Mark Knight.
Father Lee Taylor, the minster’s associate vicar, will then bless the The Dog and Bull’s beer barrels and pumps using instructions from a 1614 manual for the benediction of everyday items.
Personally I think this is a warming step in the right direction, its also important to get to grips with the fact that medieval (and earlier) Christianity in Europe seems to be much more all-encompassing in its blessings and benedictions. The church was at a time literally the centre of the community, partly because the church embraced the community and in response the community embraced the church. There wasn’t a distinction in terms of spiritual or material, everything was baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. When we do draw that distinction both suffer and the church is marginalised from the everyday livesof the people. This isn’t the people diminishing the churches position, but perhaps the church diminishing itself in the degree to which it belongs to the common people.
I also think there’s something to be said as well for the fact that in Britain we have increasingly become detached from the passing of time and the land itself. The only seasonal celebration now is either in our personal calendar of birthdays and anniversaries or the more general deference to Christmas and subsequently New Year. The church once played a big role in celebrating seasonal occurrences like Harvest etc. or the lives of those who have passed on. Today the church, like our society, is largely ‘evergreen’ and I wonder if this is for the better. These celebrations remind us that all good things and good people are gifts from God and perhaps we would all do well to remember where these things come from (whether they be food or friendship).
One blogger I saw commenting on the article wrote rather appropriately of these measures..
The local church is, or ought to be, a physical instantiation of the reunification of heaven and earth. Therefore it makes complete sense that the local church (or churches for nothing stops these celebrations from being ecumenical affairs) should and must engage in blessing local activities and establishments. It is true that this wouldn’t be welcome everywhere and that some churches might have to find ways to bring the village into the church before the church could enter into the village in such a prominent way. Nevertheless, it must be tried. People need to see that the Church is not so divorced from the culture that it cannot recognise the importance of things like food and beer.
David Russell Mosley, The Church and the Village: The Blessing of the Beer and Other Agricultural Festivals
I think its also worth noting that both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, indeed all European churches generally, have a long history of engaging with issues like alcohol consumption (and the natural world in general) in ways which weren’t prohibitive but moderate and celebratory. 14th Century British people were even baptised in cider for a time! (although this was perhaps more due to health than love of Cider). This approach to the potentially contentious features of ordinary peoples lives is perhaps more constructive than the attitude of the more prohibition minded holiness movement and its descendants today. There’s a time for that when these things are abused, but isn’t part of Anglicanism a moderation between a position of two extremes?
Anyway, I don’t live too far from Croydon. Maybe I’ll go and celebrate the blessing of the beer.