The Mercy Seat

Mercy Seat at William Booth College

Biggest thing I miss about The Salvation Army?  The Mercy Seat, without a doubt.  Not only the Mercy Seat, but the culture of open response.  Now, the people I serve do respond to God and the Holy Spirit amongst them, of course they do.  But I do believe there is something helpful in being able to move from one’s seat, to come forward in response and to be a) prayed for b) prayed with in the context of the gathered community.

In the Army, we come from a tradition of ‘preaching for a verdict.’  We preach wanting people to respond to the word, rather than just soak in teaching from the Word.  Even when we teach, we still want people to apply and respond…we’re such activists! I believe moving physically in response to the Word of God helps to confirm that response of our heart with our whole being.  I’ve tried alternatives, including standing and receiving prayer afterwards etc but there is still the culture of response that lack of a Mercy Seat doesn’t plant in the consciousness of the community of faith.

Yet, the second aspect of the Mercy Seat is its continual presence.  Its always there in public worship.  The bare old wood itself bears a message that hey, there is something God wants to do in your life.  Whether its to cleanse a sinner or purify a saint, the Mercy Seat is a continual reminder of all that God wants to do.  Sure, Brengle said you gotta have a Mercy Seat in your heart.  Friends of ours run a Salvation Army prayer centre and they say ‘the whole place is a Mercy Seat.’  Praise God.  But we don’t all run prayer centres and we know the value of the physicality of ‘place.’

One corps I soldiered at before officership had the worst Mercy Seat in the world.  It had a million plants on it (ok..exaggeration) and there was nowhere to kneel at it.  It had probably been years since someone had.  The expectation had gone that anyone should respond.  So even actually having one is a bit useless without the call to respond.

Thankfully, my five year old daughter Ceitidh has the Mercy Seat in her psyche somehow.  If we are visiting a church building, any church, she’ll kneel and pray at anything resembling a Mercy Seat (usually communion rails).  Whether its in a touristy cathedral or a country church, she tries those places out! 

My arguement is that there is a spirituality of ‘space’.  The Celts called them ‘thin places’ – places where they thought they could focus on God, places that in themselves, suggest the call to the secret place with God.  I believe we all need it. Otherwise, where do we go?

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