The central worship area, St Patrick’s Hove, East Sussex, UK, 1986–1998.
The worship area was re-ordered in 1985–6. The three icons named here mark out the sanctuary area.
Importantly, the priest (and deacons) sit at the west-end of the area; that is, among the people. There, along with the whole gathering, they are are formed as the people of God as they hear the Word spoken to them. (Indeed, more accurately perhaps, as the hear the Word speaking to them!) Subsequently, from this place among the people they lead the whole people in their communal offering. Crucially, priest, deacons and all with particular ministry in the church, always remain members of the community, notwithstanding that they have particular roles and responsibilities within the community’s life. it can be very misleading, almost dangerously so, when priest and deacons sit at far side of the altar, facing the people, opposite them, rather as a judge sits facing those gathered. For when this happens, it is all too easy for both by the clergy and the congregation that the clergy are not really one with them but somehow belong to some ‘other order’ of life and being.
At the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer (and at the offering of intercessions during the daily Offices) the congregation gathers with the celebrant at the altar. This gathering serves to involve the whole community in the offering of the worship and helps to demonstrate that the responsibility for the worship lies with the whole community, and not just with the priest. At the Offices everyone is eastward facing, people an clergy alike.
Note that the whole of this area is carpeted. Note also that when there is only a small congregation everyone sits at the western end of the space, to either side of the priest. The music group sits in that area too.
At the Eucharist, for the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest is westward-facing. I believe, however, that there is much to be said for an Eastward-facing liturgy. Where the celebrant is Westward-facing—and so facing the people—very easily the Eucharistic Prayer can become a dialogue merely between the celebrant and the people. Where the priest is eastward-facing, and especially where the community is gathered around him and also looking East, it is more obvious that the Eucharist is a dialogue between the whole gathered community and God, with the celebrant leading the community in its offering, but not substituting for the community.