"epistle side" and "gospel side": significance?

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Bob Cunningham:
In Jan Karon's books about Mitford and Father Tim's Episcopal church, there are mentions of an "epistle side" and a "gospel side". Some of the characters in the books normally sit on the epistle side, while others sit on the gospel side.
At http://www.allsaintssmyrna.org/www/html/glossary.htm there's a glossary of terms pertaining to the Episcopal Church. Among other things, it says
Lesson
also the Epistle; any reading from the Bible except the Gospels or Psalms; usually read on the opposite side of the church from where the Gospel is read; in older practice the Lesson was read from the "Epistle Side" the right side facing the altar, while the
Gospel was read from the "Gospel Side" the left side facing the altar. Current practice in many Episcopal churches does not conform to this older pattern.
That seems clear enough, but what is not clear is the significance of someone sitting on one side or the other. If I were to sit regularly on the gospel side or the epistle side what would that tell the other congregants about me, if anything?
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Tim:
It might say that your are refreshingly human. We all tend to occupy a favorite seat in any venue in which we find ourself.

Regards,
Tim
Mr. Gerund
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Steve Hayes:
[nq:1]In Jan Karon's books about Mitford and Father Tim's Episcopal church, there are mentions of an "epistle side" and a ... the gospel side or the epistle side what would that tell the other congregants about me, if anything?[/nq]
It could tell them whether you were male or female.

I was told that the practice began because in Europe, as Christianity spread, most of the heathen lived to the north, so they began reading the gospel on the north side to remind the congregation of the need to preach the gospel to them.
That may be a pious legend, however.
There was also a long-standing custom in the Christian church for males to sit on the south side, and females on the north.
In southern Africa, and certainly in Zulu culture, there is a custom that on entering a house males go to the right, and females to the left. In many churches in that part of the world, including Anglican ones, that custom is still followed. It may have been taught by Anglican missionaries from the UK, who saw it as an opportu nity to reintroduce a pious custom that had fallen into disuse in England (like women covering their heads).

It often continues, however, in the custom at weddings for the bridegroom (and family) to be on the south side, and the bride on the left.

On Orthodox Churches there is no "epistle" and "gospel" side, but the custom of males on the south and females on the north continues to be encouraged in some parishes, especially in Russia, but also in Greece, where, however, it is more dependent on the whims of the parish priest.
Interestingly enough, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church the custom is reversed - males go to the north, and females to the south.

Steve Hayes from Tshwane, South Africa
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7734/stevesig.htm
E-mail - see web page, or parse: shayes at dunelm full stop org full stop uk
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Mike Lyle:
[nq:1]It might say that your are refreshingly human. We all tend to occupy a favorite seat in any venue in which we find ourself.[/nq]
And there's also "Cantoris" and "Decani" "the Cantor's" and "the Dean's" sides for the choir-stalls in traditionally laid-out English churches and college chapels. This can have musical significance when the music is antiphonal; and may also be used as a way of dividing the choir for things like cricket matches and cherry-stone-spitting competitions.
Some places of worship have seats reserved for particular persons: earlier this year I took a break in the seat marked "Bishop of Dover" in Canterbury Cathedral.
Mike.
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Sara Moffat Lorimer:
[nq:2]It might say that your are refreshingly human. We all tend to occupy a favorite seat in any venue in which we find ourself.[/nq]
[nq:1]And there's also "Cantoris" and "Decani" "the Cantor's" and "the Dean's" sides for the choir-stalls in traditionally laid-out English churches and college chapels.[/nq]
And just to bring the discussion down a few levels the "Phil side" and "Bob side" of the areana at Grateful Dead shows, for two of the band members.

SML
Please remove your hat when sending me e-mail
http://www.pirate-women.com
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Anna Skipka:
[nq:2]In Jan Karon's books about Mitford and Father Tim's Episcopal ... would that tell the other congregants about me, if anything?[/nq]
[nq:1]It could tell them whether you were male or female.[/nq]
Wouldn't that be the "spear side" and "distaff side"?

-skipka
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Steve Hayes:
[nq:2]It could tell them whether you were male or female.[/nq]
[nq:1]Wouldn't that be the "spear side" and "distaff side"?[/nq]
It could be, but that is not the question being asked.

I suspect that the only people who could really answer the question would be those who was very familiar with Anglo-Catholicism in the 1920s.

Since there don't seem to be any of those reading this, one way of approaching an answer, or prompting one, is to consider various reasons people might have for being on different sides of the church.
Among Anglo-Catholics, one of the duties of a server at Low Mass was to move the missal from the epistle side to the gospel side of the altar. That went out in the mid 1960s, when Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy began facing westwards in celebrating Mass.
A priest who had been ordained before 1955 might know, but others might half-remember.
There was a similar discussion in AUE a few months ago about the phrase "interesting children". Those who used it assumed that everyone who read it knew the meaning well enough not to need its significance explained, and a later generation really has no idea what they meant by it, because no explanations survive. Similarly, no explanations appear to survive of the significance of being on the gospel side or the epistle side.

If anyone has a devotional manual dating from the 1930s, perhaps it might explain, but the chance would be slim. It was probably an unwritten tradition, and once it is no longer a living tradition, the meaning is probably irrecoverable.

The unworthy servant of God,
Stephen Methodius Hayes
Web: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7734/stevesig.htm Orthodox mission pages: http://www.orthodoxy.faithweb.com /
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C. Wingate:
[nq:1]Among Anglo-Catholics, one of the duties of a server at Low Mass was to move the missal from the epistle ... altar. That went out in the mid 1960s, when Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy began facing westwards in celebrating Mass.[/nq]
Well, I remember a decade ago going to Wednesday noon mass at Ascension & St. Agnes in DC, and they were still doing all this (and facing "East", but then the chapel had a shelf altar), so I'd say it was "not dead yet". Fr. Davenport there is about my age, so it's a pretty sure thing he learned this in the '70s or therabouts.
Liturgical traditions have always been subject to a variety of readings, and to say that they all have a definite sense is usually misleading if not futile. Perhaps the safest apporach is to write to Ms. Karom (c.o. her publisher) and see if she will tell you what she meant.

C. Wingate
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Mike Lyle:
[nq:1]If anyone has a devotional manual dating from the 1930s, perhaps it might explain, but the chance would be slim. It was probably an unwritten tradition, and once it is no longer a living tradition, the meaning is probably irrecoverable.[/nq]
This kind of thing is very rarely inexplicable: the Church is an enormous multi-national organisation based meticulously on the written word. May even be Googlable.
Good old OED1 says the Epistle is read at the south side, and the Gospel at the north, but unfortunately doesn't say why.

I have an oldish colour-plated book giving the Order of Service of Holy Communion in very High-Church terms, with handy hints on what to think at various key moments; but it doesn't explain the handedness of these readings.
Mike.
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