Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church faith//hope//love

  • More Musings

    Apologies, this one goes on a bit.

    I don’t know if I’m unusual, but I’m not sure how often christians ‘get out’. I saw a video recently which was very good, and done by someone I respect, but he was talking about being a christian and how he’d discovered it was quite nice to have non-Christian friends and go down the pub together and how this is very different to what church people do together and also how it was (perhaps) better! And that, surprisingly, he had found that non-christians have questions about life the universe and everything, non-Christians can also be deep thinking people and that non-Christians are actually good company. That is probably a charicature of what he said but there are many Christians who are so absorbed into the Chrisian sub-culture they talk about non-Christians as they were from a different race. It is fairly common for Christians to retreat into the church world to stay safe from the nasty outside world, not tainted by messy humanity. I guess that’s why you’re able, if you’re part of that wing of the church, to maintain your enormous mullett and keep your suit shiny (you know who I’m talking about). Unfortunately it encourages a way of life that partitions faith and the ‘real’ world which I have also seen. Why Christians conspire and tolerate this I don’t really know, where in their church life they tolerate attitudes that they would not tolerate on a Monday morning and put up with sitting through stuff they really don’t enjoy or want their friends to see them doing. Anyway, that’s probably another blog.

    That’s fine, and there may be a place for this type of church, where it’s us against the world so we need to stick together, with our own music and our tv channels and our own books, it’s just not my thing. I seem to spend a fair amount of time not in church circles, and I don’t say this to criticise other churches or imply this way is any better than another, it’s just the way the church is here. For many churches the ‘community’ stuff is a bolt on to church life and the church tries to find ways of integrating it into their life. For us, community life and work is the centre of our life and we try to work out how we can bring our spirituality (or ‘the gospel’ depending on your jargon preferences), into the community arena.

    Anyway, in the light of that very long introduction, here we go. I was at a wedding at the weekend, it was great, lots of (free) wine at the reception, relatively good music (I’m very fussy), good company, a lot of hilarity, hardly any Christians. (And, Mr Groom, in the unlikely event of you reading this, I loved the wedding, this is a reflection on how the church came across to me, I loved the whole thing and blessings to you both and the kids!!)

    It made me think.

    I’d been on the weed infused stag weekend (in case you’re ‘concerned’, no I didn’t), and knew a lot of the blokes there. We’d had a lot of discussions about all kinds of stuff. They’re all slightly amused at my job and, sadly, I seem to be the only Christian they have met that isn’t judgmental, anal or wierd (alright, one out of three ain’t bad). Now I recognise there are questions over their prejudices about Christians and the church, but that may come out later in the blog.

    But back to the wedding. Firstly was the churchy bit. They wanted to get married in a church, which shows some kind of desire for God’s blessing and the spiritual (in fact, the groom is a very spiritual man, although if you measured him by ‘church standards’ he would not be viewed as such). How did the church do at the wedding? Lovely setting, although it felt a bit like a victorian musem. The vicar also told some parents off for having noisy kids halfway through, which was unfortunate. I’m sure it wasn’t the intention, but that’s how it came across to me as it was suggetsed they go into another room. The words and everything were nice. It seemed a bit wierd, but rituals are, and perhaps that’s part of the mystery and mysticism. We were also given confetti instructions and at the end had to collect up the boxes and hand them in to avoid litter. It felt a bit like being at school and that we were a bit of a inconvenience to the smooth running of things. A bit harsh perhaps, but people seem to have this folk memory that the church should be friendly and welcoming (despite evidence to the contrary), so the slightest thing that gives a different message is greatly amplified.

    So, whilst it was nice, and great for the couple, I think we, as the church, could have done a bit better (and not asked for money for the upkeep of the church as well, especially when the couple had paid for the church hire. As my agnostic brother in law says, ‘the church, always got their hand out’).

    The next bit was the reception, nice it was. (And to counter-balance the general drift of this blog, the venue was a bar/club owned by a church and it sold good beer!). The reception was freely flowing with the food and the booze, as weddings should be (if you’re feelling frowny, look at Jesus and his wedding attendances/stories). At the end, a very drunk bloke came up and started chatting, this seems to happen a lot to me. The groom had obviously pointed me out and told him that I was a vicar, which is often the source of drunken amusement (not at deacons meetings you understand). Anyway, we chatted about stuff, I messed with his head a bit as drunk people are fun to toy with, and he said ‘what do you think of us then’. I think this was based on his assumption that I was the only Christian in attendance and that this must be some kind of novel experience for me. I said ‘what do you think I’m thinking?’, and he said, ‘you’re probably judging us all.’

    And that struck home.

    Why would I be doing that? How have we, as a church got ourselves into a position where people see us like this. And this isn’t the first time I’ve had this sort of conversation. Admittedly, some Christian and churches are like that, and perhaps they are the most vocal ones. But what a travesty of the Gospel and complete misrepresentation of Jesus, if people who aren’t part of the church think that is what we do, that this is what we are like.

    No wonder we’re in trouble. No wonder there are lots of Christians who have issues with the church institution and don’t go anymore, when they see that it perpetuates this world view and perception. Surely, it is easier to just leave it all behind and start again, as much of the emerging church is doing. (although it will be interesting to see if the emerging churches end up the same as the inherited church in a generation or two.)

    It would be nice to be in a position where the church wasn’t a place to deny the outside, our own private happy place, where talking about doing the normal things that most people do was thought of as a novelty. Quite what the answer is, I’m not sure. You may have picked up I’m not a big fan of the insular church, I’m not a big fan of a church that talks about ‘mission’and ‘saving people’, as I feel this language and mind set is out dated, slightly duplicitious, and makes a lot of Christians behave behave oddly as they are, in effect, trying to con people into coming to a ‘social event’ in order to get them to come to church. Is our message really so bad that we have to disguise it and fool people into hearing it.

    One of the ways we try to work this 0ut is by the way round we work. We try to find ways to integrate our faith into life, rather than change life to make it come along to our religion. To explain that, many church projects are done with the intention of bringing people to church. What happens is, the Church meets and does churchy things. It’s a self-contained community (hermetic, if you like) and only the people who go along know the rituals and routines. The Church wonders how to get more people in (for various reasons, depending on their theology). It then sets up projects, usually with the word ‘community’ in it, or, if they’re really new/clueless at it, ‘outreach’. The Punter comes to project, meets people, hopefully thinks they’re alright, is persuaded to come along one Sunday, feels a bit wierd but eventually gets the hang of it and then joins the hermetic order. This approach always expects people to change and conform to the institution (I’m not arguing that Christ doesn’t demand/lead to change, but that’s a different discussion). This approach is one of a distant organisation wanting to recruit new members to perpetuate itself.

    Another way is to be part of the life around you and doing stuff that makes sense to people and that they want to do/be part of. Be that a lunch club, kid’s club, stone carving project, whatever. And then try to bring your faith and spirituality to that and let it be shaped by what happens. This way is harder, longer term, and doesn’t have big marketing budgets or large churches promoting it. Also, it may not work as a church growth technique. I’ll let you know in another 10 years.

    So that’s my musing. Sorry, no conclusions or answers.

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Neil (the minister) occasionally gets round to blogging so welcome to the trivia and ramblings of an erratic stream of consciousness.

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