Today we went to church. That is not an earth-shattering admission for most people to make, neither is it for me, though from my point of view it is a really foreign and alien-feeling thing to do.
My Dad was a Church of England vicar when I was a kid, up until I was perhaps 8, so I’m thinking I must have gone to church a lot then. But around the time I was 8 he and my mom split up, at which point my Dad switched faiths to Wicca or witchcraft, became high priest of a coven, and I pretty much hardly remember going to church again.
I know that we did, at my new primary school which was twinned with the local church, but I don’t hold many memories of it. I don’t think those were the normal Sunday morning visits either- more the special events put on by the school, where the kids sang in a choir and who knows what else…
Suffice it to say- I haven’t been to church, minus weddings and a single random visit to St. Paul’s in central London, for perhaps 27 years.
Really? Wow, yeah, I suppose so. During that 27 I for a time became a little strongly atheist. I’d look out for fights about religion. Then I stopped bothering- I think in line with most of the UK population who seem largely secular. Talking about God is embarrassing and when politicians do it they get mocked.
So I am an atheist. But I went to church, and am planning to go back.
Here is a picture of our church:
It’s a lovely old brick building. We went to the Sunday 9am sermon, me in jeans and a suit jacket (never done that before. Do they match? SY said yes). We were welcomed warmly, went to our seat, and so it began.
I felt quite nervous, expecting at any moment that someone would stalk over to me, after obviously recognizing what I was up to, hold up my hand and cry- “Atheist! Burn the atheist! Or are you willing to profess your undying faith to Jesu Christ for now and ever amen?”
Of course it wouldn’t be like that. I did feel like a charlatan though. This was compounded by not even knowing what kind of church we were in. Was it Church of England, which I’m pretty confident I can belong in (having been baptized- I think that makes me one of the in-crowd), or Catholic, or Baptist, or Protestant, or what?
What is the protocol? Is there a special handshake? Just what secret society sign am I going to screw up that will let on I don’t know what the hell I am doing?
We sat and listened to a sermon about meekness. It rhymes with weakness but they’re not the same- OK, I can roll with that. Later on we sang- ‘Stand up for Christ’ which was kind of a Holy War song, quite rousing stuff. In fact this is why I came- join a community of nice, friendly people.
Then came communion. Panic set in. I looked at SY, she looked at me. WTF is this? Is this Catholic? What’s going on? What does it mean, and am I eligible? Do we have to do it? What’s the script?
The guy started coming down the aisle to collect us.
“Is it optional?” I’m whispering to SY frantically. She doesn’t know. I consider asking the guy- “Uh, what are the eligibility requirements?” like it’s a theme park ride and I have to be the right height. Can they divine from the way I eat a bit of bread if I am a heathen or not?
Well, I wanted to watch and see if anyone demurred, but we were quite close to the front and nobody did, so we had no choice but to join the queue. Up to the front we go, hearts in mouth, kneel, take a bit of bread, amen, drink some wine, amen, then back down.
Phew. A little cannibalism never hurt anyone.
Is this a Church of England thing? I suppose so- since I later found out this is an Anglican church (they tried pretty hard to obfuscate any sign that this is C of E). It seems so Catholic. But I guess I was never an adult in church, so I’d never really seen this or done this before. I checked though- the entry requirement seems to be baptism.
OK, so I’ve been baptized, I’m good. Apparently some places require Confirmation to take communion, and I think that involves a decision made as an adult, which of course I’ve never done. Perhaps there is there a paper to go with it- like a passport or a driving license. All I know is they didn’t ask for any ID…
After this gauntlet we all ‘shared the peace’. This was quite lovely, and involved all of us wandering around shaking hands and saying- “Peace be upon you.” I could get into this. Why are we not doing this on crowded trains? In elevators? It doesn’t hurt a bit, it charges you up and makes you feel one with the good intentions of your fellow man.
After sharing the peace I felt good. Then came the holy war song, and I was starting to relax and feel sold. My discomfort was fading, I guess at not being found out. Then it was done, and we went to the back, about to scurry quickly out. But we got caught for some free coffee, then got chatting. A lovely old chap talked about the plans to modernize the church. A lovely older couple told us about the area. A less lovely old lady chastised me for stepping back and nearly kicking her cane out from under her.
Well, I apologized. She must have been standing right behind me like a ninja, cos I hardly took a step back. Sigh, you don’t win them all. Even after I apologized she went on about it. I turned the other cheek, as one should.
At the same time, the church was warming up for the ‘Family Service’, wherein the vicar takes off his robes, a band kicks in, the big TV screens come on and everybody, I can only assume, rocks out. Maybe we’ll go to that next time?
We also chatted to the vicar. A tall chap who looked and sounded like Mark Strong. That is authority!
Finally, the lovely couple offered to drive us home! We demurred but they insisted. It’s only a 5-minute walk but they took us. En route they invited us prospectively to dinner!
Wow. We walked in our door just feeling blown away. In line with yesterday’s post, just waiting for all these good things to get stripped away, I couldn’t believe how nice the whole thing had been. Surely this can’t be real? When do they hit us with the self-flagellation and massive fees to pay for forgivenesses? It was a little too nice, if you know what I mean.
I think next week we’ll go along to the Family Service and rock out ourselves. I’ll stay suspicious though so I don’t get brainwashed. It is true there is an awful lot of 1984-esque repetition of stuff about how great God is.
But, yeah. We mean well. I think that is the key. Plus SY is really a believer, I think. I don’t believe in God, but so what, pretty much the rest of it seems good, so why not believe in that? Praying for sick people seems a nice thing to do- it amounts to thinking nice thoughts for unfortunate strangers- and that’s good for my own soul even if it has no benefit to them. It’s hard to argue with Jesus. Why not get on board?