Should church be so happy?

Mike GristLife 5 Comments

So we went to church again today, to the matinee show at 10:45 that caters to families. It was totally different to the 9:00 morning service:

  • The church was packed to the gills.
  • There was even more repetition of songs saying ‘God is strong, he will protect me, I’m desperate for Jesus (they really sang that), I’m nothing without God, I love him so’, following along with a pop band.
  • The charismatic tall Mark Strong-lookalike vicar was not there, instead we had the older lady who felt like your home tutor in primary school, reading through a lot of community announcements and struggling a bit with the interactive sermon.

I’m sounding already like an ass by critiquing this. I am obviously not the target for this kind of service- it’s aimed first of all at people who believe, among whose number I am not, and secondly it’s aimed at families, hence being called the ‘family service’. They had kids blowing bubbles during the prayer list. They do prayer every day at 7:45 am and pm, as well as a prayer day when people come in and pray together.

I find it amazing that this is real. It seems they really believe in prayer? Or is all of this tongue-in-cheek? Who can say. It probably is nice – as I said last week – to think nice thoughts about others. Yeah, not much point in arguing about it- it’s not a waste of time if they get something out of it.

The sermon was quite limited, and mostly comprised of kids coming up and hanging paper leaves on a dying apple tree. I think the message there was a bit off, ie-

The preacher said there is life in this tree yet. We can help this tree by giving it love. Here are some green shoots. Let’s help it some more by adding some more leaves. What shall we write on this leaf? Children? OK, write hope on the leaf. Next leaf? Charity.

Soon the tree is covered in paper leaves.

Now we’ve helped the tree. It looks a lot better, doesn’t it?

Huh. I’m thinking, well, we’ve decorated the tree. We haven’t helped it. It looks better on the outside but its still dying on the outside. So is this like the prayer stuff? We feel better but reality hasn’t actually changed. Maybe this is my feeling about church so far, especially this family service. Too much rejoicing and not enough inner contemplation. What are we all so happy about?

I wanna feel guilty in church. And if not guilty, then contemplative. I want the lecture on morality. I want to be taught something, or at least have someone try to teach me something. I want it quiet, thoughtful, and when we sing I want there to be some poetry and meaning in the hymns we sing, not repetitive pop. I want to be part of an ongoing tradition that has lasted for centuries.

This new style seems like pandering. Church is boring? OK, so we’ll make it fun. We’ll take out most of the content. We’ll add in pop songs with needy lyrics and video screens with dodgy powerpoints. What is left then is more like a Butlins camp.

Ha, I said I wouldn’t criticize! Now I am definitely being an ass. And it’s true they are doing tangible charity. They collected canned goods for Harvest which will go to the needy somewhere. They sponsor kids round the world. If you believe in prayer- then so much prayer is doing great work.

Like I said, it’s not for us, and not targeted at us, and no doubt it serves very well as a community hub. It was packed! Babies were baptized, people were raising their hands to heaven during the songs, kids got involved and the community did something together. That is some good energy.

I guess we won’t go to the family service again. I’ll take the heavier, quieter one. Actually we will try the Baptist church next week I expect. Never done that before. Any tips on what to expect?

Comments 5

  1. Try my old church.

    Unitarian Universalist.

    Many a sermon with lots of contemplation but no mention of Jesus. No fire and brimstone neither. God, if he/she exists, is unknowable and we support each person’s personal search/belief system as long as you respect others equally.

    Lots of focus on the greater good, speaking up for underdogs.

    1. Post

      That sounds pretty darn close to what I would be looking for, Rob. There’s a couple of them in London, and maybe we’ll check them out. I guess we could church and denomination-hop round London endlessly, trying all the churches out and reviewing them.

      Which is the best church for atheists? Maybe that is a website I could make some money on? 😉

      I like the idea of respecting unknowability. I don’t like the term ‘agnostic’ as it sounds wimpish, but perhaps atheist is too much in the negative direction. Stating there is no God seems just as much a belief as stating there is one. Areligious is better. Spiritual? No thank you, the woo woo hippy connotation is too strong with that. I suppose humanist cracks the right nut? There’s a humanist meeting at a coffee shop this Wednesday, maybe I’ll go…

  2. Your mom used to be a Baptist, you know.

    My guess is the Baptists will be much like St Chads. What you want is something more traditional and/or Anglo-Catholic. Try
    They’re right at the other end of the ecclesiastical spectrum; there’ll be chanting and vestments and probably even incense.

    They’ll be a lot more dignified


    1. Post

      I had no idea mom was a Baptist, that’s interesting. I guess I will go along this week to find out what they’re about.

      Thanks for the tip on St Alban’s- it looks very solemn (seems may of their services even have solemn in the title). We’ll give it a try too. Incense would be a big step up from bubbles ;), and repetitive chanting is surely better than repetitive pop…

      1. Have you seen St Alban’s art gallery? Looks like the church would be worth a visit just to see all the paintings and sculpture and stained glass.

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