Month: July 2011

Going to Church for the First Time

We weren’t sure about what time proceedings were going to start or quite where it was going to happen but Dr Ruth had seen a sign that said 9 o’clock. Neither of us knew quite what to expect as the notice seemed quite vague but Dr Ruth plucked up the courage and said she wanted to go so we tentatively climbed the stairs.

When we arrived it seemed that we were late. Music was already playing and as we opened the door I squirmed a little like we were intruding. Everyone was in their seats and looked really comfortable. A silver haired lady jumped out of her seat and walked to the door with a smile. She appeared to be holding a wooden bowl with some money on it. I glanced to Dr Ruth who looked back. An unspoken sentence passed between us ‘but I thought it was free’. I can feel the words “I’m sorry, i think we’ve come to the wrong place” welling up in the back of my throat but i feel my hand fishing around in my pocket for loose change. The silver haired lady doesn’t push us to one side but her body language indicates that we are to be moved away from the main group…

“Would you like to buy some raffle tickets, they are a pound a strip”

Through the annals of my mind fleeting questions flicker and crackle like the the embers on bonfire night. Only one crystallises fully and bursts forth from my lips in the split second I am given to make a decision. “What is the prize?” I whisper in hushed tones not wanting to disturb the atmosphere or interrupt the lilting voice of the singers…

“A bottle of wine or a CD of….” the name escapes my memory but the artist was not someone I’ve over heard of. I didn’t want them but I felt that I must buy some tickets. All eyes seemed to be upon me, judging me with a beady glare. I took the perforated orange paper and slinked quietly to the back of the room.

The first thing to strike me was that everyone was so much older than us. If it was not for the guy with the acoustic guitar we would have been the youngest people in the room. This was a little unnerving.

As we quickly glanced around the room we realised that we were out of place. To our left was a man in a waistcoat with a bow tie. In fact, everyone seemed to be dressed as though appearing before high society. We on the other hand had arrived in full bike leathers carrying helmets. We sat conspicuously glancing around and occasionally whispering to each other:

“What do you think this means?”

“They all seem to know each other”

The songs that they were singing were unfamiliar. Everyone was joining in with a tune that we’d never heard and words that they seemed to be plucking from the air. A vocabulary that we didn’t even recognise was pouring out in a unity we were unable to join.

The song drew to a close and then the man who seemed to be in charge announced tentatively that ‘Dave is going to play’. Dave is rather predictably a man with an acoustic guitar. He spends a couple of minutes explaining that this was an older song and that we should all be able to join in.

He starts playing. I turn to Dr Ruth and whisper “I know this, I love this one”. She looks quizzically at me.

She whispers “I don’t know this” as her eyebrows bunch up closer together.

“But you must know this one, it’s a classic” as I enthusiastically join in with the chorus only to find that in the second line he’s changed some of the words. And the timing. It’s just not…. Singable.

Except everyone in the room seems to be familiar with it just as it is!!!

Next the man who is in charge asks us all if we would like to share anything. “Does anyone have a story or a song that they would be willing to bring to us? Anyone?…. No one ?…. Well if not, we’re going to play…”

Proceedings continue like this for a while longer. All the way through Dr Ruth spends the whole time whispering these lines to me:

“They want us to join in”

[“shhhhhh, we’ll just sit here”]

“But we could play SONG X or SONG Y”

[“No we couldn’t, they all seem to know each other”]

At the end we quietly put on our coats and tentatively made our way to the doors without trying to draw attention to ourselves. We opened the door with the minimum force required so as to not make a sound and then scurried away into the night….

And thus ended our first and last evening at a Highland Folk Music Group’s music night, open to all.

A Dead Church?

It isn’t often that I stick my head up and make comment on something like the synod of The Church of England but here goes. There was a report that prompted Dr Ruth and I to talk for a couple of hours this afternoon about the nature of God, The Church ™ and our place within it.

“The Church of England will cease to exist in 20 years as the current generation of elderly worshippers dies, Anglican leaders warned yesterday.”

This is a truism. For my beloved Church of England to continue witnessing into the future there needs to be a recognition of the changing world in which we minister. In the rhetoric that has been reported there have been some unfortunate soundbytes such as the need for a “recruitment drive”. There has also been the use of business model type language to describe the impending fall or rise of the good old CofE. This type of discussion has prompted me to a key theological question:

What is the role that The Church of England is called to within the missio dei?

To see our primary motivation to mission as merely “perpetuating The Church of England” as a goal in itself then we have missed the point. God is on a mission and invites us to be involved with it. We need to reexamine the true nature of our call as a church to go into the world as followers of the way. Along the way we need to keep pointing to our destination and call others to join us on the road. If we believe we need a “recruitment drive” then we may as well pack up the shop and go home now. We need to empower people to live out their baptism call corporately as the body of Christ.

How can i try to paint a picture of the problem as i see it? Lets imagine that The Church of England is transported to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. When Luke landed on Degoba he met with a little muppet called Yoda. Yoda did not turn to Luke and say “welcome to Degoba, you’ll love it here. Pull up a rock by the swamp, please stay”. Why would he stay in a place that is completely alien to him? Where is the desert he knows knows so well from his homeworld? And once he has crash landed here he meets someone who is completely alien to him. Yoda doesn’t speak the same kind of language as him, the lifestyle is completely alien to him. Luke almost walks away and fails to recognise that Yoda’s advancing years have given him an ancient wisdom. Ironically, Yoda tries to dismiss Luke for being too impetuous, youthful and “not the right kind of person to be one of us”.

When Yoda was talked around by Obi Wan he did not point to all of these differences and the settings around him. What he did was point towards something much more significant than himself or the place where he found himself. He pointed to something much more profound and something much deeper than Luke could imagine. He prepared Luke for the journey that he was on and eventually sent him off to fulfil that journey.

How can we as a church get beyond trying to recruit people to man the jumble sale and become more like Yoda?

Or as @emptybelly tweeted a couple of days ago:

If the 21st century church took Jesus as seriously as the 1st century church, this world would again be turned upside down for God’s kingdom

Midnight at 60 Degrees North


The cloud has lifted on Shetland and Dr Ruth and I are staring out of the window at this. The locals call it the Simmer Dim. The scenery has moved from stunning to 8-o