How do we do Church?

A fresh batch of homemade buttermilk scones.

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My time machine of praxis tells me that a thousand years ago the church was not making scones   and cups of tea; that the church was not affirming the latest candidate for the Mother’s Union or arguing about the rota for readings.

It may be that the life of your Church bears no relationship to these things, that in your church other things top the agenda, I don’t know, but what I am sure of is that many Church of England churches are quite fixed in their pattern of life and that variation, modernisation or indeed innovation is hard to find.

Are we too comfortable with the way we do things?  Do we want to keep close to the familiar, stay safe and try to remain the more conservative sort at prayer?

I don’t know how it is at your church, maybe you believe that you do embrace change and a challenge.  Perhaps at your church you are innovative and varied, maybe even ‘modern’.

Nonetheless I am of the opinion that much of what we do as church is geared to an existing clientele.

How far the outsider can feel relevant to the life of your church is something that is worth considering.  Do newcomers fit into the way things are or do we respond to their specific needs?  So often the litany of ‘we’ve tried that before’ is sung, amongst many other ditties.

How can we make our life, as worshipping people, speak of God in the lives of others?  Are we an historic edifice that will always be quaint and harmless, or are we prepared to take risks and follow the Holy Spirit into the places and into the lifestyles of the people of England?

How about a service to celebrate other stuff?  How about a service that can add to the harvest and Christingle?   In a country that is experiencing change, how far can we meet that change by putting the richness of Christian worship into the lives of ordinary people.  Not a one off, but a new set of ‘traditions’ to mark the things in our lives.

I don’t know what that might be, maybe a service of thanksgiving for the passing of a driving test or a weekend of fishing with hours of prayer and blessing, thanksgiving and so on.


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5 Responses to How do we do Church?

  1. UKViewer says:

    I thought that the beauty of Common Worship is a relative freedom to design services to match the aspirations of individual churches or even groups within churches for variation and experimental worship.

    I think that you’re right that many congregations are quite settled, but the younger ones are the ones who want risk taking in services provided. I believe that as long as a Service of Holy Communion is provided weekly, than it’s up to the Vicar and PCC what services are provided.

    I just wonder about the average age of PCC members. In our benefice, the majority are in the senior citizen category – so innovation comes from our Vicar and Young curate and several lay ministers. Which is really the tail wagging the dog.

    As long as PCC’s set their face against change, than churches will stagnate.

    • Erika Baker says:

      And then you invariably find that it’s the young at heart among the old and established ones who go on the fishing weekend, hoping it will not look as cringeworthy as they feel. And those we want to attract don’t even notice.

      Most people haven’t got a clue whether our services are ancient or modern, whether our PCCs and congregations are young, old or mixed, whether we serve funky coffee or have knitted tea cosies.

      They never get close enough to a church to discover all of this, they don’t read our notices, our pew sheets, our magazines, they don’t check our websites unless they want to get married.

      My life is surrounded by teenagers. Only one goes to a Christian youth group and even she doesn’t have a faith, she just likes going. Many of those kids were brought up in churches with creative children’s activities, lots of involvement in the Services, huge amounts of encouragement from the congregation.
      Now, they genuinely don’t ask the faith questions, they never really absorbed more than a mild agnostic faith and if I suggested that we have a service of celebrating driving tests passed they’d give me these withering and piercing “Mother!!!” looks only teenagers can muster.

      My big question is how to get them even to ask the questions we might eventually be able to help them find answers to.

  2. Sipech says:

    I must say, you’re almost starting to sound like the pastor of the local church I attend! Almost anyone who has spent time in a variety of different churches will have come across rotaholics, radicals and just about everyone in between.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment in the 2 paragraphs following “Nonetheless”. There is a constant balancing act between welcoming in new people (whether they be new to any church, or simpy new to ‘this’ one) and encouraging and teaching those who’ve been around for decades. I’m not sure where that balance lies but I’ve been to a lot of imbalanced churches.

    I think we could do well to try to emulate Paul’s approach to be all things to all people, whilst at the same time keeping an eye out for each other’s sanity.

  3. Kate says:

    ***I don’t know what that might be, maybe a service of thanksgiving for the passing of a driving test or a weekend of fishing with hours of prayer and blessing, thanksgiving and so on.***

    Nooo, I don’t think it’s that — I’m reminded of the moment when the C of E decided to ‘modernise’ baptism because they thought the archaism would put people off, when actually, as Erica says, the fall off in services happens well before the church door . Surely the one selling point the church still retains is the idea of a place to go for a bigger picture, and I fear ‘celebrate your driving test’ would make it look as if the church look *really* trivial as if it were trying to get in on the Hallmark Card market.

    I loved Richard Holloway and Karen Armstrong sounding just so damn intelligent about religion, what its strengths and weaknesses are, on Start the Week: they gave the powerful impression that it contains something interesting and is not just elderly bigots doing mad stuff. May be just personal taste, but a freer conversation about what faith is, instead of a starting point of a number of specific propositions that most people find incredible might be more productive. How that actually translates into practical action, I am less sure. Maybe talks that are specifically *not* church services about the nature of belief. Getting people through the door on any pretext at all is the challenge I suspect.

  4. I heard a story this week about a woman who eventually came to Christian faith through a circuitous route but a key moment came when she found a way to church. What she said was “I managed to get an invitation to church”. This says a lot about the perception of church as a closed club and how those outside have no idea what goes on inside or that all are welcome – you don’t need a ticket or an invitation – but without the personal invitation how would that woman have known that?

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