So... I have attended village churches throughout my life, for most of my 36 years. All fairly traditional, lots of liturgy, hymns, you know the standard kind of thing. However in all that time I never felt like I had any real faith, so my view is a bit clouded to say the least. I feel like I only ever got half the picture and partly this is down to the church. The traditional CofE approach seems to gloss over so much, but particularly Satan and spiritual warfare. Someone recently suggested to me that maybe they were talking about this stuff, but that I just wasn't open to it, so maybe I didn't really hear it. Of course this is possible, I mean I talk about my eyes being opened, so why not my ears too? However I still doubt this!
So my issue is not with the traditional approach per se (althought it is not for me right now), it is that they don't give the full picture. You tend to get a nicey-nicey view of Christianity, baby Jesus in the crib, isn't it lovely, sort of view. (I know this is a sweeping generalisation...) And how can you have a real view of Christianity or faith without having the whole picture?
(Incidentally, I am deliberately not going to mention any names of churches. This is my view and I do not wish to be openly negative about anywhere in particular. Equally I do keep my blog relatively anonymous, although not entirely and a little digging would give any answers that might arise, but I do prefer it that way - not that I am being particularly contraversial but I don't want to feel I should temper what I write. I do not actively invite people to my blog, if they find it they are totally welcome, but only a couple of people that actually know me read it regularly and one of those is my husband...!)In my opinion parish churches also seem to perpetuate the myth that it's ok to just go along on a Sunday morning every once in a while and just forget about God for the rest of the week... I mean for 20 years I went to a parish church, not really believing and certainly not living my life for Christ. I look at people from my old church who I once thought were totally committed to their faith and now I wonder, well are they? Not that I am judging them, but it's just that now I really know what real faith feels like, that it is changing my whole life, then I realise that others who I knew, maybe aren't living their life completely for Christ. So then I wonder about the congregations of other parish churches. From my own experience, there are lots of people in parish churches who attend for many reasons other than a committed faith. Maybe out of tradition, or duty, or for their children or a host of other reasons. Again I am not judging these people, I was one for 20 years! So then I think, well if I can attend a parish church for 20 years and really not believe at all, then how could that happen? how could the church let that happen? I am not bitter about it by the way, I know that I needed to go through a lot of rubbish to be in the place where I was ready to hear God eventually, but surely that must say something about what is missing in our churches?
For me it is about having the whole picture; its about listening to people who are TOTALLY committed to Christ and actively show that in their every day lives (and I don't just mean the Vicar)...
When people ask us why we are going to our church rather than any other I say, because it is child friendly and in fact more than that - the kids are actively encouraged to be part of the service; it has decent, modern worship music, that actually makes you feel that you are worshipping God; the preaching is totally relevant to todays world; and those that attend are, generally speaking, actively living the Christian life rather than just going along out of habit. I actually WANT to go to my church on a Sunday, I don't feel that I have to or should go out of some kind of duty. I do not drift off during sermons, I do not use prayer time as an excuse for 40 winks or to plan the weekly shop and neither do I use the post-communion time for a chat with my neighbour. Yes, these are all things I used to do at my old church. So that makes me wonder, is this about 'the church' or my faith? With my new found faith, could I regularly attend a traditional church and feel differently about it. Well of course, the answer is yes I could, but I don't want to, because my current church is feeding my faith. If I didn't have regular contact with the kind of people at my new church then I am sure my faith would suffer. I would like to say that of course it wouldn't, it's about what's in my heart. which is also true, but sharing with other believers who really 'get it' is so beneficial to my faith that I do not want to do without it. So then, is it about my faith? I now believe so fervently and with such a hunger to know more, that I have never had before. I look at people from my old church who I once thought were totally committed and now I wonder, well are they? Not that I am judging them, but it's just that now I really know what real faith feels like, that it is changing my whole life, then I realise that others who I knew, maybe aren't living their life completely for Christ.
I know it must be very difficult for the Parish Priest, he (or she) has to cater for his whole parish. He can't say, well if you don't like it, sod off... (ok some might do!). Generally speaking they have to cater for: young people, children, families, OAPS, and so many more, usually all in one service, in most churches the most attended is the mid Sunday morning church - locally it's 9.30 or 9.45. So how can one possibly appeal to all those people in one service? I have only ever been to 2 churches that do this well, but admittedly probably do alienate a few people along the way.
Obviously a plant church doesnt have that need put upon it, they can say to people, come along and see if you like it, if not, that's fine, it's not for everybody. But then in this day and age when most of us have access to a car, should the parish church still have to cater for its parish? Most parish churches, except in very rural areas, have at least 3 services on a Sunday, all with the usual traditional liturgy, catering for a very similar audience at each service. SO.... could one of these services be a bit different? to maybe appeal to a wider audience?
I am NOT completely anti the traditional. Approach to worship is a very individual thing, I do realise that. My Dad for example would not in a million years chose to come to our church regularly. BUT there are a lot of people out there who are travelling a long way to go to church on Sunday morning rather than a quick walk or short drive to their parish one, that must say something right?
A friend of mine came ot our church today for the first time and in a email to me tonight she wrote the following:
'I think it's an awful pity in a way that the C of E is struggling so much, and yet it would appear to me (based on my very wide sample of one!) that Christianity is most definitely out there, and that modern people do believe - they just don't want the old fashioned way of doing it. Most vicars would give their right arms for a fraction of the congregation there today. Says something, doesn't it!'