Church: A snapshot of one congregation…

Posted by on Sep 23, 2016 in Blog | 4 comments

Rosemary and I were in the UK recently and finding ourselves free on the Sunday morning, decided to attend the Church of England service taking place across the road from our hotel. Struggle one was finding the entrance,  though once spotted, it was clear enough. There were about 60 in the congregation, and we had gathered for the sung Eucharist – the only service being held that day. I know nothing about the congregation, but several things struck me…

  • There was a warmth of welcome that was very reassuring. An elderly man at the door immediately said to us, ‘I don’t think I’ve seen you before. You are very welcome. Here is some information about us. Hope you enjoy the service.’ It was low key, but sincere.
  • The brochure told us that the church was an officially registered inclusive church – that is inclusive of all people regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or any disability they might have. I wasn’t aware that churches could officially register themselves as ‘inclusive’ – so that intrigued me a little.
  • The congregation was genuinely diverse. Lots of different nationalities, older rather than younger, but by no means exclusively so. Most people were on their own – but connecting to others in the congregation. Other than for Rosemary and I, I only saw one couple that looked as though they were married.
  • A visiting vicar led the service, and she did so rather beautifully. Very warm and affirming – not the rattle through the liturgy as quickly as possible that I have sometimes experienced.
  • The message was short but thoughtful and open ended. The preacher spoke from Luke 16 – the parable of the dishonest manager – and said it was the one parable where she disagreed with Jesus and thought he got it wrong… Can’t say I have heard many sermons on why Jesus got it wrong. The service as a whole had a strong focus on social justice and the apparent condoning of dishonesty and manipulation in Luke 16:1-13 was a bridge too far for this vicar – and fair enough. It has left me pondering the many (many) different explanations of this parable.
  • Several people participated in the service. Some were eloquent, others not, but each seemed to take their responsibility seriously and came across as being genuine. Some of the participants looked genuinely alternate… The man who led the longest block of prayers looked as though he might well have had a past as a street dweller. Now that judgement is superficial and I might be 100% wrong – but I did notice a little old lady (who looked like everyone’s ideal grandmother) chatting to him very warmly and thought there was something remarkably good about the portrait.
  • There were plenty of clues that this was not an evangelical Anglican Church, but my, there was a lot of Scripture in the service. Four Bible readings actually – and I still roughly remember them – From Amos, then a Psalm, then Luke 16 (and we stood to honour the Gospel reading), then from 2 Timothy. So here was a congregation that was ready to dismiss Luke 16 as one of Jesus’ rare mistakes, but that still immersed itself in Scripture, and clearly viewed it as pivotal.
  • It was an all hymn service… Some interesting and singable… And yes, some distinctly dreary (one 8 verses long and sung at a snails pace).
  • Far and away the highlight of the service was the passing of the peace. People really participated – I think I was wished peace by all 60 of the people there.
  • The service ended with a modestly impressive organ voluntary, after which everyone burst into spontaneous applause. The organist – who looked like a music student (though again – I might be 100% wrong) – beamed at the congregation in delight, clearly pleased that her efforts were appreciated.
  • Service over, notices were given. The congregation’s jumble sale had realised 142 pounds for a local animal shelter – so clearly their concern for justice is not restricted to humans. They then prayed for a student who was about to go away to study at University for the first time, and gave her a gift. A nice gesture I thought.

We left conscious that being in London, we could have used the time to visit another gallery or historic site (and there are so many to choose from) and could even have attended one of the great Cathedrals, but this was Sunday, the Lord’s Day – and we felt we had observed it well with this gentle congregation, with whom we entered a timeless rhythm of prayers, and songs and scripture and quiet reflection – and a brief entry into the lives of many different and diverse people. I doubt that congregation will ever make it into the pages of any church growth manual, but they encouraged me, and I am grateful for their witness…

As always, nice chatting…

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing how that little liturgy touched and included you, a stranger.

    Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager challenges me every time I read it. I’m the kind of person Jesus told that parable against. I’m so concerned with not misusing money that I’m not as good as the crooked guy who used it to make friends. Jesus is right: my ethics are inferior to the crooked guy, ‘coz I’m missing what matters most.

  2. Great read, Brian. I am with Dorelle for a few days.

    • Great to hear from you Becky. Have a wonderful stay at Dorelle’s. Drink in those wonderful views.

  3. This post reminded me of how important the manner of welcome is when you visit a congregation for the first time or while on holiday. I remember one instance when the welcome at the door of the church was warm and friendly. I was scarcely seated until someone placed a Visitor’s Book on my knee, handed me a pen and asked me to sign. That was immediately followed by someone else who gave me a leaflet guiding me to places locally where I could get emergency food and help. Each one of these “welcomes” was good in essence but,in total, overwhelming.

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