Friday, 31 October 2014

Just-go-to-church - a tentative movement

We get a look at Country Living magazine when we visit my beautiful mama, because she has a subscription to it. The Christmas copy always feels delectably festive, so we fork out from the housekeeping to buy our own copy. It’s out now, this last week of October – ‘a little bit previous’, as they say in Yorkshire.

So in between things, over a cup of tea this afternoon, I took a look at it. The Christmas issue always includes a feature on the seasonal celebrations at a country parish church; this year it’s St Beuno’s on Exmoor, apparently the smallest church in England. It is a Saxon church named after a 7th century saint – so, a link with England in the very-far-from-Dark Ages. And the article says: ‘Why it was built in this remote location is a mystery – perhaps to hide from Exmoor’s weather or heathen marauders, but also to serve the spiritual needs of the forest workers who supplied Porlock’s shipyards with timber.’

Well, now.

When I was a child at school the teachers observed a strict classroom policy of ‘no shouting out’. If the teacher asked a question – or if the student had a question – the de rigueur procedure was to raise your hand and wait for the teacher to respond. If the teacher had put the class a question, many students might have a hand raised, in which case the teacher would choose. Or pick on those who had not raised a hand, ignoring all those who had.

Any class of children included a handful, usually boys, desperately eager to be chosen to answer a question. Their raised hands were held as high aloft as the child could strain, jabbing the air with fingers outstretched, as the child in tones of agony uttered a (muted) cry of ‘Sir! Sir! Sir!’ or ‘Miss! Miss! Miss!’ (depending on the gender of the teacher, obviously).

The Hermiones of the educational world.

Mostly, regardless of the question, I have no answers. In my mind questions proliferate and answers are few. To almost any enquiry my mind formulates the response, ‘Well . . . it depends what you mean . . .’

But, now, this business of St Beuno’s church. Why could it possibly have been built, in that remote place?

And for once I've got my hand up: 'Sir! Sir! Sir!'

Could it be that everywhere was remote in England in the Dark Ages, Exmoor no more than anywhere else? Could it be that Saxon settlements were less durable than, say, Roman towns with their villas and aqueducts, and left less trace when long-ago communities had ceased to be? Could it be that – hard to imagine, I know – the holy men who built it were seeking a measure of separation from human society, drawing apart to pray and wait upon God? ‘Abide ye here with the ass; the lad and I will go yonder.’

And for what purpose might that church have been built? Ooh, let me think . . . As a shelter from the weather . . . mmm . . . No.  To hide from the benighted heathen? Er . . .  probably not. The men who built that church would have been missionaries, not hiding from the heathen. They weren’t shy. They weren’t timid. They weren’t scared. They were men of faith and conviction, the old Celtic saints. Hiding? A thousand times no.

Oh. So, to serve the spiritual needs of persons from Porlock, then? Up to a point, maybe.

Or perhaps St Beuno's was not conceived to be all about human society and community activity.

You know why I think they built that church? Oh, go on – you do. Yes. Call me old-fashioned, call me unimaginative, but I think they built St Beuno's for the worship of God.

Now, here’s the thing. I’m wondering if the time could conceivably be ripe for what one might call a just-go-to-church movement.

Maybe not. Maybe it’s just me. 

I do want to go to church – but only to worship God. Then I want to go home.

I don’t mind making friends, in a quiet way. I’m not a total misanthropist. And I don’t mind other people being community-minded. If folk like their churches buzzing with friendliness and social events, well, that’s good isn’t it? I applaud it and admire it – but I don’t want to go there.

I was reading the Country Living article and thinking it looked nice at St Beuno’s until I read the dread words (this was Colin the vicar), ‘I do like to get others involved.’ My italics, not Colin’s.

Oooh, stop it Colin!

What my heart longs for is a little church in a field, the inside simple and plain. Quiet worship, peaceful and traditional.  Just an hour long. A thoughtful homily. Prayers for the worldwide human community and the peace of the earth, for the suffering and the dying, the bereaved. Prayers of thanksgiving for God’s loving-kindness, for the wonder and the beauty of being here. The peace passed without chatter or excitement. Our communion made. Quiet greetings and smiles exchanged. And then go home. No questions. No 'involvement'. No Sunday School, no events. Just people and God.

Okay, I apologise. It really is just me, isn’t it? My just-go-to-church movement will be a minority of one.


AbiSomeone said...

I'm fairly certain you are less alone than you think in this, Ember.

kortney said...

oh no, you won't be alone. i'll be there too!

LANA said...

Again you have expressed what my heart and mind has been telling me. I have not been to church in years. What turned me off was the "hootenanny handshake" where you have to greet your neighbor and shake their hand. I am Catholic but was raised Lutheran. I miss the simplicity of the church I grew up in, where we sang the simple hymns and saying hello was enough. Also I have found when I tried to attend a new church now and then, people seemed to know I was "new" and went out of their way to inform me of all the church goings-on that I should know about, when all I wanted to do was worship and be left alone. So see, there are probably many others who share your feelings about worship being the priority, and not socializing. I may give it a go again one of these days and hope for the best. Do you think you will try again?

Ganeida said...

What do those of us who like it quiet then do with the vast majority? Sundays exhaust me ~ & I do get to keep the whole thing fairly low key.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friends :0)

Lana - I go to church sometimes, and I try to keep faith with Jesus in my daily life.

Ganeida - interesting question. I respect and even admire the preference of most people for a sociable and friendly worship experience; so I guess (and feel a bit embarrassed and guilty that this is so) my main response is, leave them to it.

Julie B. said...

St. Beuno's -- what a wonderful edifice. And I would prefer to go to church to worship the Lord and then go home. I love people, but prefer to be peoply away from church. And the movement has begun.... :) xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. St Beuno's looks lovely, but it seems like we'll be needing a bigger church!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. We are currently unchurched, meeting our own spiritual needs though prayer, contemplation, bible study on our own or in fellowship with like minded friends. And, if we ventured forth to an established church again, for me at least, it would be to worship.

tonia said...

This made me smile. And want to give a quiet little shout. YES! I would love to go to church to worship, then come home without all the pressure to be friendly and involved and communal. :) I really can't thank you enough for just being you and letting me know there is a place in the world for those of us who are less excited the rest of the world seems to be. :)

San said...

Minority of one? Nay, Lass!! Budge up and let another sit beside ye quietly in a pew :-)


Pen Wilcock said...

Haha! Ooh good, Tonia - I thought I might be coming across a tad sour! xx

San - hiya - you have been much on my mind - hope you are all okay - praying for y'all and blessing you when you come into my thoughts. xx

Patricia said...

This church is getting quite full! Perhaps we have lost the art in being silent before God. Do we "miss" God in all the noise and socializing. Yes we may have had a good service but did we meet God.
There is a time to be social and a time to worship ...not necessarily together and at the same time.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I'd be there too, Pen. What a wonderful post.

DaisyAnon said...

Yes indeed, me too Miss, me too!

When I was a regular churchgoer I sometimes suspected that for some people the actual time of worship was a rather irritating interruption to the important business of socialising and arranging social events.

This is one of the things I love about the 12 Step Fellowships, and The Julian Meetings. We go along and there are no further obligations. Yes, some things have to be done, but it is very low key. The meeting is the important thing and 'business' is kept firmly in its place.

12 Step 'Tradition Nine' is 'ought never be organised but we may create service boards and committees directly responsible to those they serve', and The JM's have a similar ethos.

Anyone wanting to hold a fundraiser event would be gently told that 'This is not what we do' and why.

There seem to be so many of us I often wonder why we do not manage to set up our own Sunday meetings. The institutional churches and their clergy are not necessary.

Rebecca said...

I'm a little conflicted here, I admit. I understand and share your longing for "worship"...On the other hand, Scripture itself seems to point toward "community". Surely there is place for both? Maybe we're just not doing it right--or well?

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friends!

Daisy - you speak my mind!For some time now a small internal voice has been muttering to me about that thing you say: "I often wonder why we do not manage to set up our own Sunday meetings. The institutional churches and their clergy are not necessary." Hmm.

Rebecca - Yes, I feel the same way about taking seriously the scriptural imperative to community but, to me, such worship as I imagine would be community. If community is plain and simple, without hype, hierarchy, expense and a lot of socialising, I'm all for it. The whole of my adult life I have chosen to share my home with others, and it is important to me that we help carry each other's burdens. My grandfather had on his wall a framed quotation: "Help thou thy brother's boat across, and lo, thine own has touched the shore." I'm a real believer in doing the journey together. But quietly.
As a friend of mine once memorably said to his lover, "FFS do it gently!" I think that can be applied to the whole of life.

Denise said...

yes please to your church. I'd glady attend!

Rebecca said...

I think we may be closer together on this subject that I realize. "Socialising" has many meanings and many of them don't appeal to me, either. Fund-raising events do not belong in church, in my opinion. However, worship is not synonymous (in my understanding) with instruction or necessarily with intercessory & communal prayer...Biblical fellowship has been cheapened and substitutions are unsatisfying so many people turn to other organizations to satisfy the vacuum created when "church" is less than "church" should be.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi friends!

Rebecca, that's very interesting. Here in the UK (same in the US??) "worship" in, say, the Methodist or Anglican traditions would mean the whole service - all the prayers, hymns, sermon - whereas in some of the more recent Evangelical church forms, for example New Frontiers, "worship" can sometimes mean the part of the service devoted to a block of singing.
When I say "worship", I am thinking of the whole service.

Rapunzel said...

It would be hard to keep such a church small I think.
It sounds ideal to me though, simple worship and no rock band!

gail said...

Hi Pen, yes, sometimes the before and after church socialising is a bit much for me too. I love to just quietly enter church and take a bit of time before the service starts to clear my mind of the worldly clutter and quieten my soul and then when we finish just quietly leave. Oh goodness, wouldn't that be lovely.
Have a lovely day Pen and to all who visit here.
Blessings Gail

Pen Wilcock said...


Hello friends - waving! xx

gretchen said...

it seems that here in the states, there are plenty of extrovert churches - lots of glad-handing, activities for young and old, fund-raising projects, mission drives, sunday school for both adults and children, church services that begin with the words 'yee-haw' (i am not making this up!), lots of snappy music, pot-luck suppers, women's groups, men's groups, teen groups . . .and very little else. a quiet place to simply come and worship? oh, heaven, lead me to it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Friend, you speak my mind! xx

Lucy Honeychurch said...

Pen, that is one of the reasons I attend a large Cathedral. It seems like the only place I can quietly enter and exit without having to socially engage. The problem as I see it is that if you belong to a small church the very act of coming together necessitates a certain amount of relationship. It's almost unavoidable. And as a bit of a recluse that is exactly what I have discovered. I found the simple plain little church you speak of. It was small in number but I just couldn't face the social expectations associated with attending a tiny church when my need was for quiet, contemplative worship.
Then of course I wonder whether church goes beyond my needs. Whilst I crave a singular worship experience, maybe it is those very connections that help me to better love and be loved and to give to others? Is their need greater than mine? So many questions that fly around this tiny mind. :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you! I think your comment touches exactly on an issue I'd love to pursue - when you say 'I wonder whether church goes beyond my needs' - I mean, yes, that's the question; or as Shakespeare put it, 'Aye, there's the rub!'
I'll pick up what you've said in a new blog post later today. xxx

Anonymous said...

Oh Pen, you've really touched on a subject that goes round and round in my head constantly.From a churchgoing background I have evolved into a solitary who rarely, if ever, goes to church. And I can't imagine that ever changing.Church makes me feel claustrophobic in every respect. And yet, I am a very gregarious person, and I love to meet people of all faiths and none. Just people, No labels.
This is the problem as I see it. If you belong to a church, by implication, you are expected to belong to that club in every respect. Sign up to their views and be identified as one of them. In the fold, as it were. In my book, that excludes the rest of the world and I am not prepared to do that.
And no, I can't stand the smug, we've been to church, before and after chit chat. Hope that doesn't sound too harsh. Give me an empty church, with just me and silence.
It's so good to have this blog the exchange these views. I'm sure that this discussion has a long way to go yet.
God Bless

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah yes - that keeping in step with the marching band cause me some qualms of conscience too! xx

Jenna said...

I'm late on this one--been uber busy. But I wanted to chime in. I spent 40 years as a "church gypsy." And what I've finally figured out is to do what the Bible says. Even that part to the left of Matthew that we were told didn't apply to us (except on tithing pledge days, ironically); that was for those "Jews." (No.) And what we find when we search the word "shabbat" (sabbath) is that there are miqra kodesh (holy convocations) only on the feast days. We are told that the Shabbat is the sign of His people; it's the Bride's engagement ring. It's for rest, the word means "to cease." Cease being in the world.

What I found in today's "church" is that there's a guy who is paid (usually) who stands up and reads spending 1 minute or 2 reading God's word and then 28 or 29 adding his comment to it, as if the holy Word needed his help.

In my perfect world, I would gather with believers to hear the Scriptures read--as Nehemiah and Ezra did with the children of Israel when they were returned to the Land. Even in Yahshua's day, the Purishim (Pharisees, from the Hasmonean period--not ordained by YHVH) read Scripture from Moses' seat in the synagogue and rose to give their comment on it. That's why Yashua said to do as they say while they're in Moses seat but not as they said when they were giving their opinion on it (and ultimately fencing it off with their endless additions!! Matt 23). Maybe we'd read from the Torah portion and then have some time to simply reflect upon in Quakerly silence. I don't know. There is this tradition handed down from paganinity (thank you, Constantine and your paid staff, aka "early church fathers") and it's unfounded in Scripture. Believers have always gathered to eat, pray, study--but just as typically on other days as the Shabbat. The assembly, the ekklesia, was more a way of life than an event or occasion.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Thanks, Jenna! xx