Friday, 24 February 2012

More on meaning

Of course church life depends to some extend on its finances and its bricks and mortar to proceed.

Of course the creation of beauty in artefacts is a worthwhile endeavour, and the church is one of few remaining communities offering patronage to artists and craftsmen.

Of course sublime music lifts the human spirit, at times near to heaven.

Of course the ancient buildings of the Church – I think of Ely Cathedral, I think of York Minster – speak to us of mystery and summon a sense of the numinous in a way most places in modern life simply do not.

Of course having a building and staffing the church with paid clergy can contribute towards the proclamation of the Gospel and the rescue of souls from the various miseries into which humanity so easily falls.


Did we ever need to be so anal about the flower rota, so disproportionately concerned about the routines and requirements of the choir or so passionately focused on the location of the tea-serving-station?  Yes, we had to consider the security of the building, but was it worth splitting the church council over which kind of fence we had?  Naturally we have to adequately insure the various museum pieces that have clung to us over the years, but is it really worth twenty minutes of animated discussion in the Church Council?

I never ever expected when I was ordained into the ministry of the church that nobody would want to come to the prayer meetings, nobody would be interested in discussing theology, but I would spend the greater part of my time at meetings and sorting out fights. 

As a preacher, the most frequent advice/request I received was “Keep it short” – even, “Keep it short because the match is on at lunchtime and I want to be home in time for the kick-off.”  As a chaplain I was asked to “Float about and serve the sherry”. 

And time and again, in every church setting, the question returns to me with gathering force as the years pass by: “Why on earth are we doing/discussing this?”

Meetings layered around meetings, proliferating admin, enough red tape to bandage Westminster Abbey – a club swollen with bureaucracy tottering ponderously and pompously into irrelevance.

Sometimes, especially after a PCC meeting, I think that’s all the Church is.   My teeth set on edge by the tedium, the sheer mind-numbing boredom as we lovingly pore over for the nth time the insurance valuation of the bleep-dang painting, I ask myself “Whyever we are doing this, why am I here?”

And then . . . I watch the communion queue on a Sunday morning; the ancient frail old ladies in their woolly hats and beady little eyes, the ones pushed in wheelchairs by employees from the care home, the ones with learning disabilities, the ones I know are here because they were so desperately wounded by what was said to them or done to them elsewhere, the ones who are lonely and struggling, misfits, broken people.  And among them the clever, the educated, the sophisticated few; all joining the queue to receive in humility the Body of Christ . . . broken for you . . . the Blood of Christ . . . shed for you . . . and all feeding also upon the simple human kindness which is the trademark of our church – an inexhaustible generosity of kindness that is the touch of Jesus on the bewildered mind, the troubled spirit, the bruised soul.

The artificial injection of meaning into the tortuous administration of ecclesiastical affairs, the misguided sweating of the petty stuff that is the church’s chronic disease – these turn me off so absolutely that I am forever on the brink of leaving altogether.

But it’s when I see the kindness . . . the undeserved, forgiving, gentle loving-kindness . . . that I am moved to worship; “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I didn’t know.”


365 366 Day 55 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here

A sticky-tape dispenser.  I had two.  I added the one with tape in it to a craft kit I put together for Freecycle.  The empty one I threw away after I discovered I couldn’t buy refills in the shops near me – they all came with dispensers.  Then I discovered that the Badger had a really good heavy-duty dispenser on his desk (with tape in it).  I know I can get refills in the shops down in town, so I’ll just use the Badger’s and contribute a refill from time to time.


Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. My husband and I are not sure where we should be attending church gatherings at present. We know of a good meeting that takes place about 16 miles from our hometown, but we feel very convicted that we should be worshipping locally. But the local congregations seem more interested in secular matters rather than bringing Christ to others. There appears to be methodist social clubs here in Cornwall, but not many gatherings of born-again Christians. So, right now, we are relying on our housegroup that meets midweek.

Pen Wilcock said...

I can understand that. For me, in many ways, a housegroup better fulfils my idea of what "church" should be than a regular church does.