Tuesday, 18 December 2012

(no) MOAR

Help.  I think I’ve overdosed on church.  There’s a lot on offer during Advent.

My family are artists and musicians, mostly, so this is a busy time of year.  Buzzfloyd had a concert with her friend and sisters in it (I didn’t go to that one, but everyone said it went well).  Then as the weeks of Advent rolled by we had a procession of enormous figures from a church nativity set coming through the house because their faces needed re-painting and their robes touching up – urgently in some cases; you should have seen Jesus!  Bright orange shiny limbs and his eyes rolled up into his head.  He looked more like a voodoo doll than the infant Christ.  And the harmonies for O Holy Night and all the other choir numbers have been in rehearsal – it’s a very beautiful environment to be in, feeds the soul.  Last Saturday we took my beautiful mama to the brass band Christmas carol concert – our Rosie on the trombone and her partner Jon conducting (naturally; it’s his band - here are some of them playing a fanfare outside the abbey). 

I went to an Advent quiet day at Pett chapel out in the country, led by their pastor, and also to one of his Advent Bible studies, all about Joseph.   I’ve been there most Sundays recently, but also (when I can juggle timing and energy levels) to the Methodist chapel just across the valley – we can see the spire from our kitchen – and to the glorious Anglican church full of incense and kindness where the Badger is a Lay Reader.  He was preaching last Sunday, which means a double – 8am mass then 10.30 – so I went with him to the 8am, then scooted up to Pett where a dear friend from way back, Derek Brice, was preaching.

Meanwhile, the last couple of weeks I’ve been out to the healing service and Eucharist at Crowhurst – centre for the Church of England healing ministry.  It’s a wonderful, Spirit-filled experience, but has a certain . . . er . . . full-on quality to it.  A while back the Badger and I were chatting about doing and being, and established that while he is into doing in a big way – a Grand Doer – I am somewhat fainter and flimsier, and mostly incapable of anything other than simply being – so, more of a Small Beer really.  And to us Small Beers, the undiluted Spirit of a Crowhurst healing service is best kept to the ‘occasional’ category.  But a friend of mine has been gravely ill, and we made a tryst to meet up there each week, since I am also incapable of socialising.    

I went to the Bruderhof  big carol sing which was moving and amazing as always.

Finally, having chickened out of last week’s Bible study, and almost walked out of the most recent Crowhurst eucharist through sheer overwhelm, we reached the weekend.  I’d said I wouldn’t make it to the evening carol service, but I so wanted to hear the choir sing O Holy Night after listening to Hebe and Alice singing it round the house through the last weeks, and I wanted to hear our Rosie playing her harp in accompaniment to Silent Night.  I changed my mind and went.

The reason I hadn’t wanted to go is that the church that carol service happens in is an Evangelical congregation of serious and determined persuasion – a bit like the Puritans, maybe.  It is a church of sermons, but I hoped we’d be let off light as it was a carol service and lots of the people there are not church-goers most of the time.  But no.

I’m not sure how long the sermon lasted (I don’t wear – or even own – a watch), but in terms of feeling-time it was about four hours long.  So, twenty minutes maybe?  The preacher made an interesting mistake right at the beginning of the sermon, where he said he wanted to talk ‘for a few weeks’ about the Christmas story.  He laughingly corrected himself, but it would have been fine to have just left it like that.  He talked rapidly for a long time – about . . . well . . . television programmes and the Magi and Christianity and school sports days and supermarket checkout queues.  I was a bit restless and looked at the bricks in the wall and the candle flames, the arches going up high into the shadows, the polished wood of the pew.  I wished I’d brought a book to read, or at least something to draw on.

Then as he came into the last chapters, he began to talk about MOAR.  ‘More’, of course, but he said it ‘MOAR’, like the lol-cats.  He said we could learn MOAR by coming to the course the church would be running in the New Year and find out MOAR from the special leaflets they would be pleased to give us completely free as a Christmas gift and discover MOAR about Jesus and the faith.

Well now, I love Jesus.  I recognise in Him my heart’s desire.  But at that moment he was receding rapidly into a plaster figure viewed through the wrong end of the binoculars and MOAR was what I definitely didn’t need.  But at last it was over, and time for Silent Night, which was so beautiful – the choir singing softly, and Rosie playing her harp in the candle-light and the shadows.

Then it was time for a blessing, and after that we got a re-run and reminder of all the MOAR things that were available for us – then applause and a reprise of Torches Torches, and I scuttled past the mince pies and out into the night.  I hope you would have been proud of me, though: in an early part of the service where the preacher asked us to put our hands up if we couldn’t stand mince-pies, despite my besetting literal-mindedness I managed to spot that we weren’t actually supposed to, because it was just a preliminary to letting us know there’d be some on offer afterwards along with tea and leaflets as part of the MOAR.

It is a source of frustration to me that participation in gatherings feels like a ride on a ghost rain or getting lost in a hall of mirrors with a crowd of Hieronymus Bosch’s depictions.   

I know how disappointing I can be.  A friend commented recently, on hearing with surprise of my being received into membership at Pett chapel, “It just seems like in-and-out, in-and-out to me.”  I guess she’s right.  The difficulty I have is that the faith community always wants MOAR.

In the church of my dreams, there would be nothing but a small stone chapel in a grassy field, with a mug of flowers from someone’s garden on the altar, low benches to sit on, candles in simple holders of wood or stone, a woodstove, and sunlight through the windows.  Nothing precious that anyone would want to steal, requiring the doors to be locked.  Nothing complicated requiring constant fundraising.   Simple.  Plain.  No hot drinks at the end or greeters on the door, no leaflets or posters or banners or flyers.  The people would enter in silence and wait in peace for worship to commence.  They would leave quietly, with no kissing and no frightening laughter with wet open mouths.  Their faces wouldn’t be forbidding or grim, just soft and gentle. Their eyes would be kind.  Not beady.  There would be no microphones or electronic paraphernalia, the singing would be accompanied by musicians like the old parish bands – a cello, a trombone, a viola, a flute, a guitar, a folk harp, a bodhran – portable and simple, coming and going with the musicians, and leaving behind nothing but the echoes of joy.  The children would sit with their parents to hear the Gospel story and bring to God the heartaches of the world – or else play out in the churchyard if the sitting felt too long.  No committees, no incessant asking for money, no social occasions, no lunches.  Just the holy Gospel story and the prayer, the music and the people and the place.  And on Christmas morning the same, but with frost.  Everything just . . . unobtrusive . . . simple.  Enough of itself.

But only in my dreams is it like this.  I go to this church and that church, or I meet with a friend, and for a while everything is fine.  And then they want MOAR.  Already this Christmas, like a great rumbling tummy, like the troll at King Henry’s table that ate all his food and then his sheep and then his pet greyhounds, the word goes out for MOAR.   Are you having Christmas with your family only?  What about the lonely neighbour, the homeless vagrant?  Have you bought gifts for your grandchildren only?  What about the world’s poor?  Bring socks!  Christmas is for sharing!  What do you know about the faith?  Come to the Alpha Course and learn MOAR!  Have you only been to the carol service and the Advent studies and the concert?  Could you not make time, at this special season, to go and sing some carols at the nursing homes?   Might you consider volunteering at Surviving Christmas or the Snowflake Project or the Debt Counselling service . . . or . . . 

The Lord is asking you to get out of the boat, to step out in faith!  He wants to stretch you, to challenge you, to move you on!  The Lord never stands still!  What words are the sure signs of a dying church? ‘We always do it like this’!  No!  The Lord wants something different, something MOAR!

The calendar bristles with events, and the people try to make a point of attending, but the organisers are disillusioned and disappointed because the people showed up to the event but didn’t come to help set out chairs and tables and wash up afterwards.  The attenders felt they’d done their bit showing up to yet another event, but the organisers felt let down – they wanted MOAR.  Women’s meetings, men’s breakfasts, toddler parties, messy church, living cribs, healing ministries, executive meetings, property meetings, finance meetings, meetings to plan ahead for the meetings, prayer before and coffee after, mid-week fellowships . . . glory . . .

I feel inadequate, and unfriendly, mean-spirited and uncomfortably like Scrooge.  But I can never cope with MOAR-church for very long.  

No MOAR, in 2013.   Less-church.   Nothing MOAR.

“It is desirable that a man live in all respects so simply and preparedly that if an enemy take the town... he can walk out the gate empty-handed and without anxiety.”                         ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden


365 366 Day 353 – Tuesday Dec 18th
(As in, this)

Surplus Christmas decorations.  We do put up some tinsel here and there, and cards sent by dear friends.  We have a holly wreath on the front door, and we have a tree; and that’s enough.

365 366 Day 352 – Monday Dec 17th

I am an absolute demon for hoarding packaging that will come in useful some day.  This year I’ve tried to find that useful place and occasion and send the packaging to it – or throw it away.

365 366 Day 351 – Sunday Dec 16th

Felt pens.  I think these went in one of the craft kits I made to give away on Freecycle.

365 366 Day 350 – Saturday Dec 15th

Bits for a textile craft kit to give away.

365 366 Day 349 – Friday Dec 14th

Yet another plaid skirt.

365 366 Day 348 – Thursday Dec 13th

Nice skirt, but at the time I was too thin for it.  I wouldn’t be now – hah!  Oh, but hey - who cares?

365 366 Day 347 – Wednesday Dec 12th

Waste paper bin.

365 366 Day 346 – Tuesday Dec 11th

Surplus saucepan.  Went to homeless man who'd got a place of his own.

365 366 Day 345 – Monday Dec 10th

Surplus plastic containers.

365 366 Day 344 – Sunday Dec 9th


365 366 Day 343 – Saturday Dec 8th

Oh dear, I felt guilty parting with this.  It was painted by Bernard’s first wife Anne.  He loved her so much, and treasured her paintings.  This was one he gave to me.  As they have both been dead quite a long while now, I made an executive decision to donate this to raise funds for the hospice that cared so well for both Anne and Bernard in the last difficult stretch of life.

365 366 Day 342 – Friday Dec 7th

More acrylic display stands.

365 366 Day 341 – Thursday Dec 6th

I had a few of these given to me because I wrote some of the stories on them.  One went winging its way across to Julie Faraway for her grandkids to enjoy.  One is for the Wretched Wretch.  Simply can’t remember whatever I did with the other one. 


DaisyAnon said...

Love it!

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, Daisy, what would I do without you? We can be two Grumpy Old Women sitting tea and shaking our heads in dismay over the modern world . . .

Anonymous said...

Oh please, tell me where that church of your dreams is located! That is where I want to be. I just can't deal with MOAR anymore.
Linda J

Julie B. said...

I would be so content attending a simple church as represented in your wonderful pictures. Just a place to go and sit in God's presence, a peaceful place where a small portion of the Word was preached (one anointed Word from Him can last me weeks!) in the power that comes from humility, a place to bring my burdens to the feet (and hands) of Jesus, and leave knowing He is tending to each one of them. I don't think I would want wet open mouths either, but if I encountered a few beady eyes? That would be okay with me since who can do anything about their eyes? I expect mine will be beady someday. :) Your post stirred up some things in me, Ember. I so empathize. And now I think I need to go take a nap - reading about all your doing when you are such a beer, makes me want some MOAR sleep. Your posts are wonderful - we want MOAR! J/K. Sort of. xxoo

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. I wonder if there would be scope for one of these powerful church-planting type of churches like New Frontiers to plant a break-away Less-Church . . . a Quietness Experiment.

Judy Morris said...

Mmmmmmm, Pen , you describe almost perfectly a quaker meeting, but we do have greeters, and tea afterwards. It´s not compulsory though. I attend when I can,because I love cake.
My very favorite memory of a meeting in enland was with the Bradford-on-Avon friends. It was a beautiful spring morning, friends sat quietly waiting upon the voice of God, the small wooden table in the centre had upon it a jam jar filled with wild flowers. I think you would have enjoyed it. God and peace was everywhere.
You would had to have sneaked past all the people wanting to say hello to you at the end though.......maybe if you had been there, and left five minutes early, you would have found the simple service of your dreams. xxxxx

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Judy :0)

Yes, I went to meeting for a year in Aylesbury and a year in Hastings, but began to get unnerved when the good folks decided it was time for me to Get Involved and Play My Part in the various MOAR initiatives, all of which meant socialising :0\

Heather said...

Yes, Ember, I always think that all a minister/priest/vicar/service leader of any description should do is take the service and then shut up! But that would be anathema to most as they do not trust the Spirit to fill the pews or not, but think always that there is a clever way of getting MOAR people on seats! It all links up, of course, with your post about the exhortations of Jesus himself to do good works-all very puzzling and difficult for be-ers. I just think there will be many going into the Kingdom of Heaven before me. if I get there at all! :-(

Unknown said...

The dread of my life is the *Fellowship Lunch*. Somewhere in their heads the churches out here decided we needed *fellowship*. Why? What purpose does it serve? How does this help me know Christ more?

I once suggested we ditch the morning teas [because no~one wanted to do the food &coffee]. I nearly got eaten alive yet it seemed the sensible solution to me.

If you find your church, Pen, let us know so I can sneak in the back, sit quietly, & sneak out before the socialising. Thank you. ♥♥

Pen Wilcock said...

Heheh - I think we're gathering our congregation! x

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Moar is a thing humans created, a monster which constantly needs to be fed. To me a church is a place to be with God,in prayer and worship. Moar has made it a sanitized social club demanding moar and moar of our time, energy, and effort. When we left our last church (prayerfully, on good terms, and in God's timing)we somehow neglected to look in earnest for another one. A couple of years later, I have never been closer to God or stronger in my Christian walk. Instead I read my bible and pray daily, study with online ministries as often as possible,read Christian authors and meet with a friend a few times a month for bible study and lively sharing of ideas, and attend the occasional conference. Although I miss corporate worship (CD's get a bit stale), I have no current desire to return to church. In retrospect, I think that weekly routine church attendance made me lazy, (and as i hated Moar an observer and quick exiter)and now that I am responsible for my own Christian growth,I am constantly seeking and growing, finding those things that are a good fit for who He created me to be instead of passively accepting the one size fits all offerings. Which is good, because in the middle of current challenging circumstances, instead of leaning on the church I am skipping the middle man and going straight to the Source. The bible does say however not to neglect the gathering together of ourselves in fellowship. But I don't think it says anything about Moar. DMW

Pen Wilcock said...

Gosh, Donna, what an interesting story! Some of my family have trodden a similar path. Overwhelmed by pressure to increase their involvement, they eventually got right out because it all became too awkward and difficult. They felt very guilty about the sense of bereavement caused by their departure. It all put them right off going to church. Their faith is profound but their attendance at worship only occasional.

Rapunzel said...

Loved this post. I've been living without MOAR for a few years now, and seem to be becoming progressively calmer.
I have no idea why it is, but I do better when I don't have well intentioned persons constantly checking up on my spiritual well-being.
I like Anonymous's image of skipping the middle man and going straight to The Source.
Thank you all!

Buzzfloyd said...

Four things:

1) If the Lord is looking to stretch and challenge you, it sounds like he's doing it.

2) What you describe sounds like a church for introverts.

3) If it's too much for you, why are you doing all these things? Surely there are some you could cut out? Don't go to church twice in one day, for instance!

4) I think the members of our family feeling guilty about leaving church probably have guilt and anxiety greatly disproportionate to anything felt by the other people in the church. It can help to recognise that what is putting one off attending is largely a mess of one's own complicated feelings rather than anything genuinely arising from others. (Which is not to say that nothing comes from others, but assumptions of obligation and expectation are often of one's own manufacture. Most people are reasonable if they hear an explanation.)

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Rapunzel - yes, I liked the idea of going straight to the Source, too :0)

Hi Buzz!
#1)I have no idea. Sometimes I know what is the Lord, mostly not.
#2)Yes, I think that's what it is :0)
#3)To be supportive - eg that Sunday, the Badger was preaching and hoping I'd be going to hear him, and several of the family were singing and playing in the evening, and having taken membership at Pett I'm meant to turn up to worship (I think) - and I wanted to see Derek and Topsy.
#4) They were quite sticky about it at the time - had a few things to say; not unkind but left your sisters feeling a bit wretched.

Anonymous said...


Interesting post. Do you think that in this post-modern environment of ours, the chief problem has been the steady 'corporateisation' a' la 'management-speak' coupled with the rush to adopt megachurch-style evangelical models with their infinite model/need/cry for/demand of projects/ministry departments etc that has caused the madness?
Church seems to no longer be organically rooted in the liturgical year, quietly following the seasons/events in the life of Christ and His early followers, equally organically rooted in its local community e.g. the village, town or parish? I've witnessed this occur in the local (Sydney) Anglican environment for instance (very complex and potentially controvercial - will not go there in this comment), but the church of my early childhood is not the church of 2012...

As a Marounite, though part of a very large parish (upwards of 5,000 members and one of the most active churches in the country) there is still plenty of room for those who come to simply 'be', to pray in the the pre-mass quiet, to pray afterwards, no pushing to do this, do that, join this, join that...it is run by a monastery of eight (six active, two retired) and has sodality, and several ministries for children and young persons (and general adults) but there is not the push to constantly 'Do'; those with the gifts/inclination/personality type/talents 'Do', but those who are drawn or even called to 'be' are left in peace. In some ways, it is like the local village church but with mor people and pastors. And even the pastors (monastics) know the necessity of quiet and merely 'being; they spend several hours in the middle of the day thusly; Spiritual exercises such as 'adoration' also promote 'being'.

Yes, Christ calls us to exercise our Christian lives re Matt 25: 34-40, but the Logos (who became the word Incarnate) also calls us to 'be still and know that I am God'. in past times, there was room for hermits, anchoresses, contemplatives etc and roles for these folk; today, it is seen as odd and even unhealthy by society and much of the Church. Much was lost 484 years ago when the monasteries of England and Wales were cleared; 15,000 monks and nuns displaced, many killed. In terms of the population of the time, I wonder what percentage this was? We need as a society to value 'being' once again...'being', 'nothing', 'silence'...these are all so very important to our spiritual and wider human health; any wonder there is so much anxiety, depression and other forms of mental unease out there...

Can i have a little church like yours but a tiny Marounite or Anglican ordinariate chappel instead?



Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Sarah!
I think you have put your finger on something important here. Monastic presence makes an immense difference. I first came to the town where I now live in 1979. I can immediately think of four monastic houses still going then, that have now closed - and there may have been others I didn't know. The Poor Clares, God bless them, have come to live here - but I think we have no others now except a tiny group of aged nuns living retiredly.
To live alongside a monastery would be a great blessing.
I keep in touch with quite a few monastic communities because they like my novels, and communication with them lifts my heart always.

Pen Wilcock said...

Lovely Marounite Church



Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been looking for the past couple of years for a church fellowship where we felt at home.
We have now found what we think is the right type of fellowship for us. While we were looking, we felt very alone and unconnected (even though we have each other). I agree that sometimes 'church' activites can become too numerous and overwhelming. However, we wouldn't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Before we met, we individually both found great support from our church communities and I am glad that there was tea/coffee times, faith lunches etc. Such events were a lifeline to me.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Kay!

Yes indeed, I think the friendliness, outreach and community activities we find at church are wonderful. I have heard so many times that it was being met by a friendly smile and handshake, being spoken to and included and made to feel welcome, that attracted newcomers and encouraged them to stay - it makes folk feel they belong.
It's me, I know - I'm odd. I'd just like there to be that little chapel in the field somewhere for those of us who are different :0)

Suze said...

Currently I attend a Baptist church. My youngest teen is going through a rough patch and she loves this place. It is all I can do to sit tight and not scream when the rock band begins. Being part of a megacongregation is a lonely experience for the more introverted soul.

I grew up in the Anglican Church of Australia. The liturgy is so dear to me. I understand the prayers and love the wording etc. I understand that others love a simpler form of worship. Following the year over and over and counting the Sundays are so sweet to me.

Therefore your ideal speaks to me. There is little I would change. My grandfather was a stone mason and worked in Yorkshire. I love the few older stone buildings we have here. it may be fanciful. Somehow I think the prayers, song, services, sermons etc soak into the building and I find the atmosphere reverent.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Suze - so much you say that resonates with me; I also love the liturgy, the calm circling of the church's year - I go when I can, ones or twice a year, back to York where I once lived, and immerse myself in the beauty of Minster evensong. My family are all Yorkshire people, and if things were different - if my children hadn't grown up in Sussex so that this has now become home - I think at this point in my life I would return to North Yorkshire. Two of my daughters work in a stone masonry - they are freelance artists, and letter-cutting in stone is one of the ways they earn their living.
Do you ever come back to England? Have you ever been to see the place in Yorkshire where your grandfather worked? My family come from Scarborough (my father's side) and Selby (near York - my mother's people).

Nearly Martha said...

So interesting for me. We have attended a large Baptist for some time and have felt unconnected and lonely. Our children love it but they don't need us really and we have looked to go to a small Anglican instead. I do love the quiet but I miss the noise as well! (hard to please)We have heard that the pastor is struggling and I am now uncomfortable with the prospect of "leaving a sinking ship" and am re-thinking. I am a complicated person and need more wisdom than I have! :)

Pen Wilcock said...

May you find the way that is just right for you. x

Pilgrim said...


Pen Wilcock said...


Donna said...

For me, that church you describe is Pett Chapel. The fact that I don't drive, have two small children and no regular babysitter means I physically can't attend often enough for anyone to require anything of me - I suppose that's the silver lining! Whilst I very much appreciate the stained glass window there ;-) what brings me the most joy is the sunlight pouring through the little side window, like God smiling upon the service. Always. It never rains in Pett Chapel. (Not your usual church roof, eh?)

Stella said...

Well Ember, I couldn't agree with you MOAR!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Stella - waving! x

Hi Donna - :0) And I love the summer days when the door stands open and you can hear the sound of horses going by in the lane.

Rebecca said...

You're SO right. Less is not "moar". I shall be digesting this post for a long, long time.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Rebecca! x

maria said...

Dear Pen...may I come and visit your church and stay there a bit - where the noise and the distractions of the world do not infiltrate? Oh Pen, this place you have described is where so many of us would like to attend, but when we try, we feel guilty for even thinking it!

I left a bit Pen...but I am glad you are still here. Many blessings to you dear one.

maria b.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Good to see you friend xx

Carol in the USA said...

I cannot TELL you how much I agree with what you are saying about church. I have withdrawn from my formerly beloved church because of the raucus manner of "worship" now in favor. We are told that God appreciates all forms of worship so we'd better get with it. I so want to be at your little imagined church that I can taste it. I am reading through your In Celebration of Simplicity and digesting every word. So far, every word has rung true in my soul. I took a little online test not long ago and was told my beliefs are 100% Quaker...it didn't come as a total surprise but it sure puts me in an uncomfortable position while trying to endure the jumbotron at church, the prancing entertainment up front, the shades drawn so the smoke machine (YES!!! A smoke machine!!) can do its thing. Oh, how I enjoy your writings. Thanks for much for your honesty. When I read your words, I know full well they are also mine.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friend :0)
God bless the search for your sacred place. When God wanted somewhere for Jesus, he picked out a stable. Who can argue with that? xx