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makeshift church

One of the things which emerged from the reactions to my post here yesterday was the dissatisfaction which many feel with their local church. From the descriptions offered the last thing some folk find there is what should be there – a Christian community. Maybe it has always been so? But I am surprised, all the same, because it always seems to me that for a church to become a community there needs to be something more than a once a week get together at which we worship God and then shove off as fast as we can get out of the place. I have seen that at some bigger churches I have been too, and it baffles me. Maybe it comes from folk feeling that going to church is an ‘obligation’? If you feel that, why go? Is it some kind of left-over from the days when the neighbours would look askance, or Fr O’Fiery would give you a black mark for a ‘mortal sin’?

Bosco speaks for himself, but I have a feeling it is this sort of thing he’s getting at when he embarks on his trite hackneyed comments about ‘costumed holymen’. I recall one fellow who came to us after hearing us preach in the market place on a Saturday asking ‘do I have to come every week’? I asked why he asked the question. He thought a moment and said ‘what if I don’t feel like coming’? I asked in return what he would do instead? “Sleep in and then watch telly”, was the answer. My response was that it was up to him to decide which way he wanted to spend his Sunday morning, and to ask how he’d manage at the Bible classes in mid week without listening to the sermon. He looked a bit surprised, asking whether he had to go to that too? My response was the same: ‘what else would you be doing?” His response was “watch telly”. It was, I said, up to him whether he wanted a drive by shooting kind of relationship with us, or a proper one, and given his own considerable talents with a frying pan, we’d rather hoped he might come to the Saturday morning pre preaching breakfast. He looked and asked: “Would you like me to?” I said as long as he didn’t burn the sausages – he laughed, came, and has been an ever-present ever since. And he doesn’t burn the sausages either! The whole episode was a reminder, which we’ve always heeded, that we need to be more than just a congregation which meets twice on a Sunday.

It is not, after all, as though there is nothing to do the rest of the week. Some of us meet up to help with the food bank, others are still helping locally where people are barely recovering from the recent floods. Where, as was the case recently, one of our congregation lost her job and had problems with the benefits system, we made sure we were there to help – we weren’t having one of our own going to a food bank. When Mrs S was not well last year, there were always folk popping in to see how she was – and the odd cake, casserole and ‘little treat for pudding’ seemed to be part of the visit; they had not forgotten me in remembering her. That’s how good families work, and our little community is just that. We know each other well, we socialise outside of church, and inside church. If one is in need, we all do what we can.

That, for me, at least, is how the Spirit moves us. We can all get het up about styles of worship, we can all get cross about certain opinions, and we can all become personally offended by someone else’s remarks, but if the Spirit moves in us, none of that matters. Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Corinthians speak as loudly to us as they did to their original recipients – which is why the church adopted them as scripture and why we study them to this day. They are calls to action, and to be a Christian is to be active in Christ’s name. We pray, as he did, we listen to preaching, as he preached, but we spend no time worrying about this or that liturgy, this or that vestment, this or that rubric – simply because he spent no time doing any of that. It is a waste of time and spirit when there are the poor to feed, the distressed to be comforted, the widow and the orphan to care for. I think if more churches concentrated on these things, they would be more Christ-like.

We are a community, or we are nothing. Christians do not exist in some splendid isolation worrying about the state of their souls, or indeed, those of others – we work as we pray – together. This means we don’t watch much telly, and that we spend our leisure time in his service – but what else was it given for?