Monday, 30 March 2009

You are welcome?

How it is that on visiting two churches yesterday, one open and available for public worship and the other redundant I got by far the friendliest welcome at the redundant one?

The visit to the open church started well. As I was spending the weekend at my parents house I headed off on the Sunday morning, feeling smug that I had remembered the time change, to worship at the local parish church. Describing itself as liberal, catholic and inclusive certainly this church did all the right things on paper…. a note in the service sheet as well as a general greeting at the beginning of the service welcomes new comers and invites them to stay for coffee afterwards. The curate on the way out, shook my hand, recognised I wasn’t a regular and so enquired of my name and such like…. and a nice lady, rushing off to open the fair trade stall, invited me to come and shop...but that was it as far as being made welcome went.
I arrived fairly early and sat in the church at the end of a row watching the pre-service bustle, neither the people handing out the books/service sheets nor the people who sat around me in the church managed to say anything to me beyond, is this seat taken? Even when I was clearly struggling in the service trying to work out where we were in the liturgy (to many sheets/service books/hymn books for my liking!) there was no offer of help. At the end of the service, I got a cup of tea and stood in the hall drinking it for a good ten minutes, numerous people bustle passed me and yet not one of them said a word to me, or even seemed to notice I was there. At this point I cut my losses and headed home…

… contrast this with a few hours on. My parents and I decided to head over to look at Gorton Monastery. Once a Franciscan abbey and parish church it was closed in the late eighties and after a period of neglect and looting was in a terrible state by the mid-nineties. Fortunately for the monastery, a group of passionately devoted people were determined to save it and formed a trust which took ownership of the building and performed a truly magnificent restoration job on it. The monastery now operates primarily as an events venue but opens for a few hours on Sunday afternoons for the general public to look around, at no charge. At the door were a few greeters with wonderful smiles, handing out leaflets about the building, asking us about our reasons for coming, pointing us in the direction of some people who have expertise that might interest us … in our case an expert on the building restoration in response to my fathers expressed interest in the architecture.
Once inside there was activities for children scattered around, various information points with videos and photos of the restoration and several more volunteers on hand to pass on their enthusiasm for the building and to answer any questions. All this was done is a really friendly and yet un-pressured way. Several visitors there seemed happy to wander quietly on their own and no-one bothered them from their solitude.

Why, oh why, oh why can we not display that level of enthusiasm, passion for our mission and care of visitors in our parish churches?? My parents local parish church is far from unique in its inability to deal with visitors well. I have visited or indeed been a member of many other churches where the exact same scenario happens… It’s not in anyway deliberate but rather that everyone is so busy with their stuff, whether it be a particular job to do or catching up with their friends, or doing some business over after church coffee that the stranger amongst them is all but invisible. It’s so easy to do and yet so off putting. My parent’s parish church is clearly a lovely place, with huge amounts going on, and they clearly feel a mission to engage with their local neighbourhood, but ….. maybe they are so busy doing all that that they have ceased to expect that the local neighbourhood may be in their church and feeling uncared for and unwanted.

Yesterday was certainly a salutatory reminder to me quite how easy it is to get it very right and also how even easier it is to get it very wrong…

Thursday, 5 March 2009

1662 and all that…. (addendum)

Morning prayer this morning reminded me of another revelation that I have had about BCP since being at Ridley. That is that is remarkably flexible… no really it is…

This morning in chapel we came into an open space where all the chairs had been removed and we were invited to stand, sit, kneel or lie down as we wanted. The service was a BCP Taize and the combination was extraordinarily powerful. The tradition language sang, underpinned as it was by the simple music of piano, cello and violin. The simple chants sung as responses enabled me to focus truly on the depth of the commitments I had just made in the liturgical prayers, and the sense of the world wide connectedness of the Taize movement was enhanced beyond measure by the sense of historical connectedness of the BCP liturgy.

For hundreds of years and in hundreds of places these two streams of worship have refreshed people, this morning they combined into a torrent of living water…

Truly God is good.