About churchshopper

CS is a Manchester based student looking for God, or more specifically, looking for Church. I have been "church-shopping" for a few months now, and I have realized that there are a large number of people who share my situation. Perhaps you have just moved to Manchester and have not found a church that appeals to you yet. Perhaps you have become disillusioned with your old church and fancy a change. Perhaps you have no history of church-going, and are interested in what the fuss is about. Because this blog is readable by everyone, CS will attempt to make it accessible and not too filled with ecclesiastical (church-related) jargon, or at least with a bit of clarification. About me: I have history of being involved with an evangelical youth movement, but it was far too conservative for me. My negative experiences there, as well as growing doubts and uncertainties in my head, led to me stop attending church for a number of years. Over the past year, however, I have been filled with a spiritual yearning for worship and community. I have an appreciation for the theology of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Tom Wright, the retired bishop of Durham, and Dave Tomlinson, author of "Post-Evangelical". This blog will chart my journey around the various worship communities in Manchester.

Latin Mass at the Church of the Holy Name, Manchester

First off, apologies. It has been almost 2 weeks since I’ve made an update. The reason for this is I have recently had my FINAL EVER EXAM! But although I have  been pretty slack with updating due to revision, panic, the exam itself and post-exam (alcohol related) stress, I have still managed to visit a number of different Churches in the mean time. This means that I have a few visits that I need to write about, but, unlike Jesus, I will keep first things first and last things last.

Any students at the University of Manchester will be familiar with the Catholic Church of the Holy Name. It is situated just across the road from the Student’s Union and (unsurprisingly) just next to the Catholic Chaplaincy. It’s the one that looks like some kind of gothic cathedral which attracts hunchbacks and Disney film makers, and is the largest church in Manchester, quite a lot larger than the Anglican Cathedral in the center of town.

Great Disney's Frozen Brain!

One of the reasons I was keen to go here is, as noted in my review of St Peter’s, I suffer from a number of preconceptions about Roman Catholics. I felt I should test out whether any of these were true, and I thought that the only way I could really learn what Roman Catholicism was like was to experience its worship. Never one for just dipping my toe in, I decided to attend the Latin Extraordinary Mass, diving into the metaphorical deep end while trying not to bang my head on the bottom. Latin Mass was common practice for thousands of years, but has been somewhat abandoned since the 1960s after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

I arrived about an hour before the service and looked around the magnificent church, reading the stories of the saints and attempting to gain an insight into Catholic spirituality. This was one of the things that helped me get over my slightly iconoclastic doubts  about having statues and the like in church. The other thing was my Catholic friend describing them as “Holy Power Rangers.” She’s definitely going to purgatory for that one.

The Church itself is ridiculously beautiful, easily the most magnificent one I’ve been to in Manchester, the scale of it alone is jaw-dropping. Walking around I saw a collection of bones, which I think were relics of a saint, and they also had a shrine to John Henry Newman, the English convert to Catholicism who was the reason that the pope visited Britain last year. I also read a number of booklets and leaflets on issues such as death & dying, evolution, Buddhism and was surprised to find myself in agreement with a lot of what they said. 

I studied Latin at school and so I was quite used to hearing it being used and speaking it myself. Dominus, Nostrum, Ecce Romani, it just adds authority to what you say. A schoolmate even got “Ubi in Roma?” (when in Rome) tattooed onto his buttocks in an attempt to  quote Will Ferrell, but apparently he got the tense wrong. All of these expectations built the service up in my head, and I felt disappointed by how it actually went.

The service instructions were spread between a book and a sheet, and the sheet had some photocopied instructions on it, as well as a lot of jargon which I didn’t really understand. Which bit was the mass? How did everyone know when to stand, when to sit and when to kneel? I’m guessing telepathy, because the scruffily photocopied sheet really wasn’t very helpful and the priest was speaking Latin so quickly that it sounded like he was in a very old-fashioned rap battle.

The main thing I didn’t like was the lack of participation I felt. Most of the service was just the priests kneeling in front of the altar, looking away from the congregation and speaking Latin- I think it should be obvious why I didn’t feel involved. There was no call-and-response liturgy, no hymns, in fact the only time the congregation got to say anything was to recite the Hail Mary, which wasn’t even on the service sheet so I just stood there like a lemon. It definitely felt like the priests were more important than me, and I felt more like a spectator than someone engaging in worship. Just because I’m not a cloistered celibate doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak in Church! The priest afterward addressed the congregation in English. I was kind of expecting a bit of teaching or a reflection on the Gospel that had been read out (in Latin), but it was an exhortation for people to stop stealing the service booklets.

Although I think the church is astoundingly beautiful, and I hope I gained some small understanding of Catholic worship, Mass really wasn’t for me. I like taking Communion, but it isn’t necessarily the most important part of worship for me, I dislike singing cheesy worship music but doing something with my lips apart from chowing down on Jesus would have been nice, and having the people leading the worship facing away from me did feel a little unimportant. I think I will have to check out one of the student masses, which apparently are a bit more intimate. Until then, I wouldn’t really recommend this church for any Protestant-but-curious people in Manchester.

 

Church Shopper

Metropolitan Community Church, Chorlton

The Metropolitan Community Church is certainly one that superficially seems to be different from most other churches, yet at the same time I realized that these differences were only skin deep. MCC is a UK wide group of churches that are specifically intended for LGBT people. If you’re not down with your politically correct lingo, that means Lesbian, Bi, Gay and Trans people. This rather unique selling point intrigued me; a lot of Churches are accepting of gay people, but this is the only one which is “LGBT focussed.” That of course doesn’t mean that straight people aren’t welcome there. As soon as I walked in I was welcomed with a “nice to see you again,” which rather bemused me as I had never been there before. Maybe I have an evangelical doppelgänger,  going round all the churches in Manchester and giving them bad reviews. A quick google for “evil churchshopper” reveals nothing. But I digress.

Such a warm, welcoming building.

Despite the building looking more like a fortress than a house of worship, inclusion was definitely something I noticed when I sat down. Draped over the lectern was a white cloth with the message: “Faith Without Fear – Passion Without Prejudice – Holiness Without Hatred – You are welcome here.” I don’t think I’m saying anything radical here when I say that Christianity hasn’t always treated LGBT people particularly well. Churches in Africa are supporting anti-gay legislation, and closer to home the celibate theologian Jeffrey John was blocked from becoming Bishop of Southwark by his friend the Archbishop of Canterbury because of his sexual orientation. It is for these reasons it is warming to see there being a safe space for LGBT Christians. It would have been easy for a persecution complex to have developed at the MCC and for gay rights to have been all they are interested in, but this also was not the case. I found a rather traditional church in rather non-traditional garb.

The sermon, ably delivered, was about the importance of faith, and there was reference to the faith of the community members in still wanting to worship God, even though many of them had been rejected by traditional churches and stigmatised by anti-Christian members of the LGBT community. There were a number of readings, all read by different people, but the thing that grabbed my attention was  the singing. The congregation was about 40 strong, but it was louder than if there were 100! It felt like everyone really was belting out the hymns, although it might also have been related to the higher proportion of men than in most churches. The communion wine was non-alcoholic and the bread was gluten-free “so that everyone can be included” which was considerate, although the wine tasted rather nasty in my opinion. For after service coffee they provided really creamy cappuccinos as well as the more common tea-and-biscuits combo. I spoke a number of the elders, one of whom showed me around the school hall like predecessor of St Ninian’s.

I would recommend MCC if you are one of my LGBT readers (I know there are a few of you) or if you simply are looking for somewhere inclusive, vibrant yet deeply liturgical to worship on Sunday afternoons in Chorlton.

King’s Church

“Making Jesus Famous”

If you are a Manchester denizen then you have no doubt seen these three words plastered on the sides of Fingland’s buses. This has given King’s quite a lot of publicity, and concurrently they are a pretty massive church, nearly filling a room of 400 people a number of times each Sunday. There is also incredibly diversity at Kings, with students and young people, Manchester locals and quite a lot of Africans. I even spotted a few white ‘gangster’ types there, perhaps looking forward to some holy hip-hop.

Inside King’s it doesn’t look much like a traditional church, in fact it looks more like a Travelodge. Walking up the stairs we entered a room that was a lot like a conference-room, with large flags hung on all the walls. It was a little strange seeing the flags of Israel and some Muslim countries in a Christian church, but I realized that there were no churches of Protestant countries and so they were probably places they had sent evangelism missions to. These flags do add the international feel of the place though.

Slightly dated picture of Kings

As soon as we walked through the door a girl came over, stating “I haven’t seen you round here before, so I thought I’d come over and say hello.” This felt welcoming, if a little forced, and I could see how this would be attractive to people who are new to Manchester and are a bit lonely. During the service all newcomers were asked to stand up, where we received applause and welcomes from people around us.  Kings church is intended to be a life affirming experience.

Just before the service began with about half an hour of very positive worship music, a woman from one of the Kings affiliated house churches took the stage and gave a testimony about how she her father cancer was healed. I didn’t notice it myself, but my companion pointed out that she was wearing a headscarf. Apparently at King’s the women have to cover their head when they  lead the worship, although this outdated rule only seemed to apply when they were speaking, and not when women were leading the singing or worshipping alone. This rule comes from 1 Corinthians 11: 5  “But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head.” I don’t know why so many contemporary evangelicals think this refers to only when leading the church, it quite clearly says every woman, and when praying or prophesying. The women in King’s who weren’t leading the service were definately praying throughout the service without any command to cover their head.

Despite my previously noted aversion to hands-in-the-air,  it didn’t seem as out of place for me at King’s as it did at Platt, although this might have been because almost all of the songs contained not-so-subtle references to “lifting my hands in the air” or “raising your hands.” The positive music set the tone for the  motivational feel of the service, and my hands even drifted above waist height without realizing it a few times. I enjoyed the music more than I was expecting to, even if some of the lyrics were quite cringe-worthy, notably “how awesome is he.” Christians using the word awesome always reminds me of this clip (apologies if I’ve posted it before, it really cracks me up.)

The service was longer than I was expecting too, lasting about 40 minutes. The speaker was a good public speaker, very comfortable on stage, and more than a little charming. He told jokes and got the audience to identify with him. The sermon was all about the  gift of the Holy Spirit, which is pretty much shorthand for tongues in this kind of Church.  The motivational factor really came to its apex during the service. The pastor shouted things like “this is extremely good news! You are allowed to get excited!” The services was basically a defence and promotion of the charismatic movement, which places particular emphasis on the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost if you are old fashioned.) A lot of people, including evangelicals, are critical of the charismatic movement, saying that it has no precedence in church history and is often emotions disguised as God. The pastor got his defence in first, stating that it was an example of “the sleeping church waking up!” and  “I don’t care what Church history says! I don’t care what the empirical evidence in the secular UK says, I want want to live a Spirit – filled life!” He forgets that all Christians want to live a life filled with the grace of the spirit, but that opinions differ about what that actually means. My own view of tongues is far from fully thought out, and a friend of mine describes it as a way of meditating, taking her mind off words and putting it fully on prayer. I am open to the possibility that it can be genuine, but I have a number of criticisms to make. I think that the gifts that should be focussed on are ones like faith, knowledge and wisdom, which are mentioned before miraculous gifts and tongues in 1 Corinthians 12. At the end of the service he pretty much commanded everyone to speak tongues. Watching this was certainly an experience, as I had never seen anyone do it in real life before. Is it the spirit or is it group emotionalism though? 1 Corinthians 14:27 clearly states ” if anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.” A congregation of hundreds of people doing it is, in my eyes, definitely unbiblical, and counts as disorderly worship.

The final words of the service really summarise why I think people go to these sorts of churches. They want to feel good, welcomed, loved, and motivated. “You are not average!” the pastor shouted. He said that demons were getting in the way of the church members achieving their true potential, in their lives and in their careers. The more successful they are, the more they can do God’s work by giving to the Church, which in all fairness is probably pretty expensive to run. I enjoyed my time at King’s more than these criticisms have shown and much than I was expecting too, although I probably would not go again personally. If you like to be motivated, and are a firm charismatic, then Kings is in all likelihood the church for you. Unlike !Audacious the sermon was based around the bible, even if it did pick and choose verses a little, and I really felt that people were gathering there to worship God, rather than just for Sunday entertainment.

The (non-Charismatic) Church Shopper

Reply to Comment

A few days ago I received the following thought-provoking comment on the “Things I’m Looking For” page.

“do you think there’s a danger of slipping into a me-centred consumeristic attitude, rather than seeing the search for a church as the search for a community to be part of and to contribute to? To paraphrase JFK, don’t just ask what a church can do for you, but what you can do for the church. Just another angle you might want to consider!”

There are two real parts to my answer:

First, I should note that the very process of church-shopping is by its very nature individualistic, and does to an extent treat church (christ-centered community) as a commodity like any other. I do not believe that church is a commodity, but urban church life is very different to the kind of parish life that presupposes an obvious choice as to what community one should behave as part of.

I am looking to find a church community to engage with, and contribute to. Churches are, however, incredibly diverse and I want to make sure I make the right choice. Like most people my beliefs and values are very important to me, and there are quite a lot of churches where I would not agree with the leadership enough to feel comfortable there. Also, things like style of worship and congregation have to be considered as well. Although I am attempting to as be open minded as possible, I have felt a little out of place in a couple of the Churches I’ve visited, due to either age or mindset. So yes, my choice of church is “me-centred”, because it is “me” that will be giving up my free time to attend. But though my perspective comes only from myself, I am looking for a church where “me” can fully contribute and feel part of the worship community. An individual looking for a group.

Secondly, I am in a sense part of a church community. I am a regular attendee of wednesday nights at Sanctus 1, in the Nexus Cafe in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. I like Sanctus’ originality, casual attitude and I am beginning to get to know the people there better. Sanctus has a lot of strenghts, but those strengths can sometimes be weaknesses too. It is open to all types of people and opinions, but in its attempt to be non-divisive and creative it isn’t very worship focussed. Sometimes I feel that it doesn’t really fulfil my more spiritual needs, but I do feel part of the community and I feel that God is present there, but not in quite the same intensity as at a more traditional church.

Hope this has given my perspective on your comment!

Church Shopper

St Peter’s Chaplaincy

Not the Church of the Holy Name

My intention last sunday was toattend the rather imposing Roman Catholic Church of The Holy Name next to Manchester Unversity. I had been in there before and had been a little scared of their statues and grandeur, but I wanted to see what a Catholic service is like. To be honest, I chickened out, and for a pretty irrational reason: I was worried that Catholics might judge me for wearing a non-traditional t-shirt rather than a hair shirt. 

But, this subconscious stereotyping of ‘the other’ was responsible for a pretty uplifting experience. I had been to St Peter’s Chaplaincy a number of times before, for interfaith events, meditation class, and once for a Taize chanting service. But I hadn’t really considered going to church there. I mean, I didn’t know there was a church there until John, my “safety-in-numbers” buddy who took me to !Audacious had recommended it to me.

St Peters is both an international and ecumenical church. Ecumenical means that its boundaries aren’t as strictly delineated as you might get at your local parish church. It’s a collaboration between the Anglican, the Methodist, and the United Reformed Churches. I view this kind of pluralism pretty positively, and not only because it stops People’s Front of Judea type shenanigans.

 Firstly, it shows that people attend the church not just as a way of marking out their identity, and that this kind of ecclesiastical tribalism doesn’t play much of a role in their religious life. Secondly, the congregation was extremely diverse. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church where there were people from quite as many different nationalities. There were indians, chinese, africans, americans and europeans. But the style of worship they had worked amazingly at breaking down these boundaries.

There are three idiosyncracies in particular about the worship at St Peters that I think are worth noting. They have a way of “sharing the peace of Christ” that is quite unique from any I have experienced. This is a way of expressing brotherhood/solidarity with fellow Christians, but in today’s individualistic society it tends to be little more than an awkward handshake. At St Peters, literally everyone leaves their seats and goes around greeting everyone else warmly, often with hugs. It was quite touching really, because as a stranger to most of the people there I felt very welcome. The communion was another thing that was quite different. Rather than do it with everyone approaching an alter and kneeling as is traditional, it was done with everyone gathering in a large circle and the priest and some helpers going round sharing the bread and wine. This gave a nice feeling of egalitarianism and community: there wasn’t hierarchy between the priest and the lay believers, and everyone was facing each other while engaging in this ritual. It helped that they had real bread and wine as well! The third quirk to St Peter’s was possibly the most bizarre, but it really added to the international atmosphere of the Church. There was choir singing at the end of the service… but this choir was singing in Chinese! It sounded, to the mind of someone who has never heard Chinese hymns before, quite bizarre. Nevertheless, it was an eye-opening experience and it was enlightening to see an ecumenical church comprised of three different British churches eschewing Western liturgical dominance.

It helped that I already knew a few people there, from said interfaith & Taize events, but I felt welcome from the moment I stepped inside. I met a few more people than I usually would, with the added benefit of being able to promote this blog. I had some really pleasant conversation with intelligent, progressive Christians, and it is unfortunate that this is a bit of a rarity in my life, mostly being friends with non-believers. I spoke to two of the chaplains later, one of whom is a regular contributer to thought of the day, and told them about my little journalistic project. They were very supportive, and Terry gave me their guide to churches that they give out to new students. I hope to somehow assist their missions as university chaplains, as, to my knowledge, I am the only person offering intentionally subjective feedback on churches in Manchester.

To summarise, St Peter’s really knows how to do its job. Faced with the challenge of providing spiritually for a group of inter-denominational and international Christians, they have created their own liturgical ways of overcoming this apparent problem, and turning it to a strength. This, combined with an enthusiastic but educated nature gives them the Church Shopper seal of approval ™.

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Easter Special Part 3- !AUDACIOUS

On my way to !Audacious (yes that is how you spell it, yes you can imagine the kind of annoying excitement they’re trying to expressed) John and I found two tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters outside the MEN Arena from some guy from Warrington who had bought them for £30 each. While neither of us knew anything about the Globetrotters, other than that Pope John Paul II was an honorary globetrotter and they appeared in Futurama, we figured £60 is a horrible amount of money to lose, even if in the form of tickets to fake basketball matches, and so gave it back to the Box Office.

My experience at !Audacious makes me wish we had gone to the Globetrotters. When I came through the door into the main room, (think school hall if you went to school in a garage) I heard the tones of one of the most instantly recognisable baselines in music. No, not the edited version of Handel’s messiah where it goes all slap-bassy, but Parklife by Blur.

Pictured: Not Christian Rock

Now there are a few things that you should know about the Charismatic movement, which !Audacious belongs to. They are remarkably casual, and so I thought this was just the introduction to the service that happened while people were still taking their seats. Charismatic comes from the Greek “charisma“, which means “gift”. It means they place emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing wrong with this in theory. The gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible are described as; wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. I think we can all hope/pray/manifest (delete where applicable) that we receive and actualize these gifts. However, the charismatic movement is often so focused on the Spirit that it forgets the other pillars of the church: the bible and reason, sacrificing them for an intense religious experience that to the uninitiated looks like a mental illness or form of mass hysteria. A lot of charismatics are very moderate and just prefer lively worship services with hands in the air, but !Audacious does not fit into this category. !Audacious didn’t even have the kinds of charismatic behaviours like speaking in tongues or collapsing on the ground that I was expecting.

To summarise my experience, !Audacious is entertainment, not worship. It reminded me of a variety show: there were songs, comedy sketches, performances, cartoons on the TVs, and to top it all off, a Barney the Dinosaur kind of guy in a costume. (There were very few kids, but the adults all seemed to love the “Kid’s Croc.”) I got a feeling that all this was building towards something, but I’m not sure quite what. There was a bit of a theme of body dysmorphia, but this was so interspersed with adverts for the latest !Audacious CD (£10.99) and pledges for money (“we accept cash, card or cheque!”) that it took on a mildly sinister appearance in light of the service just an hour earlier decrying the perils of consumerism. I was waiting for theological content or scriptural reading, or spiritual contemplation, but it never came. In all fairness, I left after about forty-five minutes. But forty-five minutes is a long time in an atmosphere where you feel entirely alien, and forty-five minutes is a long time for neither God nor Jesus to be mentioned once in a church service. The bible was treated as a cursory text to explain why the pastor was so generous and giving.  This kind of service isn’t designed for someone like me: I am educated and middle-class and already have a relationship to my faith that I have critically self-reflected upon. !Audacious is largely a missionary organisation that evangelises to people from poor backgrounds who do not feel part of traditional church communities. Things such as showing the BBC cartoon Creature Comforts will no doubt be conceptualized as “making church fun!” and the people dressed in bunny costumes bouncing on space-hoppers who entered the room would be “making church family friendly!” The Ghostbusters theme tune which was, no joke, played by the worship band, would probably be seen as a cultural reference point. But if all you are doing is copying popular culture while asking for donations, but without mentioning God, in what sense are you truly a church?

Church Shopper