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 Apparently at King’s the women have to cover their head when they  lead the worship, although this outdated rule only seemed to apply when they were speaking, and not when women were leading the singing or worshipping alone.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

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 ™.

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

Easter Special Part 2- Manchester Cathedral

I went to the Easter Sunday service at Manchester cathedral feeling pretty motivated. I had been meaning to visit it for a while, as some I’ve lived here for nearly 3 years and I still hadn’t seen the inside yet. It was another beautiful day, and Easter sunday is an extremely significant event, symbolizing the new creation of a new heaven and a new earth through the resurrection of Jesus. Rowan Williams writes about this at length in his book Tokens of Trust.

And how could you not trust a smile like that?

The late afternoon was filled with young couples enjoying sunshine outside the pub and groups of floppy-fringed teenagers rolling comedy sized cigarettes (green tobacco for extra chuckles.) In this casual atmosphere I walked into appears from the outside to be a somewhat imposing building, Manchester Cathedral.

 

 When inside I was immediately greeted by a smell so strong and pungent I thought it was the work of said floppy-fringed teenagers, but it turns out that they do actually use incense in Church services. Incense: not just for hippies. The light was shining throught he beautiful stained glass window and adding a majestic air to my tardy joining of the service. Even though the Cathedral isn’t that big, relatively, they cordoned off only a small part of it with extremely intricate gothic architecture near the choir.

The service was quite interesting, if surprisingly down-to-earth for a church that uses incense. The dean told of his recent excursion to Costa Coffee, which has the slogan “every cup is made with love” and tries to present the aesthetic of being a small family run chain while actually being a multinati0nal corporation. I did not see the Easter relevance, until the dean started explaining his problems with the phrase “every cup is made with love.” It diminishes what love is, making it merely “every cup is not intended to poison the customer,” a far cry from “made with love.” God loves each creature, and made them because of this, even giving himself in order to demonstrate the power of his love more fully on Good Friday. These criticisms of  consumerist shallowness were dramatically ironic, considering my church experience directly afterwards, but more on that later. The congregation was facing the dean from the sides, like some dreadful pincer attack, and I think this is one of the things that added to the confusion of the service. I was not sure when to sit, stand or sing, and I am sure I was not the only one. Usually a cursory “please sit” is in order but even this pleasantry was abandoned. The general lack of instructions made it even more glaring when one was given, and it was probably the most complicated one possible in that setting. We were to follow the choir, while singing, holding hymn books and orderly leaving our isles for a promenade around the cathedral ending with sung worship in the garden. I wondered whether we were going to play Simon Says next. It turns out that the garden was not outside and consisted of a cool fake palm try and a papier mache cave. I am ashamed of how long it took me to realize what this symbolized, but in my defense I was mostly focussing on the surreality of a palm tree next to a statue of a saint in an Anglican cathedral.

After the service I bumped into the former Manchester international students chaplain, and he invited me along to another church afterwards, one I had heard of but been apprehensive to go to, but John assured me that we had safety in numbers. That is what took me to the most interesting, if only from a journalistic/anthropological point of view, church of my Easter weekend, and it certainly lives up to its name: Audacious!

Church Shopper

St Ann’s, Manchester

St Ann’s Church is a very traditional looking church building, right in the centre of town, off Deansgate. It is near the Town Hall, and near the eponymous St Ann’s square. St Ann’s is a member of the Church of England. http://stannsmanchester.com/

I have been to St Ann’s two times and both times I had very different experiences.

The first time, I arrived late for the evensong service, wearing my biker jacket. I asked the man standing outside the door if this was St Ann’s and he replied “yes, but there is a service on now”, implying that he thought I had come to look around rather than to worship. This might have been because I was late, because I hadn’t been there before, or because he didn’t think I looked like the church-going type.

Once inside however, I was taken aback by how magnificent the building was. It was absolutely beautiful, as the picture below will hopefully show. The stained glass was very artistic, including one image of Solomon replete with Masonic iconography, and all of this created a very strong, reverential atmosphere.

While I did not have an opportunity to meet any of the congregation, my impression was that they were around aged around 30-60, mostly wearing suits, looking quite business like. Against the imposing majesty of this large church the worshippers looked a little dwarfed. Of course this only reflects those who were at the Evensong, the morning services could be quite different. The music was absolutely fantastic, with a very talented choir and a booming organ. This brought some serious nostalgia to me, reminding me of evensong services at my school chapel. I find when listening to choral music an excellent time for self-reflection.

The sermon was by an ex university chaplain, who was (relevantly!) discussing different types of church and theology. She began by a discussion of Simon Magus, the magician mentioned in Acts 8 who tries to buy the power of the apostles from Peter. Simon has got a lot of bad press since then, having a sin named after him (simony) and being called the “father of all heresies” by the Church Fathers. She shared that when she was a chaplain, she sometimes had students who came up to her asking for advice about which church to go to. When she asked their preferences, they would say “I don’t mind, as long as there is lively worship.” As someone who is critical of the emotionalism of “lively worship” and who, quite frankly, finds it embarrassing to lift my hands in the air or have ecstatic experiences on demand, this struck a chord with me. She discussed the importance of theology within churches, something that many student Christians, in my experience, aren’t too bothered about. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time that sunday, despite the rocky start.

The second time I went to church at St Ann’s, I thought it would be a similar Evensong service and I was looking forward to the powerful music. When I arrived, however, I found out that it was a special “Taize” worship service.

http://www.stannsmanchester.com/content/view/36/52/

To put it briefly, Taize is an ecumenical (multi-denominational) community in the south of France. It consists largely of monks, although many lay people make pilgrimages there. One 20-year-old I have met has been there six times!  Churches across the world have sought to emulate the Taize style and sometimes hold Taize services. The Taize worship style is marked by its simplicity and repetition. There is no sermon, and no traditional hymns. The service consisted of  repetition of 2-line chants, sometimes in English, sometimes Latin, sometimes German, to reflect the international orientation of the community. The bible reading is similarly repeated multiple times. While I enjoyed the Taize services, I think the congregation were more comfortable with traditional choral services, as at times the chanting, accompanied only by a piano, was rather quiet. Also Taize services do not end in the same way as normal services, but instead people keep chanting for as long as they want. This led to a little confusion, with some people not knowing when to stop, but looking like they wanted to go!

I enjoyed my time at St Ann’s, and will probably go back for a morning service some time. I would recommend it for anyone who likes traditional choral hymns in a traditional setting. I must also say that the sermon was fantastic and quite intellectually engaging.

Here is a link to their “What’s on this week” page: http://www.stannsmanchester.com/images/stories/whatson/whatson.pdf

Their midweek activities seem to consist of a lot of Holy Communions, so there aren’t many ways of interacting with the church other than attending on sunday.

The Church Shopper

Good news, everyone!

Welcome to the inaugural post of the ChurchShopper!

Please take some time to read the “About” section to understand the purpose of this blog a bit more, as well as understanding my personal perspective. Please also forgive me for the terrible Futurama reference.

I think, as this is the Genesis, as it were, of my blog, I should take some time to explain the beginnings of my church-shopping experience.

While it is tempting to launch into excessive autobiographical detail, I think it should suffice to say that I was a committed Christian who became disillusioned due to my experiences with the public-school conservative end of the Evangelical spectrum. I believe fully in the equality of women and so was disheartened to see those who I considered leaders to be acting so contrary to my views of what the bible teaches (many are involved in the “Reform” movement).

When I came to University, I attended a few bible study sessions but my doubts grew and I came to stop openly defining as a  Christian, largely due to the association in peoples’ minds with the previously mentioned public-school conservative evangelicals. Recently though I heard about the Emerging Church movement. 

For the benefit of clarification, the Emerging Church movement, as I understand it, is like Church in the sense that it is largely a group of Christians gathered together to engage with God, it is very different from the traditional church format. Many have no hymns, which was a blessing for me, as sitting through “Shine, Jesus, Shine” one more time would have me reaching for my revolver earplugs. Sermons at Emerging churches tend to be more interactive, and to deal more with contemporary culture. By this I don’t mean they attempt to be “down-with-the-kids” through that most cringey of genres, Christian rap, but rather that it appeals to those who tend not to be considered traditional church-going types.

Sanctus 1 is the most prominent example of an Emerging Church in Manchester. It was formed as a collaboration between the Anglican, Methodist and United Reform churches, under their “Fresh Expressions” movement. They have services at 7:45 PM on Wednesdays, and 10:30 on Sundays. Like all good Churches, the Congregation is a mixture of many different types of people. There are young proffessionals, older people, students, but the congregation is small and it seems like there is a lot of turnover, to use business speak. Quite often I see a face, or a couple of faces, once and never again. I have been attending Sanctus 1 regularly for a number of months now, and I am grateful for what it has done for me. The first time I attended, the music they played at the start of the prayer/quiet reflection session seemed extremely familiar. This was surprising as I don’t usually listen to ambient-type music. As it neared a crescendo, however, I realized that it was in fact Speak to Me/Breathe by Pink Floyd! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_iSj2frQSU Needless to say after this I came back for more. During Lent the themes have been based around things that Christians traditionally give up for Lent. Services have been based around smoke, the internet, and last week there was a meal without any salt in it (an interesting experience!) and a discussion of Jesus’ statement “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” in Matthew 5. I would recommend Sanctus for anyone who is looking for a “fresh expression of church”, and to anyone who is tired of overly dogmatic services, totally alien to contemporary culture.

http://www.sanctus1.co.uk/

Recently, however, having gained an opening through Sanctus into the Church-Shopping world, I have decided to expand my experiences, and try out more and more different churches, in the hope of finding something that is right for me, and in the process informing those in similar situations about the many different churches and types of church in Manchester. I want to boldly go where many have gone before, broadening my horizons, and reporting my findings!

Yours,

The Church Shopper