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 Apparently at King’s the women have to cover their head when they  lead the worship, although this outdated rule only seemed to apply when they were speaking, and not when women were leading the singing or worshipping alone.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

Easter Special pt1 Platt Holy Trinity

The title I’ve chosen for this post is a bit boring, but you should know that I resisted the temptation to call this post the “Ecclesiastical Easter Eggstravaganza”. While I’m fairly sure that would have come across as ironic, given the amount of awful puns I’ve heard to do with Easter I wouldn’t blame you for thinking you were reading The Sun. [edit: I realize this post is now a week late and the Easter festivities have passed, but I have now submitted my final 12000 word dissertation. 750 words were footnotes.]

Easter weekend has been a busy one for me. Not only did I go to church 3 times, but I also got a lot of work done on my dissertation, and went to the cinema with my family.  3 times in 2 days is a whole lotta church, but that is the burden the blogger has to bear. I was actually only intending to go twice, but nefarious circumstances prevailed and took me to what has to be the WORST CHURCH EVER (and thats a pretty bold claim.) More on that later.

Like the passion narrative, I’m gonna do this chronologically.

Easter Friday at Platt Holy Trinity:

I’ve been simultaneously meaning-to-go and trying-to-avoid Platt church for quite a while. It has a reputation for attracting a certain puritanical type of Christian. Thats not a bad thing, I just don’t consider myself to be that type. A friend of mine who is an excellent scholar used to go there, and after attending bible studies for a while, was asked to lead one as her academic knowledge could have something to offer the group. She went for a meeting with the head pastor, so they could check she was “on-message”. They said that she couldn’t lead the group, not because she was a heretic, or a fundamentalist liberal, but because she had a non-Christian boyfriend.  She stopped going shortly after.

My experience at Platt was a bit less personal, and a bit more positive. I arrived there on friday afternoon, walking through Platt Fields park, which was ridiculously beautiful. I went inside and took a seat at the back. Its a beautiful church, much nicer than any of the evangelical churches i’ve been to in the past. To be honest, I think Platt can actually be summed up by the word “nice”. Everyone was very smiley, the hymns were uplifting, the sermon was inoffensive. All of this would be an advert for the place if it weren’t for the fact that we were celebrating the torture, torment, and murder of the cruxified son of God! Everything just had a sheen over it, I swear I saw people’s teeth glinting in the sunlight like in a commercial for toothpaste. While in Christianity the crucifixion of Jesus is a positive thing, there was just something a little bit superficial about the whole experience for me. Faith isn’t about some kind of false sense of security that makes everything in the world “tickety-boo”, it means engaging with the problems of the world with your own set of guidelines. While joy should be central to worship, no one is in a positive emotional state all the time, and happines should not be seen as the only emotion that you are allowed to express.

The service was supposedly a “meditation on the cross”. As someone who has done a bit of meditation here and there, there was none at Platt, but the service was focussed around the cross in that there was one at the front of the church. There was a reading of Matthew’s passion narrative, which tells the story of the death of Jesus, and a few hymns played on piano. Matthew’s passion narrative features the famous arahmaic saying of Jesus ” Eloi Eloi Lama Sabacthani”, or “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?” One of the most challenging passages of the bible, and the system of a down song, but I’m not sure I feel Platt did it justice. They mentioned the suffering of Jesus, but I couldn’t help but feel a little passion wouldn’t have been misplaced. The hymns were better than I expected too, although I suffered from an instinctive cringe when the girl in front of me put her hands in the air during the crescendo of one of them. I don’t know why, but I’m happy to raise my hands in the air at a concert, but in church it just seems a little wierd to me. Maybe its the style of worship I’m accustomed to, or maybe its the repressed Englishman trying to get break his way out.

Platt is somewhere you should go if you want to be happy. It is very “middle England” and there is nothing wrong with that. If you like your Jesus with a side of acoustic guitar and dock-shoes, then I would recommend Platt. The congretation is friendly, there was a lot of reading of the bible and they put Jesus into easily understood terms. I feel I may go back to Platt on another sunny morning when I need cheering up. It does, however, have a little-too-perfect sheen that any recovering cynic will find a little distasteful.

Church Shopper