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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

Churchshopper goes to Sheffield?

I have a confession… last week I went to Chorlton’s Big Green Festival (more like a village fete than a festival!) and was infected with the great atmosphere and reggae music. This infection, to drag out the metaphor, weakened my immune system’s ability to say no to the possibility of going to carry on dancing in Sheffield. I knew I was supposed to be in Church Sunday morning in Manchester, but I lied to myself and said that I would get up early.

I did in fact get up early, but not early enough to go back to Manchester. When I got up at 10 I got dressed in a rush and headed to the nearest steeple I could find! As it turns out, that steeple belongs to Endcliffe Methodist Church.

 This was the first time I’ve been to a Methodist church since I was 11 and I have to say I was quite disappointed. The speaker was pretty aloof, even pompous, and his BBC English sounded very out-of-place in Sheffield. All the sermon was about God’s judgement and how Christians are better people, and that they should  not care if they are judged by the world. There is some truth in this: we are called  to be better people, but, as pride is a sin, we are also called to be humble people, which this speaker was not.

While researching this post, I found this hilarious video. I dread to think what this Youtuber, who thinks that a posh accent is satanic, would have thought of Endcliffe Methodist chapel!

I was quite surprised to find out that I don’t like the hymns of Charles Wesley either. Anglicans and Methodists alike sing his praises, which is apt for such a prolific hymn writer. But they weren’t to my taste it seems. The worship in Endcliffe was quite boring and the whole experience left me wondering what I was doing there. I met a really nice West Indian guy called “Q” afterwards and had a cup of tea and a chat with him, but I didn’t really feel comfortable as I was a newcomer and the only person under 50.

Interestingly enough, what I found more edifying was a conversation I had about this with some of my atheist friends afterwards.  I said I believed in God, and they asked if I believed in a big man in the sky… at first I though it was a bit of a facepalm moment, and that no one believes in a man in the sky with a beard, but thinking about it I realized that it is in fact the fault of theists for not representing their beliefs accurately or persuasively enough. While people are often guilty of seeing God as a bigger, better reflection of themselves, this is not a theological view that is found in any modern Church (apart from possibly the Mormons). The root of God as bearded man in the sky probably comes from Medieval and Renaissance artwork, but this is expressing a metaphor rather than truth, otherwise those paintings would be idols. Thinking of God as a bearded man is anthropomorphic, patriarchal, and presents a massively limited view of God. Jesus taught that we are right to think of God as Father, and within his cultural context that had many different connotations; power and leadership are two of the most obvious, but I think they slightly miss the originality of the point that Jesus was making. When referring to God as ABBA, Father, Jesus was using a term of familiarity. Rather than stressing God’s role as the remote ruler of the Jewish people, Jesus stressed his involvement in the lives of his followers. Just as a child relies on and intimately knows and loves their parent, Christians should love, know and rely on God.

The low traffic this week has made me realize that, as Church is usually a once a week event, I will eventually start posting more theological reflections of the sort in the paragraph above, and reviews of any Christian or religious literature that I have found stirring.

If I don’t post in the meantime, have a great Easter, and celebrate the new creation God has brought about, defeating the powers-that-be through Christ! I am really looking forward to this week as it will be the first Holy Week I celebrate within a church. I’m still trying to work out what exactly I will be doing, but I’m sure this weekend is going to be packed with great events and services.

The Church Shopper

P.S. Don’t eat too much chocolate!