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

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Unfortunately when I update this blog is quite irregular. I try to do it a couple of times a week but it really depends on how much work I have to do: the more work, the more time to procrastinate.

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Church Shopper

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

St Chad’s, Fallowfield

While I was browsing the Church of England website in my quest for a church, it gave me the (perhaps unsurprising) advice to visit my local parish church, as well as a link for finding it: http://www.achurchnearyou.com/

So I decided to visit St Chad’s Ladybarn, a building I have walked past many times on the way to the shops. I knew nothing about it, except that they once hosted a concert by the Greater Manchester Police Male Voice Choir.  So at 10 o’clock Sunday morning I entered this big red-brick Victorian church.

I think I must have brought the average age down significantly! Most people looked about 50+ with the possible exception of the reader. The majority of the congregation were women too, so I can now see why people stereotype the church of England as being full of old ladies! (although I probably wouldn’t use that term myself).

The worship was quite traditional, described to me later as ‘liberal catholic’, which I think means they like taking Communion but don’t like the Pope. There were a lot of read/response  type of liturgies, which allows people to worship by reaction in my opinion.  If you are used to hearing a phrase and then responding to it the same way every weekend, then it doesn’t really make you think about the things you are saying. For example, at school we had to say grace before and after every  meal, three times a day. I was at my school for 7 years, which, assuming I was at school half of the year, means I would have said this particular grace at least 3832 times, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was!

That aside, the hymns were some of the best I’ve ever heard, and there was a lady in the choir who voice that was both beautiful and booming. One in particular, called “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” stuck in my head. The lyrics go:

1. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

2. There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

3. There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

4. There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

5. For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

6. There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

While the language is quite antiquated, the sentiment blew me away. Too many churches are  exclusive about who they think will get be saved, many think only Christians, some only protestants, a few only evangelicals, but here we were gathered in worship singing that “the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind”.  I wonder if Emo Phillips, the wierd and wonderful 70s comedian, would have written his “heretic” joke, voted the best religion joke of all time, if he had heard it.

I was moved enough by the singing that I decided to take part in the Eucharist. Normally I would just stand around looking awkward while everyone lined up to ritualistically consume flesh (I’m vegetarian), but I figured that since it supposedly transforms into meat without any animal suffering I could suspend my principles just this once. The priest spent what seemed like an age blessing the Eucharist, before people started queuing up. While I felt the symbolic importance of the act, and it was certainly moving, I was quite surprised and disappointed by how un-bread-like the bread was. Somehow “eat this dull tasting wafer in remembrance of me” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

When I got a bit confused about how to follow the sermon (there were at least 4 different books/sheets to read from) the man standing behind me gave a bit of friendly advice. The friendliness of the congregation was really remarkable. I came along on my own, the Church Shopper’s burden, but left having had at least 5 different people introduce themselves to me, even though I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb, as I am niether old nor a lady. I even bumped into one of my lecturers. He is quite a wacky character and it was nice having a cup of tea with him after the service and hearing him describe parish life. As an example of his eccentricity, I asked him if he had ever considered ordination, and he said “Yes, but I have a feeling I might enjoy it too much”. I said “particularly representing Christ at the Eucharist?” and he laughed so hard that he coughed a little bit, and replied “that sounds like something I should get printed on a t-shirt, ‘I am theomorphic!'”. (Ed. Theomorphic means in the form of God. Catholics believe that when consecrating the Eucharist the priest represents Christ. This is a common argument against having women priests, even used by Ann Widdecombe, as they apparently cannot fully represent Christ, because Jesus was a man. This of course begs the question of why priests don’t have to be Jewish, Galilean, or 30.)

I had a really great time at St Chad’s. The music was great, the congregation was friendly, even if the liturgy was a bit too ritualistic for me. I will definately remember it as the place I had my first communion, and may pop back if I’m ever in a rush to go to church, as it is literally 5 minutes walk from my house. They don’t really have much in the way of engagement with students, as their midweek services tend to consist of morning prayers and eucharists, although one man mentioned a study group to me, but this isn’t listed on their website. Check it out if you live in Fallowfield and want to see your local C of E church and want what I would call your typical parish worship experience.

The Church Shopper

http://www.stchadladybarn.org.uk/

Control my Sunday!

I’m quite pleased with the amount of traffic this blog has received within only a few days, so as a way of expressing thanks, I’ve decided to make things a bit more interactive.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day that commemorates Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey, when crowds of people supposedly laid Palm leaves in his path. In the past I’ve only ever celebrated Palm Sunday in an Anglican chapel, and so I’m keen to see how other denominations might deal with this part of the liturgical year, that comes just before Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday.)

So the options I’ve given are definitely all out of my comfort zone. I’ve never worshipped in any of them before, and with the exception of Roman Catholic never even been in any of their churches, and have no real idea of what to expect from the services. Hopefully it will expand my mind to a tradition I have no previous experience of before, and at the very least I’ll gain an insight into different theological cultures.

The particular churches I’m considering going to, depending on the results of the poll:
Eastern Orthodox- St Aidan’s Levenshulme
Roman Catholic- Church of the Holy Name, Oxford Road
Unitarian- Cross Street Chapel, Manchester
Charismatic Evangelical- Ivy Church, who are holding special Easter services in Gorton

If anyone has any other recommendations (particularly for the Charismatic church, as Gorton is quite hard to get to) then feel free to comment on this post.
The poll should be in the sidebar on the right.

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