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 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

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!

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.