Thursday, November 24, 2005

Interviewer: Why do you think they are so upset about moving the font?

Father James: Because that's where it's been. That's where it's supposed to be. Somebody put it there, whenever that was. You put a chair in a church and 30 years later, if you try to move the chair, you're going to have the church split over it.

18 comments:

Kevin Boone said...

`Church lite'. Church lite? Aaaargh! Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison :)

Andrew Rilstone said...

At least they're trying...

Mike Taylor said...

"Church Lite" ... Well, it could be a good idea. It all depends on what you mean by "lite". If it means "all the content taken out so that we're left with a 'Christianity' that just means 'being nice'" then it's a waste of everyone's time. (Apart from anything else, no-one will convert to such a vacuous religion). But if "lite" means "all the presentation changed, and the content the same as before" then it seems eminently sensible. Is there any rational reason why a message which claims to be eternally relevant should be tied to a style that is alien to most people?

Mike Taylor said...

[Argh, forgot to say in my last post ...]

The problem is that with a documentary series like this, it's inevitably going to focus on the presentation rather than the substance; so there's no way to tell from what's broadcast which of my two "lite" interpretations the church is following. That's frustrating.

Still. At the very least, what Father Thingy is doing does seem to be attracting two or three times as many people as were attending before. Much to the previous incumbent's chagrin.

Kevin Boone said...

A good way to get more people into churches would be to offer free cocaine. Or maybe to host an episode of `Songs of Praise'. Or maybe both at the same time -- now there's a thought.

OK, so those are stupid examples, especially Songs of Praise. But this situation isn't going to change, in my view, so long as the Church is an organization centred around old buildings rather than people. People associate the established church with gothic buildings where people wear hats and sing dull songs, not an organization that reveals and promotes an important message. In the short term, no doubt, one can side-step this problem with barbecues and rock music, and avoiding religion as much as possible, but if the message isn't there, or people aren't interested in the message, the results won't last. I don't think it's the case that people aren't interested in the message -- I've seen Baptist meeting halls (for example) bursting at the seams.

Ultimately why I think `Church lite' and all the rest of it won't work is because it proceeds on the basis that involving people in a religious message can be achieved by attracting them into a building. It continues and perpetuates the association between the Church and the church. If you get the message across, people will come because they want to know more, not because they want free food. Without the message, what goes on in church is just a rather dull kind of entertainment. People may go along for a while out of curiosity.

This is why I, alone of everybody I know, rather respect the Jehovah's Witnesses who regularly wear out all the doorbells in my street. They care enough about the message to take it out to people, rather than sitting and waiting for people to come to them. And people do come -- their services are also packed.

NickPheas said...

Nope. Don't get the joke.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Nope. Don't get the joke.

Exqueeze me?

Deepa Manthravadi said...
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Deepa Manthravadi said...

The "Church wardens" really got to me. With their oh no no no we can't CHANGE things our heads might explode or something and this fabric makes the place look like a harem/boudoir rubbish. Do they know what a harem/boudoir even looks like? Well neither do I, but their knowledge of that seems suspicious.

All I heard was the church this and the church that. Please correct me if I'm wrong but did they even mention Jesus at all? You know the man who was God but walked the Earth as a working class man?

I agree with Kevin (not about the crack unfortunately). Lets stop thinking about churches as buildings and start thinking about communities and their needs.

Why not have church in peoples homes? And would it kill the clergy to go in plain clothes sometimes?

I don't know just some suggestions/rants I had to get off my chest. Some may see me as some charismatic nutter just cos I go to a nondenominational/ charismatic/evangelical church which has some people dancing in the aisles for joy and plain clothes "Elders". Oh well.

btw. I found this blog from www.aslan.demon.co.uk. Good site.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Everyone agrees that you shouldn't treat matters of taste as if they were substantive doctrinal issues. One person may prefer choruses with guitars; another person may prefer organ music; a third may wish there was more room for silent conemplation; but so far as I known, no-one has ever said that God has a preference for organs, guitars, or silence.

But its equally wrong to treat substantive doctrinal issues as if they were matters of taste. I think that"Just what are churches for, anyway?" is a substantive doctrinal question.

Someone may shout at me for poor theology, but I can think of at least three obviously different views of what the chuch is for:

1: Jesus founded a movement or an organisation, and left his disciples in charge of it. And his disciples chose successors, and the successors chose successors, and so on down to the present day. To be a Christian means to be a member of the organisation which Jesus started; which means "your local church".

2: Just as Christ was once incarnate in the body of a man; so today He is incarnate in his mystical body. Your local Church is the visible manifestation of this mystical body.
You become part of the Body of Christ by being baptised, and you remain part of it by taking Holy Communion, which are supernatural (magical, even) acts which only the Church can perform.

3: Being a Christian is a personal matter between you and God: the Holy Spirit uses the Bible to convict you of Sin and moves you to repent and be born again, at which point you know for certain you are going to heaven. Once this has happened, and following on from it, it's really, really important to find a group of Christians with whom to pray, worship and read the Bible. We call those groups "churches".

Roughly speaking, Liberal, Catholic and Evangelical views of the church. There's not much point in telling a high-church anglo-catholic (which is what I take people who address each other as "Father" to be) that he should stop worrying about church and liturgy and preach in the word in people's houses instead: for him, a Church without a liturgy isn't a Church.

As subsidiary point: the institution called "Church" -- as opposed to "The Church" -- has been part of English communities for an awfully long time; and a lot of people think its presence has been mostly benign. It provides a focus for community; it performs rites of passage; it often does social work; even the sales of work and coffee mornings can be a important part of village life. You might think that this insitution was a Good Thing and that it was worth while keeping it going. You might think this regardless of your theological beliefs about the Church With a Capital C. You might think this even if you were not actually a Christian.

I went to a non-denominational Church while I was a student. I think it had started out with a few groups of people meeting in private houses; but the groups had at some point decided to buy a hall and come together on Sundays. Pretty soon, they had too many people to fit in the hall. So they bought another hall and had another Sunday service in another part of town. Before very long, they had halls over the county, and had appointed a leader (called, I think, the Apostle) with various Elders and Deacons under him to oversee what was by now a very big and very substantial organisation. But not, in any sense, a denomination.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Nope. Don't get the joke.

It's the word "Father" isn't it? He thinks that "Father James" sounds like a character from Father Ted

So, I pointed to the ecclesiastical seminary and said "What's that building over there" and she said "Sure and begorah, that's where men go if they want to become fathers."

Groucho was approached by a young man in a clerical collar who asked him for his autograph. "It's not for me, you understand, it's for my mother." "Say" replied Groucho "I didn't know you guys were allowed to have mothers."

A Priest is a man who everyone calls "Father", except for his children, who call him "Uncle."

American Ronin said...

but so far as I known, no-one has ever said that God has a preference for organs, guitars, or silence.

The way some of the old-school Southern Baptists here in Texas react to the notion of guitars in church, I can only assume that they do, in fact, believe God does not like electric guitars. And of course there's articles like this: http://www.chick.com/bc/1994/cdcovers.asp

Oh yes, "death and science fiction issues."

jat8d said...

As ordained clergy, I think I have a little relevant experience here. (I'm ELCA Lutheran, if that means anything to anyone.)

I've been part of two congregations that have grown tremendously (clergy in both, but associate, not senior) and seen a couple of others. I've also seen a lot of congregations trying to grow, and failing.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways that I've seen work. (Sometimes, they are combined.) First, do "market research" and function accordingly. My first congregation was over 8000 people, having grown from just over 200. The senior went door to door and asked what people didn't like about churches they had attended previously, and what it would take to get them in the doors. What it came down to in this case was youth programs and professional level music.

The degree to which parents worry about their children is hard to overstate. Middle class, college educated parents want high-quality youth programs, with lots of activities every day, so that their children are not left to their own devices. They want enough caring, qualified adult staffing so that the kids can have close, personal relationships with adults who will make a connection with them and convince them not to take drugs and have sex. (Apparently, this is not something that parents can do for their own kids.) (Such youth workers, BTW, are worth their weight in gold. They can pretty much write their own contracts anywhere, and those congregations lucky enough to have them often pay them more than other clergy.)

The college educated, middle class parents were also musically sophisticated. Because of the area, many of them had attended Lutheran colleges, which tend to have strong music programs. They didn't want to sing "Just As I am." They also didn't want to listen to rock music.

The senior mortgaged the farm (figuratively) to hire youth workers and musicians. The local orchestra performs as part of the service once a month or so. The organ is one of the best in the country. The dedicated youth programs start in pre-kindergarten, and kids can be involved in something every day of the week.

The down side of this is that it encourages a consumer mentality. People don't necesarily feel loyalty to the congregation. When a youth leader gets a better offer and moves, parents take their kids and go to another congregation. When the economy takes a hit and the budget is in crisis, there isn't any particular desire to dig deep and give to keep things going. (This congregation is going through this process now. It will be interesting to see how it works out.)

The second method is social activism. The other pastor and I had intensive interviews with everyone in the congregation. We identified times they had experienced injustice (everyone has) and used that to help them see that systemic injustice affects everyone. We helped them to identify their gifts. We organized outreaches into the neighborhood, where our people did the same kinds of interviews. We identified issues that mattered to the people around us (drug dealers living in the house down the street), and worked with them to get the house closed down and sold to a responsible landlord. We did similar work with domestic violence and the way the police respond, and with civil rights for immigrants.

The congregation went from worshiping 100 to worshiping over 200 in about a year and a half. The people were all engaged, enthusiastic, and talk openly about the way their faith made a difrference in their lives, and the lives of others.

This is much harder (much, much harder) to do. We also attracted a lot of people without money. (This is an issue when you have to pay the mortgage, and we're talking about church growth here, not salvation.) (The first type of congregation, by the way, tend to avoid anything that might be controversial. The second type tend to build in ways of dealing with it. "You don't think we should be pressuring the legislature to fund domestic violence shelters? Then start a group to find funding some other way.")

The third way is to move into an area that is growing, preferably with a demographic that values church attendance. (This happens more often than you might think. There are all kinds of seminars offered around census data.) This can be combined, obviously, with the other two.

Andrew - You are correct in that your definitions of church lead to theological understandings of what church does and doesn't do. You are incorrect about churches not splitting over music. As a rule of thumb, change is bad. If you are going to change anything, it had better be gradually, and with lots of groundwork. Never, ever, mess with the 8:00am service. That way lies certain death.

Deepa Manthravadi said...

"There's not much point in telling a high-church anglo-catholic (which is what I take people who address each other as "Father" to be) that he should stop worrying about church and liturgy and preach in the word in people's houses instead: for him, a Church without a liturgy isn't a Church."

My apologies, I wasn't trying to imply that he should. I appreciate that such a thing would be kind of mind blowing and maybe heretical to said person. I also appreciate that there need to be different styles of service for different people. No what I meant was if the "Father" and the marketing gurus are going to such extremes of "Church Lite" or "I can't believe its Church" or whatever, maybe it they could stretch themselves further to accommodate the ideas I mentioned. Guess I was wrong.

I've never been really involved with church community until now when I'm at Uni. Oh I've seen the ads for Sunday school and tea and coffee morning but I never went.

Last time I stepped into my local Parish church my mother broke down into copious tears because that where my uncle had his funeral. I also got the whole vibe of "oh look indians how quaint". Perhaps I was being paranoid. I really need to get that checked. One day I might give it another chance and be on time since they bolt the doors shut after 10.30am ( like a MIB lockdown, no one getting in - no one getting out).

I will not be shouting at you for bad theology Andrew.

jat8d - I'm not sure about your view about change in the church being generally bad but then again I'm not the one on the decision -making committee.

Am I right in guessing most people who post there are older than 21?

James Holloway said...

Of course, one of the things worth considering in terms of making changes to the structures of a church is that the Church of England is guardian of hundreds (I wouldn't be surprised if it were actually thousands) of buildings of historical significance, which make up an important resource. I'm sure this doesn't make any difference to the church in question, but sometimes changes to the interior of the building which might be thought to be a good idea from a liturgical perspective could be a bad idea from a preservation perspective.

Charles Filson said...

I totally agree with Deepa when she said: "Lets stop thinking about churches as buildings and start thinking about communities and their needs."

I think that when churches do the work of God and feed the sick and lay their healing hands on the naked, then people can get behind them and call them Good Things.

American Ronin:

I briefly went to a Baptist college. We were told by one professor Johnston (with a streight face no less) that Rock music was evil, and as proof were told that Moses' first sign that the Hebrews had turned from God was that it sounded to him like there was war in the camp. No lie.

Kevin Boone said...

I don't think I was arguing that the function of The Church is, or should be, a matter of taste. Nevertheless, the association in the UK between churches, architecture, and heritage is a complex one; and people who are not Christians are entitled, I believe, to a view on the disposition of church buildings. So the function of the (small-c) church is at least in part a matter taste.The question then is: can we disentangle the function of the church from the function of The Church? I submit that this could me more difficult, in the UK at least, than most Christians would wish.

If you're a (small-c) church operating in any area where there is already a core of Christian sentiment, albeit unexpressed, then I can see how the `Church lite' business could work. I can well understand how people might be attracted back to active involvement in The Church who had previously been deterred by the church (or Church). I can also see how decent music, activities for kids, etc., would contribute to getting latently-Christian backsides on pews.

What I can't see is how it's going to start to fill the spiritual vacuum that most British people seem to live in these days.

jat8d said...

Deepa,

I don't actually think that change is bad. But most churchgoers don't like it. My point was, if you're going to change something in the church, you have to move carefully.

I'm well over 21.

Kevin,

You have put your finger of the weakness of the marketing based method. When I was on staff at the mega-church, we had literally thousands of unchurched people in our neighborhood, and made no real attempt to reach them. It was much easier to find "latent Christians" (good phrase). But we had a lot of attenders and observers, and people who dropped their kids off at events, rather than people who were engaged.

Even though the social justice is hard work, I think it has better results. As the church, we are called to work for justice and together with the poor and oppressed. God gives us gifts to do that work. When we call out those gifts in people, so that they can do the work that God intended, they catch fire. Some of them are almost unrecognizable as the same people.

I know there are such churches in Britain. I don't know how many, or what their theology is, however.