So, an article I read on a news website the other day now suggests that there are less people in the England and Wales claiming to be people of faith, than those who would describe themselves as “of no religion”. This has of course seen much joy amongst those who feel that the those of faith should have less to do with what goes on in our country in general. They claim that this poll is a clear sign that the Church is no longer relevant, and should therefore no longer have such a loud voice in a society that is now made up of more people who are apathetic or against its views, than can truly be claimed to be for it. For me though such issues are not what actually come to mind when I think of this news. Instead what I immediately thought of was this – what is it in particular that makes me want to come to Church every week? – beyond of course the truth that being a Vicar, it is a basic requirement of my job.
First of all (admittedly like membership of a club of any sort at all, hence I mention this reason first), for me it is for the fellowship of other like-minded people. Being sociable creatures, what human beings don’t crave the company of others, and especially others they know they have at least something in common with? But more than this in church, being with other people allows me to learn about what life is all about by being alongside others; it allows me to look beyond myself and see from the example of others how a good life can be lived. Which for me was a key part of becoming a Christian in the first place; the example of the kindness of others toward me showing me that, hey, perhaps these people know something that is worth knowing about life. And to those who say that we in church are an eclectic mix rather than a unified bunch, I say yes and thank goodness. Welcome and acceptance just for who you are was another thing that led me to want to come back through the doors of my local church in the past and is still one of the jewels in the crown of what churches can and should offer to the world.
And church is also a place where you can come and leave your troubles behind for just a little while and be who you truly are. Church is a place where diaries, emails, phone calls, notes, bills and all sorts of other things cannot distract you from what is truly important in life. I love the peace and quiet of some church services, where prayerful contemplation allows me to explore what God may want for me. But I also love the hustle and bustle of other services, perhaps with all ages such as Messy Church, where more exuberant activities can allow me to listen to sounds of true joy, rather than the supposed joy that we hear of so much in the rest of our noisy world, things to buy and to have that are supposed to make us happy. Yes, God can and is found everywhere, but as Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name there I am amongst them” – and within church there is the “excuse” to just focus on Him and His presence in your own time, and not be drawn into our ever faster moving world, with its constant distractions and demands for our attention.
But ultimately the main reason that I love to go to church, is because here I find the things that I need to help me live my life wherever I am, because here I hear of Jesus; and Jesus and His life are quite simply the example of how life should be lived in all places. Whether it be through receiving communion, hearing the Bible, sharing the peace, or chatting over coffee, to hear of Christ and His love expressed in His emptying of Himself for the world, His call to love neighbours as ourselves, His clear message that life is for all and should be lived for all and in service of others is a spur and a driver for me to try and do the same. It is a spur for me to live life not just focussed on me and my own needs, but instead to try and look to the needs of others. And to my mind all the ails in our world – poverty, violence, hunger and all – can be countered through people looking to the needs of others with peace and love and avoiding falling into the trap of believing that my needs are all that matters and following this demand alone.
Church for me then is a place where with others I can listen to Jesus and be who He wants me to be, in a world that He wants to see filled with peace and love; indeed, it is a place where I can learn how to help make these things true in the world through how I live my life outside its doors. And I believe that if at church people truly found this to be true, then surely more of them would want to join us there; surely more people would see how relevant such things still are and can be in their lives. Andy