Today's church visit took me west along the A82 into suburbia and a lovely little Baptist chapel that stands practically on a crossroads.
I enjoyed my visit, which seemed to combine some blasts from the past (cannot recall quite when I was last in a church when one Deacon did the 'prayer for the bread' and another the 'prayer for the wine') with some contemporary aspects (nothing that was sung was more than a decade old, and some considerably less). We were welcomed and gathered with scripture and prayer before singing a couple of songs back-to-back. I was surprised, given the large number of young children, that there was no 'all age bit' and they seemed rather restless until they left for Sunday School, but it was lovely to see so many children. The Bible readings to which the sermon referred were pretty scant - three verses from a psalm and three from an epistle (less than had been used in the call to worship) - and, for my preferences, the sermon overly consisted of anecdotes and illustrations. The message - about cultivating sincere gratitude to God, and that this should inform our entire lives - was a good one; I'm just not convinved it justified forty minutes. Communion was simple and quite meaningful, though one of the deacons' prayers showed they had no idea what they were about (note to self - what do I assume that people know when I ask them to do things in worship?). Alas, as is so often the case intercessory prayer was conspicuous by its absence - not even any 'inward looking' prayer.
Post service refreshments were served in a bright hall as far from the santuary as the building permits - that had a degree of inevitability, but did mean you had to be determined to get there. To add to the complexity, the kitchen was even further away so the coffee and tea had to be transported on a trolley - all credit to the people who make this happen week in and week out. The tea was OK and there was a good choice of biscuits and cakes (so long as you liked/could eat chocolate). The Ship of Fools 'standing around looking lost' trick was very revealing - I was left on my own studying a noticeboard before one of only two people to speak to me invited me to join her outside in the sunshine (and we had a nice chat). It was not that people were unfriendly, it was just that they were too ycatching up with their friends. Given the size of the congregation, I was hardly invisible so it did make me wonder how a 'real' visitor might have felt (one of the people who spoke to me already had a good idea who I was!)
I think there is a difference between suburban churches and rural or urban ones. I have a suspicion that the 'dormitory' nature of suburbs can rub off on to the 'character' of congregations.
So, once again, lots of good stuff to ponder, and overall a happy experience.
My one real gripe lay with the final sermon illustration used by the visiting preacher. He began to recount the example of a woman who had been diagnosed with advanced cancer, and I knew where it was headed... her graceful acceptance of her lot, and her assurance the night before she died that she had a real sense of peace. Good. I am glad... but this kind of story, to me, if a bit like the more 'dramamtic' conversion stories becuase it centres on 'extremes'. It also puts a lot of pressure on other Christians to do likewise... I remember visiting a lady, a stalwart of the 'chapel' who was diagnsoed too late with either thyroid or oesophogeal cancer; which it was, is not relevant. Her faith was not thwarted, but her anger and sense of injustice were very real: "what have I done to deserve this?" she asked me. In the end, she did die peacefully, and did find a sense of accpetance if not resolution. Let's avoid making it all too neat, Christians are people too, and anyway, I don't recall Jesus having much peace the night before his death....
Next weekend I will be away visiting family, so probably not in church.
Whilst it is nice to arrive ten minutes before worship begins and have no responsibilities, it would be very easy to become rootless and adrift without the 'anchor' or 'harbour' of a regualr community of faith, so I know that by the time I return to work in October, I will be ready to be first in and last out once more!