This morning I was visiting our 'grandaughter' church, or one of of them anyway: I'm not always quite sure which are the children and which the grandchildren because we seem to have supplied them with people each time they began. So probably best not to push the parentage metaphor too far or we'll be in contravention of some obscure verse of Leviticus!
This morning was everything I love and everything I loathe about small estate churches, or at least my experience of them. Today was an infant blessing service, and I loved how dozens of folk from the estaste (scheme) polled up in their best clothes to celebrate with the parents of this little girl. And I loathed the way the service started fifteen minutes late becuase one of the 'supporting adults' (God parents by any other name) had not yet arrived which, given the blessing was the final part of the service, was no reason to delay procedings. I kind of loved the slight dampness and that place was a bit chilly (even to me!) and that the nineteen sixties padded metal bench pews has seen better days.
I loved the blessing section of the service, lifted straight from Patterns & Prayers and using the form of words for those who cannot in good conscience make a profession of faith. This is where estate churches excel - they welcome people and bless them with love and acceptance in hope (theological variety) that one day faith will follow.
I admired the gentleness with which the minister told people to shut up and switch off their phones for his 'talk' (they had yabbered all through the hymns and prayers), and the way he used a very simple exposition of part of 1 Corinthians 13 to speak of God's love, which he compared to that of the mother of the child being presented.
Alas, no-one spoke to me, I had to ask where to sit, pointing out that I was not one of the guests. There was no-one to offer a handshake or welcome at the door on the way in or the way out and no coffee. This saddened me. I way yet pop back to this church another Sunday (now I know how to find it!) to see if this was a typical experience or if it was unduly skewed by the influx of folk for the blessing service.
Context is everything... this congregation is housed in the only building in a road on the very edge of a housing scheme; beyond it is wasteland. It needs a special kind of person to serve such a church, a person who is not fazed by starting fifteen minutes late, and who does have the ability to tell people to shut up and sit down whilst they are speaking. I'm not that kind of person. But I thank God that the forebears fo the Gatherers cared enough to plant a little church at the top of a hill (clue) and allow it to develop and grow in order to serve its context.
Highlight of the service for me was a young woman singing a solo in a rich, slightly melancholic voice, and even if the words were a bit inane, it was very moving. Shame people then applauded as it was a performance - but that's probably my west end intellectual snobbery showing through.
Not my most pleasurable visit of the summer, but one that was good for me in unexpected ways.