Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 38: Recommended: Church

I'm not in the habit of going to church on a Thursday evening; a couple of times on Sundays is normally enough for me. Unless of course it's Maundy Thursday.

But I do like church. Whether I was bored or not in church as a child, I don't recall. I do recall singing hymns, which I honestly think forms the faith in you from an early age. 

There was a Welsh gentleman, Cadwaladr, in our church, who sang as all male Welsh hymn singers should: loudly and lustily. In those days we had 'Amen' at the end of the last verse, and he would end in a flourish of harmony. It would be a plagal cadence (also know as the 'Amen Cadence') - the fourth to the home note, but sometimes our organist would push the boat out and take the fourth chord into a minor key briefly, before returning to the home note, and Cadwaladr would oblige with a majestic semi tonal sixth, to the note below, and down to the fifth, where he would linger for a second longer than anyone else, beefing out the chord with all his passionate Welshness. It was my equivalent of a spiritual high, standing in front of that voice. It's one of the wonderful things about church; everyone singing together. It reminds us of what we hold dear, even before you count the known physiological and psychological benefits.

And I like 'The Peace', that bit in an Anglican Eucharist where you go around shaking people's hands. Nowadays as a priest I don't go in for kissing - that's best left to those lay people who want to wade into the difficult waters of 'to kiss or not to kiss'; generally it's much safer not to I find. But by eye contact, and hand contact we remember we are one body. The vertical relationship with God is never enough - he's given us other people too. Much harder. I led a service in a different church recently where I'd been told they 'don't do' The Peace. I remembered just in time.

You hear a lot these days about people going off religion but liking 'the spiritual'. People forget that 'religio' is to bind back. We're too separated from each other. We're separated from the God who made us. Did Jesus, on contemplating the Last Supper, say to himself, 'I think I'll stay in and do some meditation instead'? He earnestly desired to observe Passover with his friends, to break bread, share the cup, pray and sing a hymn with them. That was religion. But it was also a radical reshaping of something known into something new. A King washed his disciples' feet. He took bread and wine and poured his whole broken self into it.

Whilst I'm all for loving God, I also love the church. Of course the church is people, but I love the places too. You can't spend as much time as I have in them, drawing near to God and others; being caught up in the rhythm of prayer; singing hymns; hearing the Word and breaking bread, and not love the church.

The funny head-nodding, small-bowing, paper rustling, draughty, lofty, stained glass, ancient, candle smelling, clapping, smiling, silent, symbolic, seasonal, gently dysfunctional, forgiving, singing, praying church.

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