The church is for everyone.
I’ll start this blog with the Anglicised form of Haiku.
Who is the church for?
The church is for everyone:
Even those you hate.
Who is the church for?
Orphans, widows, foreigners
the poor and the destitute.
What should the church do?
Become good news to the poor.
Become the Gospel.
The church is not nice, or at least it should be. But that is what it has become. To misquote the black comedy The League of Gentlemen, “This is a nice church for nice people, there is nothing for you here,” may not be explicit in what a church says, but it would not make any difference if that message were written in flashing neon letters on the church tower. Expecting a certain type of behaviour from people in church is not welcoming them, no matter how sincere the handshake when they arrive and the smile as they leave.
People do not know how they should behave in church. A good example from a few years back:
My wife, Linda, and I visit other cities on weekend breaks a few times a year. On one such occasion we decided to visit a church near the centre of an English city, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. We arrived early. The greeters were already there, so we were provided with books and left to find a seat.
Now this was a large building, a remarkable Norman church with large columns showing the remains of frescoes and characteristic round arched but small windows. We chose a pew about halfway up the church and waited.
The service started, a Church of England communion service using a modern rite, the regular congregation were in the back three rows of the church. In the front two rows on the right were adults and children: As the service progressed they turned out to be a baptism party. The rows of pews between the baptism party and the regular worshippers. at least seven rows, were empty except for Linda and I.
The service progressed: The regular congregation at the back stood sat and knelt where they were used to standing sitting and kneeling. Linda and I, halfway down, stood and sat where we were used to sitting and standing, occasionally changing posture to match what the congregation were doing (except for kneeling). We are veterans of different church services, we know there is no embarrassment in getting the posture wrong. The baptism party, however, were clearly not church veterans, and it was clear from out vantage point a few rows behind that they were embarrassed by getting it wrong and not doing the same as those behind them. Yet at no point in the service, other than when they were asked to come forward for the baptism, were any words said to indicate when to change posture in the service.
The service ended. We left our pews and were invited for coffee by those from the back pews. However, being a little upset by seeing the embarrassment of the front rows, we declined.
I feel sorry for that congregation, they try hard. They made a good first impression in greeting, and seemed friendly at the end. However they failed to make their visitors feel comfortable during the service.
Remember this: The church is for everyone.
But the church is especially for the stranger. A church that is doing things only for its regular congregation is not being the church. Being insular is not being good news to anyone, not even yourselves.