As an expat, I sometimes ask myself why people go to church. They might just be looking for a community to belong to, like huddling penguins or perhaps it is because they are searching for resonances of home, English gardens in the rain and the familiarity of the Anglican liturgy. I don’t look down on such an attitude, I just don’t really understand it. Yet, the ‘non-vagabonds’, in other words, people not like me for whom ‘home’ has a root and a landscape, some of them are doing, I suppose, what I and others used to do, exploring the cultural validity of the creation’s response to the Creator within the securer contexts of cultural familiarity – a reinvention of worship in a relevant context – an emergent church, a modern parousia, the God of the iPad. So-called contemporary or emergent churches have seen visitor numbers rise threefold in the last ten years. They come perhaps because they feel that their lives really are reflected in the worship they see there. Church is no longer a remote, good-for-you pursuit in which in order to take part, you have to be educated in the long and arduous narratives of Western church history. It has exploded into a multicultural, multimedia spectacle in which worshippers have embraced all the technologies available, a natural successor to the culture of consumerist identity, specifically musical – Woodstock mature, if you will. The multivalency of media is mirrored by a multivalency of cultural rooting. There is no longer just one church history to be followed; the invitation is there to challenge and recontextualise the histories that we have accepted from the past. The Church is in a position to do something extraordinary to reflect the diversity of modern life. It can be a reinterpreter of inherited histories and a producer of a new awareness, in which the validity of any one history is never put before the direct, one-to-one primal experience of a single worshipper in the face of a single act of worship in a single space – the rediscovery of awe and wonder, like one’s first visit to the Guggenheim, or Glyndebourne, or whatever floats the boat. The spectacular explosion of popularity for Hillsong United is one of many worldwide examples.
I still wonder where I belong.