|No protesters are shown. Dean and Chapter might object.|
All too often, I find myself trying to think of an excuse for not going to church. I don’t like church. And I’ve finally figured out why. There are people there.
They mess up my intimacy with God. They arrive late, leave early, don’t turn off their mobile phones, sing tunelessly, can’t seem to keep themselves or their kids quiet, talk during the instrumental music, and pretty much ruin the entire worship experience for me.
I’m almost sure I could have a better encounter with God if I stayed at home. I’ve heard that many people – good, solid believers – are giving church a miss. And I sympathise with them increasingly.
There are other reasons I don’t like going to church. They do a lot of things there that just don’t float my boat. They are cosily nostalgic, singing appalling songs that I would have tipped overboard years ago. They might make announcements about Mums and Tots activities. Being neither a Mum nor a Tot, I’m not quite ready for that. They recruit for people to work in the Sunday School – aka the Children’s Ministry (Noooo). They give reports about all kinds of things I’ve never heard of and they give updates about activities in parts of the world I really don’t care that much about.
In other words, church doesn’t meet my needs and it doesn’t centre around me.
Which is exactly why I need to go.
More than almost anything else, I need regular reminders that the world does not revolve around me. The more painful, inconvenient, cringe-making and bothersome the reminder, the more likely it is to unglue me from my oleaginous, self-absorbed adulation of me. All week long I can get away with self-concern. Most of the time, I get to make my own schedule, plan my own priorities, say yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want, and, aside from some rare moments when good friends point all this narcissism out to me, I enjoy having me in the centre of my universe.
But then, Friday morning. Church counters all that. When I go to church, we start out with a time of praise, which reminds me that God is so much bigger than I am. We then move to a time of confession, which shakes me into remembering that I’m not as good as I think I am. And all those other people and announcements about stuff which is nothing to do with me shows me that I am not an island. Rather, whether I like it or not, I am part of a living organism with gifts, strengths, weaknesses, callings, and needs.
The image is of the other St Paul’s which is learning hard lessons of its own at the moment.