Friday, November 28, 2008

Church, Jim, but ...

The church in this photo (for which I'm grateful to rickie22) is one with which I was very familiar in my youth. My school, Hillhead, was just along that road to the left of the picture, and we went there for end-of-term services. I waited endlessly for the number 10 bus just where this photo was taken, and I went to Glasgow University, whose campus surrounds this site. I actually quite enjoyed my school services, I have to say, as the then minister, Stewart McWilliam, was an impressive and interesting preacher, and with the company of my pals I was spared much of what at the time "church" meant to me.

Because I never did "join" the presbyterian church of my upbringing. If I went, it was usually under duress, and I was oppressed by the overpowering ambience of good works, respectability and Sunday hats. The singing would be lusty but unappealing, the diction of the clergy portentous and mannered ("God" was often "Gud"), and well-meaning adolescents were always trying to get me to come to youth group and play ping-pong. It wasn't that I had no awareness of God - it was just that I didn't ever have it in this setting, and I wanted no part of it.

And I thought for a long time that the extraordinary experiences which led me to confirmation in the Episcopal church at the age of 28 were part and parcel of Scottish Episcopalianism. The minority sport aspect of worshipping in the diocese of Argyll lent a sense of precariousness which suited me just fine. But I was misled.There are, it seems, plenty of churches where the most important event seems to be the annual sale of work, the most noteworthy task the baking of a great cake. And yes, people seem to be cheerfully busy with such activities and happy to write about them year in, year out. They listen dutifully to music good, bad and indifferent, and they listen to the priest and go home again. Maybe they even disagree - politely or rancorously - and moan now and again about this or that.

So with a sort of official review approaching my home parish, I'm happy to report that church doesn't feel like any of that. We may have a tiny congregation, we may wish we had some money to Do Something About The Tower - but we seem to be alive, in an interesting and challenging fashion which has us reading and studying and talking and singing - not in a choir, but all together. We seem to be pushing into a more vital sense of what being church is all about. And we don't actually seem to fit into any category.

And all that suits me just fine.

Note: this post and the photo illustrating it has had an interesting journey which illustrates the different attitudes of the people who share their photos on flickr. I'm happy to say that after an unpleasantly acrimonious response from one photographer I have heard from another who shares my attitude - and his photos!


  1. During the week the church in the pic does soup and sandwiches. I was in there all the time when I was at uni. A fantastic range of vegetable soups made, on a volunteer basis, by the women of the church. They've even printed a booklet of their very quick and easy to make recipes. My favorite is the cream of pepper, yum yum!

  2. Does it not seem somewhat strange that in "the body of Christ" there seems to be such diversity and one must make his or her way to what is right for him or her? And how is it, that we are all so unique? Perhaps that is part of the "head, foot, arm, hand", etc.? Why is it that church that feels "dead" to one is "alive" to another? I have questioned this so many times and find myself no closer to a conclusion than confusion!!!!

    Sorlil has made me drool on my keyboard...I must be hungry!

  3. The many faces of God - we only need to see one.