Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Small is ...

There is a tendency among Scottish Episcopalians to comfort themselves with the mantra 'Small is beautiful'. Most of us live lives of quiet desperation in decaying Victorian buildings with damp walls and leaking roofs which the congregation is too small to warm with the press of bodies on a Sunday. So we remind ourselves of the remark made by a now departed bishop that when Our Lord said that he would be in the midst 'when two or three were gathered together' he had in mind an optimum number, and reflect that nowadays if people put themselves through all this then at least they must be sincere. But is there more to church life in miniature than merely keeping warm and dry?

Well of course there is. The heart-stopping beauty of a summer evening Eucharist when the birdsong drifts on the air and there is a real sense that everyone present is as one; the waiting silence of a dark Advent afternoon ... these are things which keep us going. But there are also difficulties in belonging to such a small family. There's nowhere else to go, for a start, if family life becomes stressful - unless you're in a city, you have to drive for an hour to find another church. If someone leaves, or dies, or simply becomes disaffected and starts drifting, it leaves a huge gap. If the only tenor decides not to appear, there's no harmony, and if the organist takes a day off the CD player is a focus for girning. And if new people arrive - if - the effect can be disproportionately great, for good or bad. And that's only in the congregation - but presumably any congregation has to shake down with new clergy, so I'm not even going there.

And when you know that your days are numbered, financially, and that your diocese is proportionately tiny also, you start wondering. The discerning among you might notice that I've not mentioned God at all in all this. I have a feeling that this is par for the course. When people become obsessed with the mechanics of the worshipping community, God tends to take a back seat. And that's not a good thing. At all.

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