I’m not long back from a lovely weekend with three amazing, funny, beautiful, intelligent God-loving women – Paula, Sian and Eulette. Eulette hosted us at her flat, so we went to her church this morning. Now, I was brought up in an Anglican church but not a hugely traditional one; the building is early 1970s, just like me. I’m currently part of the congregation at a higher church in Colchester. There’s a choir, robes and the BCP but no incense. On a Wednesday, I sometimes attend the very informal service at St Margaret Lothbury. So, that’s my tradition, that’s what I’m used to. I am definitely a hands-down for worship kind of person, but I understand not everyone is.
Hence, this morning’s trip to Jubilee Church London was always going to be interesting. If I’d been going on my own, I’d have been frankly terrified at the prospect. I imagined such a free-for all, with things being made up on the spot (sorry – ‘inspired by the Spirit at the moment’). My friends know this is how I feel and they know why I like the structure of the services at my home church; we’ve talked about it lots before. Even the fact there’s a chap with a church-branded tabard directing traffic in the Cineworld car park is a little off my experience: as it was pointed out by Paula, taking a high church Anglican to a Pentecostal church should be a spectator sport.
Anyway. How did I get on?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t hate it. Yes, I felt out of place. Yes, I found much that was strange. Church in a cinema? Weird. I didn’t really like not knowing what was coming next or how far through the proceedings we were (this is a general condition of mine, not just in church but in life in general…I do like a nice planned agenda). I did find it a little hard to follow the main talk because of the speaker’s accent. I found the messages from the creche for parents to collect kids a bit distracting. And oh my word it was noisy. Late starting, so much chatting going on; no chance to gather quietly and reverently before the service. There wasn’t a huge amount of prayer, a point which has only just struck me. The breaking of bread was done hurriedly; and chaotically; we had wine brought to us before any bread had come into view. The pastor asked that this was done quickly, he said ‘we’ll just quickly break bread together.’ I suspect that if you had never been taught why this was important, you’d perhaps not really know and link it to the Easter message. And it was a passing part of a bigger event, not the main focus as it is in an 8am BCP service (my usual). Finally, whilst I understood the message, the first talk about the imminent 3-day fast had a bit of a ring of triumphalism about it. Fast for three days, and you’ll be on your way to getting great blessings. We need to move from survival, to sufficient, to significance with God – no real sense that it’s not always onwards and upwards. Alongside that, I’m used to a more measured, academic, fuller explanation of where a particular passage fits into the Bible, rather than just diving in.
But, I enjoyed it. The worship was well led and there were a couple of songs I know, and even one I like. (It’s an ongoing joke I rarely sing anything written in the last 90 years). It was noisy enough that I could sing loudly and not be heard. Paula tells me she saw my foot tapping, which is apparently one step down a slippery slope to embracing Pentecostalism. The talk on fasting was funny, and encouraging; I almost felt tempted to join in (only almost). A church member and friend of my friend had sadly recently died and the pastor’s announcement showed that in this case at least the church, although large, had a sense of community with real concern for the widow. There are clearly flourishing small groups for people (not groups for small people). We were given a welcome pack with a CD, an introductory brochure and explanation of the church social life, as well as the spiritual.
If you wanted loud, upbeat, inspirational and exuberant stuff then this would be right up your street. If you wanted considered prayer, a sense of structure, and quiet reflection, you’re definitely going to be in the wrong place. How lucky we are that we are not all restricted to the same identikit kind of church and we can find our own place.
I really valued the chance to experience this, and it has made me aware of how little I know of other churches’ styles even in my own town. Definitely an interesting morning; definitely some food for thought in the messages I heard and the conversation over lunch.
Thank you, Eulette, for sharing this with me, and inviting me along; thanks for tolerating my jokes and insecurities, and for a wonderful weekend. [Quick edit: forgot to say that I did introduce my friends to Compline, and my all-time favourite prayer from it; I think they quite liked it]