Zooming the Church Field
Throughout my life, I have been somewhat of a church shopper, having always felt that it is hard enough being a Christian without the requirement to pick sides. Surely, we are all facing the same way and arguing about doctrinal principles, which few understand and even fewer care about, can only detract from our worship of the one God. If we are pointing at each other, we are not facing God.
I started in a Welsh language Baptist chapel from which my father removed us due to their lack of Welshness: somewhat odd, as we didn’t actually live in Wales. But, no matter, we adjourned to the Welsh Methodist chapel and established our pew close to the front, partly due to my father being a part time opera singer and my mother an accomplished accompanist; a marriage made in heaven one might think, but that is for another blog or even psychotherapist’s couch.
This combination of the 12th row back and father’s booming voice meant there was no hiding place for a rebellious child who was more interested in comics, girls and alcohol – probably in that order of timing. When the preacher ascended the steps of the pulpit, quite often trailing a black gown, and launched into a wholesale condemnation of the sins of the world, I knew he was talking directly to me and knew every peccadillo I had committed. This man – always a man, of course – had never cracked a smile and when his fist slammed down upon his Bible, I could feel the flames of Hell licking at my toes and proceeding embarrassingly higher.
Even worse, we were on the rota for entertaining visiting preachers for lunch (standard joke: we’re having the preacher for lunch; how was he; a bit tough). As well as being interrogated about my educational performance and my attendance at Sunday school, this meant we were obliged to take him to the Sunday evening service – pretending, of course, that we always went three times a day - and relive the whole edifying experience.
It would not take a vivid imagination to conclude that these experiences, together with the hypocrisy of temperance chapel attendees who seemed to fall off their personal wagons on regular occasions, killed my religious affiliations for some time. I cannot now even remember when I next became aware of just ‘being a Christian’. I started talking to Jesus on a very personal, but human, level – I have always known he would make a great companion for dinner or even for a quick couple of beers – and felt compelled to find others of a similar bent.
My travels have taken me to many places and many churches. I have witnessed a man wearing an Hawaiian top (in Hawaii) singing as colourfully and as tastelessly as his shirt. I have sat in the peace of a Quaker meeting and appreciated that sometimes nothing is the best thing to say. I have attended a Presbyterian meeting; been confirmed by a C of E bishop; kept Yom Kippur and worn a prayer shawl and yarmulke at synagogue; ingested the smells and bells; rattled a tambourine badly; joined in a revival with a thousand people of colour; and taken the wafer from a Roman Catholic priest, obviously with the blessing of my own vicar.
Consequentially, Zoom services are just another bump along the highway. I am hiding out in my wife’s home in the Czech Republic, so that is the only mode of attendance I can perform, though occasionally I earn many brownie points by joining my mother-in- law at her magnificent twin-towered Liechtenstein church on the Czech/Austrian border. I try to look in on my home church in Kew in the morning, though the C. of E. does do its performance in an almost apologetic manner. In the evening, I join my sister’s service in Ashland, Oregon, at a United Church of Christ service. Nine hours behind does present a moral dilemma as we have a first drink at 7.00 just when the service commences.
Where has this journey brought me; to three certainties: there is a God whatever He, She or It may be; Jesus is my saviour and there is a life after this one, which I term the next great adventure. That is all I know. I read through the Bible twice a year and receive snippets of C. S. Lewis and john Piper, both good, but fundamentally flawed, as we all are.
I am not a member of the LGBT+ community. I joined Changing Attitude because I could not see the point of not having female bishops, priests, popes. I transferred to OneBodyOneFaith for the same reason. Does the church really have so many people beating down its doors that it can afford to sub-divide ‘love thy neighbour’ into faux Indian castes? Yes, you’re my neighbour but you can‘t live in my street.
I do not know the pain of discrimination, opprobrium, exclusion, so any pious words would be ill-informed and inappropriate. I do know that, whether It is in person or on-line, I am there not for the church, chapel or meeting house, but for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and they/he/she/it are there for me – specially for me and no-one can stand in their way. And that gives me great joy.