Bit late getting round to this but I wanted to record one or two reflections arising from last Sunday’s visit to Manchester Chinese Christian Church. Since meeting Pastor Kim a number of years ago we’ve been trying to fix up for me to preach to “his people”. It was a delight finally to do so. What follows is not so much processed thinking as a list of impressions and half baked musings.
GREAT TO BE IN A CONGREGATION THAT WAS SO YOUNG. Not that there’s anything wrong with being in elderly congregations. It’s just that this made a refreshing change. Well actually no, I’m not being entirely honest; I’m trying too hard not to be offensive to older people. Truth is that unless we do something about the age profile of many congregations in this country then in about ten to twenty years we are going to see a precipitous drop off in the number of church-goers and congregations.
DISAPPONTING THAT THE EXPERIENCE AS A WHOLE WASN’T MORE CHINESE. Apart from the black tea after the service, the script on some of the notices around the building and the sense of quiet politeness that pervaded the whole morning, it really was just like being in so many other just-about-charismatic-but-not-as-charismatic-as-we-used-to-be-back-in-the-70’s-and-80’s congregations. Don’t get me wrong this says far more about me and my expectations (prejudices?) than it does about the people with whom I was worshipping. There is no reason whatsoever that they should be anything other than just what they are – certainly no reason that has anything to do with my yen for the exotic. Except that is that we do need fresh and imaginative ways of being church and I do still nurture a fond hope that some of the ethnic minority congregations in our country just might just have something distinctive to offer. If all that’s going to happen is that such congregations take on the form and feel of past-its-best-tired-Spring-Harvest approach to liturgy then in all likelihood my hope will be forlorn. It should be noted though that this was the English speaking (therefore by definition the most anglicised) congregation. Must fix up with Kim to visit the Cantonese and Mandarin speaking congregations.
GREAT TO BE IN A DECENT SIZED CONGREGATION. Not that there’s anything indecent about small congregations. (I am more than happy to belong to a church where we get the church growth equivalent of vertigo if 30 people show up on Sunday morning.) It’s just that now that I go around preaching at and visiting other churches as a matter of routine I can’t help noticing just how many titchy gatherings of people there are out there. Of course I already knew that in a statistical-matter-of-fact-sort-of-a-way. But seeing it for yourself and feeling it in your water does bring home just how fragile and vulnerable many congregations and indeed some whole denominations are. Now before you go and get all theological on me, I too could wax lyrical about how appropriate it is for followers of Christ to be in a precarious place and how dangerous it is when we start flexing our ecclesial muscles in the posing mirror. But I also reckon that when it comes to talking about numbers there’s an awful lot of special pleading going on and that to most ministers, and indeed non-professional Christians, out there numbers do matter for all kind of reasons – some good, some bad. [Note from the little editor who sits in the back of my head: stop waffling and save what you were going to say for a separate post about numbers, size, church growth, success and failure. OK ed.]
GREAT TO BE IN A CONGREGATION THAT INVITED VISITORS BRIEFLY TO INTRODUCE THEMSELVES. A familiar pattern this in some traditions and a number of countries but one that doesn’t seem to have taken off in the circles I move in. Of course I understand the let’s-not-embarrass-people-by-putting-them-on-the-spot-when-they-would-rather-sit-at-the-back-of-church-and-observe-unharrassed thing, but I actually quite like this way of doing things and I’ve never yet seen it cause any awkwardness. On the contrary it always seems to be entirely natural and appropriate. Isn’t it just a matter of courtesy and hospitality? Isn’t it entirely fitting for a small group of people acting corporately to say a hello and offer a polite, formal, public welcome to visitors. In such a grouping pretending that newcomers aren’t there, not acknowledging them, seems a bit odd.
GREAT TO BE IN A CONGREGATION THAT DISTRIBUTED BIBLES TO THOSE WHO’D LEFT THEIR’S AT HOME SO THEY COULD CHECK OUT WHAT WAS BEING SAID IN THE SERMON. Nuff said.
DISAPPOINTING TO WRECK THE WHOLE THING BY BUMPING INTO THE CAR NEXT TO ME WHILE TRYING TO GET MY VAN OUT OF THE UNDERSIZE CAR PARK. “That’s a shame” he said without any sense of irony, “and I quite enjoyed your sermon this morning.”
WORRYING THAT SINCE SUNDAY I SEEM TO HAVE DEVELOPED A CAN’T-WRITE-WITHOUT-USING-LOTS-HYPHENS ADDICTION. Can drinking tasty black tea rather than the usual English-church-stewed-for-especially-for-you variety do that to you?