After the success of my first pilgrimage to a different Church to seek spiritual refreshment and revitalisation I had high hopes for my second. I’d thought long and hard about where to go and finally settled on a Church I had visited the summer before. I’d had high expectations then but was slightly disappointed, largely because the service was, rightly, aimed at students. Sadly my student days are long over and I’m quite happy for them staying that way. I decided to give them a fair shot by attending the morning service instead which was aimed at all ages.
So it was that my willing volunteer and I drove down into the centre of town to St. Peter’s Church.
I should explain first and foremost that this was a revitalised high Church of England establishment. My previous memories had been of this glorious old Church with wooden pews an choir stalls and a wonderful array of acoustics from the high ceilings. Gloriously traditional candlelight school carol concerts. Long gone was much of this glory of old. To my disgust the old stalls were not even being sold off but were piled high like rubbish at the sides of the Church looking like whoever ripped them out had a big problem with any traditional heritage or the beauty of the original architecture. Now I know that belief in Jesus doesn’t mean you have to like gothic style churches but I am also proud of the heritage of our English churches and this was not a promising start.
However it was really the people and the service we were there for so I turned my mind from these former things to the new thing before me. We were welcomed very warmly by an initial greeter who quickly ran out of things to say and passed us on to a lovely, friendly and genuine lady who filled us in on the background of the Church plant and offered us breakfast pastries. All round this was much more like it. A warm welcome makes so much difference and warm it was. But there was a problem.
Have you tried conversing in a night club or at a rock concert or in a busy bar on a Saturday night? You will know what I mean when I say that it is very difficult to hear the other person and the probability of giving yourself a sore throat increases somewhat over normal conversation. Quite so. My problem with the pre-service conversing then was just that. The band were already playing worship tunes (and if they weren’t a nice CD was doing the same job) at such an impressive volume that I was close to experiencing tinnitus. The music I’m sure was great but I really wanted to chat to people and this was the designated time for chatting. Great of you’d rolled out the nightclub and into Church, not so great if you’d been out the night before and were already tired.
Anyway, we struggled on and eventually claimed our seats. This was fine, plenty to choose from (we were assured this was because most of the congregation were on the Church camp weekend), but once again we had to play dodge the loudspeaker. We tried. We failed. So disappointing was this volume issue that we missed the prayers and the brief introductory address. Thank you sound team. It seems that the bass guitarist at that moment was having a wonderful time worshipping God but sadly he was alone as we were trying to pray along with the leader. It was not to be.
The experience wasn’t helped by the pair in front who seemed to think they’d walked in on a speed dating convention. More conversation than worship going on there (and they weren’t commenting on the noise either, I was listening). I wish them luck.
The sermon was good. Solid, reliable, thought-provoking but not too challenging. This in itself was slightly disappointed. I like to be challenged. I like to experience the feeling that there is more to my relationship with God than I have yet experienced. I have however heard very challenging sermons delivered here (the Internet is a wonderful thing) so this particular morning may have been a gentle breather.
There are things the people of God must do to show others who God is, to live like Jesus, to challenge the status quo and appeal to others. Loud music, food, warm welcomes are all a great part of that and accessibility is extremely important to all of that. For this they must be applauded. There was a great mix of ages and cultures and it seemed to fit them all in. But is there a risk that God gets lost? His voice drowned out by all the exciting experiences that can be gained in Church? With such great music and emotive experiences from hanging out together who needs God?
I’m sure there is lots good about St Peter’s. We only saw one service and have not been involved in any of the excellent outreach events. Many locals see there is something fresh and new going on and they like it. Purpose is being served. Perhaps that is where they are reaching out as Jesus would have done. Are the rest of us doing even half as much? I’m just going to pop home and remove the plank from my eye.