Throughout my life there has been a consistent feature. I have gone to church every Sunday morning since I can remember. My earliest memories are of the otherworldliness of church. The coloured puddles of light on the cold, grey, stone floors as sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, the richness of the decoration and the beautiful images conjured up in my mind as we sang hymns that spoke of, “the songs of the sinless sweeping across the crystal sea”. I even believed that those in robes at the front were angels who came down from heaven to administer to us mortals for the duration of the service. It came as quite a shock when I saw the altar boys having a fight in the graveyard one Sunday morning!
Fortunately my fledgling faith survived this set back and my next experience of church was serving. I was literally a server in that I assisted the vicar at Communion. I also sang in the choir, played in the worship band and even wrote and performed sketches with my youth group. I began to appreciate the rhythm and unending cycle of the liturgical year. I especially loved Holy Week. We had the procession out of the church on Palm Sunday while we sang a hymn which seemed to go on forever. I particularly enjoyed how at different points along the procession we were all on different verses. At last we had escaped the tyranny of the organ that kept us uniformly in time! On Maunday Thursday we stripped the church bare of all its fabrics and furnishings. There was nowhere to hide from the sufferings that we would hear recounted on Good Friday. But then on Easter Sunday morning, the church was at its best – dressed in all its finery, filled with the smell of fresh flowers and there would always be a basket of crème eggs in an alcove by the side of the altar which would be distributed at the end of the service.
When I went through my rebellious teenage years and was dragged out of bed and forced to go to church, I became aware that while I entered church in a foul mood, I always left strangely upbeat and optimistic as we were sent out, “to love and serve the Lord” at the end of the service. I began to consider that God was doing something deep and mysterious in me as I met with Him on a Sunday morning and that it required a life-long response. I still had huge questions and wrestled with ideals in the Bible that definitely did not match up with who I was and my experience of life and faith. I began to see that much of what I appreciated about church actually seemed to be a barrier to others coming into a knowledge and love of Christ. So eventually I ditched the liturgy, the aesthetics and the pattern of the established church for a model that seemed to care much more about making a difference to the lived experience of those outside the community of faith and got really excited about having a relationship with a personal Saviour!
Every Sunday I thanked God for the church he had provided me with. I loved these people and they saw a leadership potential in me which was developed and carefully shaped around my identity. Things have moved on since then and currently I feel a good deal of hurt and disappointment towards church. However, I don’t want to stop believing in it altogether. It is precisely because I see it as so foundational to my own journey that I can no longer stand to just go through the motions. But there must be a way to take all that has been good and true and formative and repackage it for a different generation? I really hope so because I don’t think God has stopped believing in church either!