Sunday, 9 August 2009

Another week, another church

I'm looking for a church to attend regularly in the area I've just moved to, which I'm calling Upper Suburbia. Last Sunday I went to Nearest Church.

I've also been going occasionally to Morning Prayer at what I'll call Long Walk church (it is just over a mile and a half away, and my joints are iffy). The vicar there is very learned, and I--tentatively--like his theology, insofar as we've discussed it. So today I decided to turn up at a Sunday morning Eucharist there and see what I got.

The service was lively and somewhat informal; lots of noisy under-fives were joining in worship and nobody seemed to mind much. I liked that. There were bells but no smells and all the doors were kept open the entire time (it's hot today so this is perhaps understandable) and that felt right, too. The building is newer than many churches, having been rebuilt sometime post-WWII, but though it's rather discouraging from the outside it still feels like a church on the inside.

Importantly, given my difficulties with Eucharist and inclusion, the service booklet said "all who wish to receive come forward", none of this stuff about being a communicant member of a Christian church or whether you normally receive Communion in your own church. It still didn't feel right, so I went for a blessing instead, and I'm now not sure whether that was the right thing. But it's good to know that it is being offered unconditionally.

The Eucharist itself was given in one kind (as opposed to Nearest Church which is still using both kinds and giving people the option of receiving one kind) and we were told not to shake hands for the Peace. It's the same diocese so I can only assume that the instructions on that level have been very much along the lines of "do what you think best".

The service booklet also used the Apostles' Creed as the pre-Eucharist creed, and listed the Nicene Creed and also -- get this -- the United Church of Canada Creed as alternate creeds which are sometimes used in that community. I grew up with that creed, alongside the more traditional Nicene and Apostles' creeds.

The booklet also explained in plain terms the significance of various bits of the service, which was nice.

The sermon was on the second paragraph of the Apostles' Creed. I don't remember it as well as I'd like, I'm writing this some hours later, but it was useful. To paraphrase (possibly inaccurately, before anyone goes accusing the good vicar of heresy), it said that the Christian faith recognises Jesus as being so incredibly attuned to and responsive to the will of God (the Father/Creator) that we worship him as actually being One with what is Divine. That's... the closest I have come to an understanding of Jesus' divinity that I can accept. There was also in the preamble a reference to the current Anglican Covenant nonsense and the remark that we already have a Christian covenant.

Most bits of the service, including the Lord's Prayer (but not including the psalmody, sigh), were sung. I don't know the mass setting, I assume there are various standard ones about. The hymnal was one of these Kevin Mayhew things full of ridiculously cringe-worthy theology and there were no dots for me to read but the hymns chosen seemed mostly okay (not so sure about the very last one with the syncopated rhythms but it might be better with a choir), weren't taken too slowly... the organist is not as virtuosic as the one at Nearest Church but does seem to be reasonably musical.

There was no choir but the service booklet mentions a 'music group' which sometimes sings an anthem. The congregation was much more independent and confident at singing, though, even if some of the notes diverged quite a bit from what the organist was playing.

The announcements did include things that make me think the congregation (or at least the vicar) are committed to both ecumenical and inter-faith relations in a way I approve of.

Afterward one person introduced herself, politely enough, and then flitted off and one person who normally comes to Morning Prayer said hello and that it was nice to see me on a Sunday morning. And then I quietly left. People weren't un-welcoming, as such, but either there wasn't tea afterward or nobody invited me...

Last week after visiting Nearest Church my imagination was alive with ways I could get involved and I felt very welcome. I actually skipped for a few meters on my way home.

This week at Long Walk Church some basic doctrinal issues seem to be closer to being resolved and the inclusiveness of the theology is good but I left feeling a bit flat and uninspired. And it IS a long walk, which could be a problem.

If I had only these two to choose from it would be a tough choice. The one that made me feel better was not the one that ticked most of the "I approve of this theology" boxes.

As it is I am wondering whether a possibility would be to attend Thursday morning Eucharist at Long Walk Church, and continue going there for Morning Prayer sometimes, but keep my Sunday attendance elsewhere. I'm not convinced that's the right thing either, though. Discernment is hard.

Thankfully I don't have to make a decision right away. Next Sunday I will try Church By-the-Station. It has by far the most active music program of the three, though as always, August is not a time when church choirs are at their best.

(Later in the afternoon I went back to Long Walk Church for a music event; the vicar is also a musician and he and some other friends have published a songbook. I couldn't stay long because I had already arranged to go elsewhere to meet someone; I bought the songbook, proceeds of which will go to inter-faith peace projects in the Middle East. The songs are... not what I'd been hoping. The words are okay, some of the words are even quite good. The music is not in and of itself actively offensive, though none of it stood out to me as particularly good either. But just because you have the right number of syllables and the right number of notes does NOT mean something will be singable. That said, I was sorry to have to leave before the end as the talky bits in between songs were quite informative and the vicar has obviously put some thought and study into this. I had written most of this post in my head before I went back, though.)

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