Sunday, 30 August 2009

Church Search continues

Nearest Church was rather lovely again today; several people remembered me from my previous visit. They used a real hymnal this time. The sermon was... academic and rather dry but not uninteresting in and of itself, just not really theology. The musical director has all but offered me an informal apprenticeship and made it clear that his instruction is not contingent on my ultimately attending or being involved with that church; this is a very great gift.

I had a brief chat with the vicar and he seemed to understand that while I am interested in contributing musically wherever I end up, I don't want church music to be just another professional gig. That perhaps isn't the right way of phrasing things, because I certainly don't see teaching that way either and my best performances also have an element of spiritual engagement... it doesn't feel quite right to do any of it without some commitment to things more important than money and career advancement, and perhaps the best definition of "professional" should include that. We didn't get to talk long, because after a service on Sunday is not really the best time to have
a serious conversation with someone whom every single person there wants to speak to... he got pulled off to a meeting fairly quickly.

I think wherever I go it is going to be tricky to balance musical contributions with being part of a nurturing and challenging community. Not getting involved with the musical side of things is pretty much unthinkable, I may as well accept that I'll want to sing in the choir at the very least and probably do rather more than that, but getting involved... I don't quite have the right words to explain my hesitance. When I was growing up I was a) the minister's (step)daughter and b) always heavily involved in the musical side of things and that together with moving every few years (seven churches, I think, in 13 or 14 years, though some of the military ones might have blurred together a bit in my head) meant that I didn't participate so much in other aspects of church... looking back, it seems like I wasn't ever really in the position of being ministered to, of being led by others into a fuller or more conscious relationship with God. At some churches it was clear that both paid employees and volunteers very much did take ministry to one another as seriously as, for example, community outreach or leading the congregation in worship, but I felt I was always at arm's length because of family stuff. And at some churches that didn't seem to happen so well for anyone, whether they'd been there a long time or not, because there was a sort of imaginary line between the congregation (there to receive or be led) and everyone else (there to work) and I was not on the congregational side of the line. I'm not entirely sure why it works out that way in some places but I do not want to end up in that situation again; I'm not likely to end up isolating myself because of family concerns at this stage of things but if there is a very clear line between the congregation and everyone else and this is detrimental to the spiritual health of the "everyone else", I doubt I have the ability to change that kind of dynamic to something healthier by my own efforts. So I find myself in the position of trying to evaluate how the clergy and others involved in running services and other aspects of formal and informal ministry relate to one another, from the viewpoint of sitting in the congregation as a visitor, when the vast majority of my experience in church has been as a musician and general help. I've probably been not-in-the-choir in more services in London than in the rest of my life put together; I only started attending any sort of church service regularly in January, so that's not a whole lot of services. No wonder I'm not sure where to go!

On one level it seems selfish to worry about any of this rather than just giving what I can of my time regardless of whether I "get anything back". Surely participation should be its own reward and I should go where I am most useful and trust God to sort out the bits about meeting my needs... but I suspect that's too simplistic an approach (in a rather "I sent a rescue car, a boat and a helicopter, what do you mean I didn't answer your prayers for help?" sort of way). And even some of the most musically rewarding experiences I had as a teenager were not enough to address some of my theological questions or keep me engaged with church despite those issues.

Of course I have several advantages now that I didn't when I was living with my parents: aside from knowing myself a lot better and functioning much better in general, I am actually in a position now to leave a community if I'm not getting on with people or it simply doesn't feel right. And if I could back out of conversion to orthodox Judaism after putting in so much time and effort, I can surely switch to a different church to attend on Sunday mornings if I really need to. Maybe I'm just looking for problems where there aren't any (who, me?) because a supportive, welcoming and accessible community seems a little bit too good to be true and more than one is more choice than I've ever felt I had.


Ernest said...


Another thought provoking blog - with the search uppermost in your mind.

It is interesting to hear of how you have got to where you are now, and your views on the 'them and us' aspect of some congregations. Luckily, something I have yet to experience.

Your comment on Military Churches interests me, as I have just retired from one - and am on the verge of a Parish Attachment to test a vocation - this came about due to my links with a military chaplain, and my own exploring of my faith and a strong call I feel to do more. I feel that God's will is still to be discerned so I move on my path, gently and wonderingly at so much change can be brought about by a chance conversation.

As for your journey - it is right for you to seek the place where you feel welcomed and valued as a member of the whole community, not just as a musician, singer or teacher. There is so much more to each of us and gifts perhaps we do not even know we have to be used for God's purposes.

I feel privilaged to be following the journey you are on.

it's margaret said...

You will either know if it is right --or you will take a leap of faith. Either way, entering community feels, and sometimes is risky. Take your time. --I mean, it's kinda like falling in love, isn't it?!

Song in my Heart said...


I imagine that the military churches my stepdad served in Canada are somewhat different to what is provided here in the UK, but I don't really know. I'm happy to talk about this more by e-mail if you like (though might be slow to reply, busy week getting ready for teaching this week).

I also have a sense of wonder at how much can be changed. I really thought I had had my struggle with Christianity and moved on.


I feel more like I've taken a series of small hops of faith than anything that could be called a leap. There are times when it feels very much like falling in love. You've reminded me of this part of a poem:
Some diving into love
(as into water) drown. Yet love
holds her surely as the ocean
holds swimmers. Secured and secure
she mounts the rising tides,

There is a lot of water imagery in my head these days.

Thank you both for your encouragement and support.

Ernest said...


My comment regarding Military Churches was related to my military service, which I have just retired from.

Just over a year ago, I had an experience which was traumatic for all involved, and where a Reserve Military Padre was involved providing support to us all.

During this, I said to him, "all of this could make me get religion" his joking response was, "this could make me an athiest".

On that day, the flame was lit. God spoke to me and said, I am here, just ask me in. He had been shut out of my life for so long, I could not take it in.

But everything followed on. My whole life and perspective has been transformed. I know now what I have missed for so long was his love and presence in my life. He was there, but I was to busy and angry at him to acknowledge him.

Now I am living and learning and growing every day - I have so far to go in that respect, which is why I can find inspiration from your journey - where seeking is so much a part of what you are doing.

At the moment I am just about to spend a couple of days on a retreat, and start a placement in my Parish next week to try to discern where God's will is taking me.

Life now is not a struggle, rather a journey, shared with my family and friends and community, we had a wonderful service this weekend where I and my wife renewed our wedding vows - which was so uplifting, supported by the fellowship of family and friends and the whole congregation.

So journeys shared make others easier to understand and to draw inspiration from.