Sunday, 16 August 2009

Spoilt for choice.

I went to Church-by-the-Station today.

I was not feeling very happy about this search for a church thing, before I left. I felt like going to Deacon Friend's church where I know I'm welcome in the choir and where I know I'm not going to be afraid of the clergy. But I wouldn't have been able to get there before the end of the service, as it's a 90-minute journey.

With that not an option I felt like staying home and singing instead. But that's never the same as worship with other people, and that won't find me a church.

So I went.

I am glad I went.

Like my visit to Nearest Church two weeks ago, this visit left my imagination alive with possibilities for getting more involved. The music director will be leaving in a few months, though the organist is staying on, and while I am perhaps young and inexperienced there is definitely scope for me to get very involved in the choral side of things should I so wish, without having to build it up nearly from scratch. There are some deaf parishioners and the entire liturgy was simultaneously translated into British Sign Language; when I spoke to choir members they said they hadn't done any choral signing, which is a shame. I bet it would be a possibility, though. The priest who had been doing the signing came and made the sign for peace at us during the peace, I tried to make it back at her but probably messed it up.

Church-by-the-Station is, er, right by Upper Suburbia Tube station. As such it attracts people from all walks of life who just drop in. It seems to take very seriously the call to serve the wider community. The sermon was relevant both to the day's readings and to issues which affect the community. Less of the liturgy was sung than at Long Walk Church and there were no smells or bells, but still processions. The blessing I received at the altar was long but full of almost-tangible warmth, I had a real sense of God there. That was true at Nearest Church, too, but not at Long Walk Church last week.

The choir and organist were very friendly; and again I had people taking my details, saying they'd pass them on to people who wanted music lessons. I ran into Networking Organist from Nearest Church and we had a brief chat about things, which was great.

I actually got a chance to talk to the Vicar for a bit. Or I got a chance for him to talk to me... he seemed very eager to tell me about the things the church has done for the community in recent years, very eager to reassure me that the three churches I have visited so far all work closely together, very eager to emphasize a strong commitment to arts ministry and to equality. Perhaps he was a bit too eager; why not let the facts speak for themselves? But for all that, he did seem to understand that I am looking to make a long-term commitment to a community and that it will take some time to figure out which is right for me. He spoke of the right place being the place that I find that I meet God.

On the whole I felt a lot better for having been to the service. It still really isn't clear where I will end up. But how blessed am I, that there are these three churches I could attend? All of them seem to be places that would nurture me in some ways and challenge me in others. All of them seem to have a strong commitment to serving the wider community. The degrees of inclusiveness vary a bit and perhaps aren't entirely clear but all of the congregations are at least attempting to engage with those issues on some level. And all of them are places where I could get involved with the musical side of things and make significant and useful contributions while learning an awful lot.

I guess the thing now is to keep going back and see what happens... see whether the sermons at Nearest Church get better, see whether the community at Long Walk Church is a little more friendly once you get to know people, see whether Church-by-the-Station really does walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

But I might go visit Deacon Friend next Sunday at Leafy Suburb Church, despite the journey, just to rest in something known, to comfort myself with the slightly-familiar, and perhaps by attending a service at a church where I know I won't be able to make a long-term commitment, turn off that part of my brain which for the last three Sundays has been evaluating everything as it goes by.

7 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Song, I'm enjoying your accounts of your church search. Indeed, you are blessed to have three possible choices. The eager Vicar's words about the right place being the place that you find God sound good to me. You don't need to be in a hurry to make a permanent commitment, except that on your end, you may want to settle sooner rather than later.

Maybe next Sunday would be a good time to take a day off from searching and go to Deacon Friend's church and simply relax and soak in the service.

Ernest said...

Song, I to enjoy following your seeking the place where you will find comfort and challenge.

I was lucky when the first Church I attended fitted my needs, especially in a rural setting, it has 5 churches in the Benefice, which means I can go to any of them each week, sometimes to two different services on the same day.

Yesterday was a Sung Communion with a visiting Vicar - it was truly wonderful with me being able to welcome some visitors from a neighboring parish, just trying a different service for a change.

Our services range from family through BCP to Common Worship, many with a musical element. It is not a mission church, just one with congregations who feel that their involvement is worthwhile, productive and respected.

I start a placement in the Parish next month - testing a vocation, it fills me with joy and hope to be part of such a congregation.

By the way, I travel 50 miles each way to reach it.

When it is right - it is really worth the effort.

Song in my Heart said...

Grandmère Mimi, the thing is that "the place I find God" (or at least feel or perceive that I do) doesn't really narrow things down much. I find God when I'm playing music with others and when I'm sitting under a tree by myself and in a whole range of joys and pains in between, and I have a strong sense that God is present in far more situations than those where I feel or perceive God's presence. I think if I thought I could only find God in church I would be terribly disillusioned, or want to spend every waking hour in church, or perhaps both. Maybe there's another post in there.

Ernest, I'm glad you've found the parish that seems right for you and I wish you all the best with your placement.

I'm glad you both are enjoying my writing about this process of finding a church community to call home. This is one of those cases where I write, not for an audience, but to try to make things clearer in my own mind by putting words to them. Even if I don't re-read later, the act of putting these impressions into words is helpful.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Song, I didn't mean that you can only find God in a church. I didn't think that through, really. I find God in many different people and places and experiences. I tried to say what I wanted to say about church in different words, and I could not find them. It's quite personal and, for me at the moment, eneffable.

Song in my Heart said...

Grandmère, I didn't think that you meant that, I was just wittering. But I see I've tripped over a false dichotomy: just because God can be found in church doesn't mean God can't be found elsewhere. Nevertheless, going to church is still, for me and many others, going to be about finding God on some level... and so it should be.

I think maybe partly I am looking for a place to practise finding God so that it is easier to perceive what is Divine the rest of the time. But if I can't feel some sort of Divine presence in a place at all, it's going to be a very frustrating and discouraging place to practise. Thankfully none of the churches I have been to in this search have felt that way.

Ernest said...

Song,

I think that you can and will find God in everything, even where it is not obvious to you at the time.

When I look back at all of my years in the wilderness without faith, I can see God acting in situations, and signing his presence to me- I just deliberately chose to ignore his presence.

Wonderfully and joyfully I eventually got a sign that I could not resist during a most traumatic event last year. I needed more than my own strength to deal with it - his name came into my mind and I just knew he was there, holding and supporting me waiting for me to love him as he loves us all.

All that has followed has shown me that he is everywhere and in all of us, we just need to acknowledge it ourselves to start seeing him in others.

It can be hard to be in this situation, people who know you and are your friends or family will accept the change, others will consider that you have a problem!

The relationship with God is so unique to each one of us and so personnal, but it is also one to share - which is where worship in the community which makes you feel safe, whole and at peace is so important.

I will continue to watch your journey, if you don't mind, as it can be inspirational to see how you look at things questioning, but always accepting the best in those you meet and share with.

Song in my Heart said...

Ernest,

Thank you for your comment. This bit particularly struck a chord for me: "The relationship with God is so unique to each one of us and so personnal, but it is also one to share - which is where worship in the community which makes you feel safe, whole and at peace is so important."

Of course I don't mind if you continue to watch my journey. I value the contributions I get from people who comment, and I also know there are some who read but don't say much.