Here are two photos of Churches I’ve attended today, whilst on holiday in Cornwall. I put each photo on my Facebook page and its interesting to see what replies I got. In many ways its unfair as one was absolutely packed out for worship and the other was open especially for a Cornish cream tea with quite a few visitors and so the photos taken out of context don’t show the full picture and story (& I probably don’t know it anyway)
The first is of St Petroc Parish Church in Bodmin and the second is the Tubestation surfers Church in Polzeath.
What it has raised in my mind is the question, which is the ‘real’ Church?
No doubt to some the answer would be the first picture and that would be largely based on the beauty of the building, and it really was glorious, the pews, the wall decorations and I have no doubt the glory of the liturgy.
The Church in the second picture contained none of the above. The chairs were haphazardly arranged, there were settees at the front, with a skateboard park serving as the sanctuary area. There was no traditional liturgy, even for the Holy Communion and because of the sheer numbers who had to stand it felt gloriously chaotic !
My issue is, and it constantly comes back to me, is what constitutes a Church ? Now this is where I run the risk of being judgemental and I don’t want to so please don’t take this as putting one Church over the other. I can’t be accurate about it as St Petroc wasn’t during worship and we were very warmly welcomed, including our granddaughter Piper. However to many a Church consists of the furnishings, the style of the buildings and so on, whereas there was nothing attractive about the Tubestation. It even had its walls and ceiling decorated with surfboards ! The only outwardly attractive thing about the building was being able to smell the coffee and see the sea through the windows. Again an unfair comment, as I couldn’t see much else for the sheer number of
people in attendance. What is the difference between the Tubestation and any other building which calls itself a Church ? For me it’s simply the people. At St Petroc we were warmly welcomed, invited to take a table and when Piper wanted to play with the toys on offer there was no fuss and simply a generous hospitality shown towards Alison who sat amongst the toys. In fact the lady on duty took Alisons cream tea and two cups of tea to her ! If the rest of the Church is as gracious and hospitable as that lady was to us then it’s a good Church to me. At the Tubestation we were greeted by a lady who asked if we needed seats to sit on or could we stand: she had reserved four seats for those who would be unable to last the entire service standing. Again hospitality and welcome.
I’ve been in Churches where even as the preacher I haven’t felt welcome including one where the steward said at 5.55 p.m. (for a 6.00 p.m.) service, “Well. lets get on with it lad: sooner we start the sooner we can get it over with !” Didn’t make me feel welcome.
I’ve been in Churches where I was told not to encourage the children who like to dance, or Churches where I’ve heard loud tut-tuts at the slightest thing out of the regular order.
I’ve been in Churches where the offering method was changed at baptisms to increase income from the increased number of visitors, suggesting the finance was more important than the welcome.
Now both these Churches today will have their faults and having visited each only once it’s not for me to say how they function, and of course all places of worship have faults and failings, pro’s and con’s, good and bad. But I keep coming back to the words of Jesus who gathered his disciples and especially Peter together and said to them “Upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Now some translators especially point out that Peter means rock and I have heard it argued that it also means ‘little pebble’ although I’m doubtful about that translation and can’t even remember where I heard it. When Jesus declared that ‘I will build my Church” I don’t think he meant a physical building nor a religious denomination but a community of believers who would study his teaching, learn about him and emulate his lifestyle of love and forgiveness. He centres this statement upon Peter who has come to the conclusion that Jesus is the way forward, but it’s surely a comment also on all of humankind who choose to live the Christian lifestyle following the model teacher. Alternatively it could also be a declaration that followers need to be strong like rocks and that Jesus is building his Church on himself: followers therefore need to be strong in their faith in Jesus and in their belief that he is Lord and Saviour.
Whichever it is, or both, then its about people NOT about buildings or traditions. It’s not about religious dress, or style; it’s not about words but it is about people living out the words of Jesus in their lives, loving, caring, accepting, non-judging, forgiving, lifting up and encouraging others, see the potential in others and so , so , so much more.
It’s about being the people who see others through the eyes of Jesus, the giver of life; life in all its fullness.
The well dressed Minister !