CHURCH OF ENGLAND POT LUCK

When Mrs MP and myself first started walking out together, we would go to the flicks a couple of times every week. I really love film. But nowadays, because of the cost, we rarely go. On those rare occasions when we have the spare cash I research the films being shown very carefully first. It is, of course, easy to do this now we have the internet. I check out The Internet Movie Database for the people's verdict, Empire for the critics' verdict and the Guardian for the arty farty verdict. Only if I am pretty much convinced that we are both going to enjoy the film will we commit to going to see it. Otherwise we wait for the film to be shown on TV.

My question today is this, "Why can't the Church of England make available full information about what each of its churches is "showing" each Sunday in the same way cinemas and film reviewers do for films?

There must be a couple of hundred churches open in Durham Diocese, each of them will be offering something slightly or, even radically, different to each other. But finding out the true personality of each church is impossible unless you are prepared to visit each one in person. It is rare for a congregation to even admit to the major category of churchmanship it adheres to. Those parish churches that can be arsed to put up a website on the net (not all churches by any means) are reticent about being honest about where they are coming from. All you get is bland comments about being a "welcoming congregation" and such like. If you are a Church of England veteran you can sometimes work out roughly what sort of worship and indoctrination a particular church follows by looking at the list of services each week. But this can be ambiguous. "Family service" normally means evangelical with little reference to the fixed liturgies of the Church, but broad churches and even some liberal catholic churches may also employ the term in order to encourage "young families" to walk through their doors. Anyway, such secret language is of no help whatsoever to a person seeking to go to church for the first time.

I would love to find a church in the diocese to attend quietly for my own spiritual needs. But, although I've lived here for nearly a year now, I have so far been unsuccessful in finding one where I would feel welcome and which I would feel at home in. There is nothing on the Diocesan website that  gives information about the church styles of its individual churches. Furthermore, none of the priests in the diocese, that I have spoken to, from the bishop down, seem to have any idea what other priests get up to in their churches. The best responses I have got so far have been along the lines of a vague, "Well, Father Suchandsuch should be kosher." I have the particular problem of wanting to find a high church with bells and smells and, as the General Synod has allowed the flourishing of a misogynist subsection of the Church, I can't just walk into the nearest church that advertises solemn high mass or has the stations of the cross on permanent display. I could end up finding myself in a Forward in Faith church being lynched by a a mob of Romanists who have read my blog. But typing "liberal, anglo-catholic Durham" into Google does not offer up any suggestions whatsoever. As far as I can tell, none of the Affirming Catholics in Durham Diocese are actually presiding in anglo-catholic churches. In stead, they put up with the coffee morning Christianity of the broad church whilst dreaming about the good old days when they were studying at Mirfield.

But I'm not that important in the big scheme of things. What is important is making sure that when a person enters a church to attend a Sunday service for the first time they have decided by the end of the service that they will be going back the following week. If a gay man into classical music, who doesn't like too much bodily contact with strangers, accidentally walks into a "Biblically based" charismatic service in full swing where "same sex marriage" is condemned from the pulpit half way through, it is unlikely that he will go to ANY church the following week or ever. Why, when it is so desperate to increase its membership is the Church of England not maximising the possibility of turning enquiries into sales, so to speak?

All that is needed is for each diocese to give a full and honest account of each of its congregations on their websites that can be searched with simple terms like "catholic," evangelical," charismatic," and "liberal." These searches should then give you a list of possible churches that might be up your street. Then, you should be able to link through to the parish websites (which should be compulsory) where you will be given 100% accurate, honest and unambiguous information on the churchmanship of each church and what exactly goes on in their services.

I just know that I am going to get comments along the lines of "people should go to their local church and all get along together no matter what their personal likes and dislikes happen to be." These comments will mostly come from priests. Priests who grew up going to churches they felt at home in, who studied at ordination colleges strongly attached to the churchmanship they are comfortable with, who have deliberately sought out livings which are in tune with their way of doing church and who have imposed their style of worship on every congregation they have ever served.

Look! There is nothing wrong with wanting to get the most out of your worship at church. And this is not going to happen if you are hating every moment of the service. So let's get real and be honest about ourselves so that people looking for a church can be armed with the level of information they need to give them the confidence to walk through those open doors on a Sunday morning.

Comments

CHURCH OF ENGLAND POT LUCK — 44 Comments

  1. You want ‘full and honest’ descriptions? 😉

    When I was a kid the local newspaper which came out once a week had a page for free listings by churches. Usually one would know just by the name if it would work for her/him. But I see the problem that arises when all are CofE. You’d think they could at least add Evang. or AngloCath or Trad. to their names and have a description of their musical aims somewhere on the board outside each church, or as you say on the diocesan website. Come to think of it, I did see a small church within a stone’s throw of Lincoln Cathedral, that did have a board out front with reference to several things that let me know it was evangelical. I happened to meet the former choir director coming out of the church who filled me in on the recent changes about the music. Most of the choir had left when the new priest came in and installed a praise band.

    I think you give good advice, MP!

  2. I’m forwarding this to my webmistress. Let’s see if we can’t incorporate something like you describe on our website. I’m the webmistress of our Facebook “business” page so I have to figure out myself how to do that. What would it be worth to you, MP, in lbs or $$, to consult with churches, like mine, that might be open to your critique of our online presences?

  3. I don’t know about descriptions but if they would just advertise their service times it would be a start!!

    I’d love to go to one of the churches in the Deanery in which I live, but nobody wants me to know when the services are!! So instead I end up in the next diocese…

  4. If the Church of England took my suggestion seriously (which they won’t because it wasn’t some important person’s idea) I would happily accept the (piad) job of sorting it out for them, nationwide. But other than that I would be happy if this post became the start of something big. I did it with the anti-covenant thing in England, so why not?

  5. When BP was shopping for an Episcopalian home as she left the Romans, we tried out a number of local churches, all very nice people. Some of them we did not bother to try, because it was clear from their web presence that our kind wouldn’t be welcome. Some of them it wasn’t clear either way. I agreeit would be better if everyone was clear about it.

    Ultimately it was the smoke-filled high choral liturgy of the local Cathedral that brought her home, and its web presence assured her that she would be welcome there. It’s not the nearest but it’s a great fit.

  6. To your list of “catholic,” evangelical,” charismatic,” and “liberal,” you need to add “rural”. Rural churches often have a peculiar flavour all their own. When I came to this large Benefice one of the first things I did was to make sure that we advertised exactly what we were going to do. I found that “Morning Prayer” meant either said BCP Matins or CW Sunday Morning Prayer. We had one church which did BCP Morning Prayer and then after the 3rd Collect jumped into the BCP Holy Communion at the “Comfortable Words”. They had been doing it that way ever since a formidable local lady decided they would. I stopped it and pointed out that the “Comfortable Words” actually belong to the Communion Confession, and this unholy union was completely meaningless. They now alternate between BCP Matins and Holy Communion.
    The only trouble with your idea is that I really don’t know how to descibe the churchmanship of these 11 churches ……

    • My list was not meant to be exhaustive, SR, just a few examples. I would understand roughly what a church would be like if it was called rural, having worked in them. There are exceptions (evangelicals have taken over some rural churches deliberately and turn them into something very different to the norm and you get the odd catholic shrine like the Golden Church at Lound), but otherwise the logistics of having only one church in a large area results in a broad church containing people very attached to the building and its traditional place in their communities. However, coming up with a description that non-Anglicans would understand would be difficult. If I’m given the job I’ll be back in touch with you, my friend. How do you fancy the title of “Rural Church Tsar?”

  7. It is certainly a possible project. Let me ask the obvious question. If a database structure existed that would permit someone to enter data for a congregation, would someone from each parish be inclined to do it?

    FWIW
    jimB

    • Jim

      Take a look at the level of information on achuechnearyou.co.uk

      Now ask the question again…

  8. “All that is needed is for each diocese to give a full and honest account of each of its congregations”

    But “full and honest” according to whom? There’s the rub. If a parish is “a Forward in Faith church [with] a [lynch]mob of Romanists”, *they* are not going to want a “full and honest account”!

    Affirming Catholicism should really be able to provide you of a list of their affiliated (or at least similar?) parishes in every diocese.

    You really need an account from those w/ whom you can have agreed terminology, otherwise, it’s worthless to you. [Or, “Objectivity is a Myth” (perpetrated by those who claim to be “objective”!)]

  9. I don’t really think it should be up to dioceses. Bishops are funny things…they often think that they know best. In addition, whenever a bishop or other high mucky-muck goes to a local church to preach, preside, or confirm, the locals are on their best behaviour: lavabo towel out, best silver, crucifer, etc. I wouldn’t trust the diocese to know what goes on in all of its churches.

    When I was in San Francisco, I did some churchshopping. The first one I went to was the Cathedral (no one talked to me except the coffee lady who asked me whether I wanted one lump or two). The second one was All Saints Haight Ashbury, which used so much incense that I got bronchitis. The third one was St. Alban, and they had their annual meeting that week and put it in between the Gospel and the offertory, and I was bored stiff. The fourth one was Trinity, and there I stayed.

    When I knew I was moving to London I told the rector of Trinity and he said, “We have a London priest here this week for a funeral.” (his former lover had died of AIDS-related illness). So I met Angus, and asked him after some pleasantries, “Where is your church?” He said, “The Elephant and Castle.” “What time do you meet?” “Oh, you wouldn’t like it: it’s very different from Trinity.” “I know nowhere else, so please give me the details.” I arrived on January 26th 1994 and am still here. God wanted me here, for some reason. Perhaps God wants you to search around. (This is not a lecture, just my experience). Good luck in your search.

    • Except the Church of England still pretends to follow the catholic tradition that the diocese, in the person of the bishop, is the basic unit of the Church, not the Parish!

      So it should be the diocese’s problem really!

  10. ohoooo Boy! Is that ever a can of worms! If they won’t tell u when u inquire, they won’t tell u at all, that is until u get inside the door and the ‘greeters’ latch on to you!
    Once I went to a job interview in a RC Parish. The interviewers were a priest and the oddest ‘sister’u ever saw – complete with chewed fingernails painted bright red (chipped of course)and enough make up for 3 women. They asked me my home parish and I said I had just arrived in the diocese. So they recommended that I try the chapel of a private RC Boy’s school. Odd? The chapel was a separate building So I said, quite honestly, that I did not want to attend Charismatic Masses. “Oh no, absolutely not” they chorused! So Sunday I went a bit early and sat in my car watching the gathering in. Then they came with huge cello, drums, and little round shakers (forget the term for them)and most telling of all, the floppy yellow songbooks. And greetings floated in the air – “Praise Jesus” etc.
    Driving off, I asked myself what is the purpose of out and out lies? What’s the point of being so dishonest, how does that help their cause?
    You want honesty? from a church? Not around here,brother! Best of luck there!
    nij (now studying Buddhism)

  11. ohoooo Boy! Is that ever a can of worms! If they won’t tell u when u inquire, they won’t tell u at all, that is until u get inside the door and the ‘greeters’ latch on to you!
    Once I went to a job interview in a RC Parish. The interviewers were a priest and the oddest ‘sister’u ever saw – complete with chewed fingernails painted bright red (chipped of course)and enough make up for 3 women. They asked me my home parish and I said I had just arrived in the diocese. So they recommended that I try the chapel of a private RC Boy’s school. Odd? The chapel was a separate building So I said, quite honestly, that I did not want to attend Charismatic Masses. “Oh no, absolutely not” they chorused! So Sunday I went a bit early and sat in my car watching the gathering in. Then they came with huge cello, drums, and little round shakers (forget the term for them)and most telling of all, the floppy yellow songbooks. And greetings floated in the air – “Praise Jesus” etc.
    Driving off, I asked myself what is the purpose of out and out lies? What’s the point of being so dishonest, how does that help their cause?
    You want honesty? from a church? Not around here,brother! Best of luck there!
    nij (now studying Buddhism)

  12. Perhaps I will need teams of independent undercover agents to actually check out all the churches.

    Alternatively you devise a questionnaire which asks straight questions like “Which hymn book do you use?” “Do you use incense?” “Has a female priest ever presided at your eucharist?” “What costume does your minister wear?” Those sorts of questions. I think a group of detached, long term Anglicans could come up with such a list.

  13. For Episcopal churches, it might be a good idea to add the word “rich” to your list. Back when we were prosperous enough to afford the gas to visit an Episcopal church, my family and I were conspicuous by our poverty. Everyone else there was upper-middle class and above. I’d still like to attend another Episcopal service some day, but I worry that with my battered car and old clothes I’d be as welcome as the plague.

    • Yeah, I’ve had that happen, too. Fortunately the couple of times it did, it was in a location (a city: Portland OR, and NYC) where there was another Episcopal church in the same zipcode.

      [I call it the “JCF Wearing Blue Jeans Test”: if I don’t feel comfortable at the principle Sunday Eucharist so dressed, Move On! (Not that I always wear blue jeans—more often, I don’t—but I need to know that I *can*)]

  14. Very interesting discussion here.

    I’m in considerable sympathy with your original post, MP. I’m not sure what a good solution would be, however. It’s something of a predicament.

  15. JCF has a valid point: there’s no way an FiF parish, or one with a Tom Wright outlook could be honest, because they honestly believe that they welcome and love gays, women and people of all sorts and conditions. If they didn’t, they’d have to realize they really are the people they’re made out to be, rather than martyrs. Even saying that they welcome you under certain conditions would be impossible, as the underlying technique for their evangelism of the fringe is to get you in and then change you. Deceptive, dissembling, but the right lives by the creed that the end justifies the means.

  16. I second Bluebird and the “rich” part. I have to admit that was something the Methodists were better about – making people of all economic backgrounds, including working class folks, feel welcome.

  17. The Ship Of Fools reports aren’t objective or thorough enough. I was only joking about the undercover reporters. This would have to be an accurate and serious project.

    I think, when explained to them, even the evangelicals and FiF churches would see the sense of advertising to their own constituency. The number of likeminded people they potentially would attract would far outnumber the number of people they now trick into going to their churches.

  18. “The Ship Of Fools reports aren’t objective or thorough enough … This would have to be an accurate and serious project.”

    But how could any such project fail to be inherently subjective? All descriptors such as anglo-Catholic, evangelical, family-friendly, conservative, inclusive… all of them are imprecise and open to many interpretation. Theology, tradition and practice don’t always tally with one another.

    For example… some churches regard themselves as ‘gay friendly’ because they will benevolently allow men to sit in their pews dressed in pink shirts and eyeliner to listen to sermons about how their need to be celibate to be saved. Other churches regard themselves as ‘gay friendly’ because they will accept the participation and ministry and leadership of anyone regardless and irrespective of sexual orientation. And there as is every nuance and shade of grey between the two. So anyone compiling such a guidebook or directory would have to make a bold decision about what s/he considered ‘gay friendly’ to constitute… and it would be impossible to impose such distinctions without reference to some person viewpoint or theology of human sexuality

  19. I’m not after something that tells you absolutely everything about every church. I mean, you could see a church that seems to suit your needs 100% and when you get there you find the vicar picks his nose throughout his sermons and you just can’t bear to go back again. It’s the same with any guide. But, as I keep saying, being honest would benefit these churches. There are plenty of people who hate gay people. If your church hates gay people why would you want gay people to attend it? You’re going to be a lot more successful and richer if you concentrate on attracting the homophobes.

  20. But let’s take the case study of the website of the most high-profile and most vocally anti same-sex marriage church of your former diocese. (You know the one, between the Metro station and the university and the motorway…) What I mean is, does it provide any clues on there at all that would suggest we’d all recommend same-sex couples to avoid on peril of their sanity? (If there are, I can’t find them.) What I mean is, they genuinely believe themselves to be a wonderfully welcoming and tolerant church. And on what basis would a diocesan guidebook contend otherwise…?

  21. You ask direct questions that can only be answered “yes” or “no.” Such as “Do you allow women priests to preside at your eucharists?” It may be impossible at the moment to ask direct questions about gay people because the Church is still officially homophobic in its doctrine. But a church that does not encourage the full ministry of women as allowed in the Church of England is hardly likely to bless same sex marriages on the quiet.

    But we are concentrating on extremes here. I happen to like extremes but most people do not. The vast majority of the congregations in the Church of England are like the ones Saintly Ramblings looks after. Such churches would be happy to advertise themselves correctly. What people need to know about such broad churches is do they tend towards the evangelical or the catholic? Do they use A&M or NEH? Do they use the BCP? What form do their services take and when are their services? Is their a robed choir or/and a worship group? Is there a separate creche and Sunday school? Do the children’s activities take place at the back of the church during the service? Are there toilets? Do worshippers kneel during the service? That sort of thing.

    • I’m telling you, MP, even “Yes/No” questions CAN be fudged, if there’s motivation to not let a bad front out there [To your hypothetical question, from FiF: “Yes” (Not printed: “…IF there were such a thing as a ‘woman priest’, which of course there isn’t, Eve being fallen. And icky.”)]

    • Actually the FiF lot, like Anglo-Catholics always have been in England, are pretty good at advertising themselves. You could easily find a FiF church if you wanted to. It’s a matter of public record if they are under flying bishops so you would just put it on the Diocesan site anyway.

      But I don’t think churches will disguise their style. I really do believe that they would be happy to let people know what they serve out at their services. Some of the boring, middle of the road churches will exaggerate a bit, and most churches will say that they are friendly when most churches are not. But such things are across the board so will not hamper the searcher finding a suitable place to worship.

      But if you want a question about blue jeans on the questionnaire, I’m sure I can find room for it 🙂

  22. Oh, and are they “handicapped accessible”. After reading your post I went and updated the ‘about’ section of our church’s facebook page and by gum, I forgot that bit – like, truly accessible. No ramp. A straight shot from the parking lot through the front door and up the aisle. Well, no time to do that today, I’m afraid. Tomorrow’s another day.
    And, just sayin’ , I struggled with wording and will probably continue to work on it.

  23. Yes, I am. Priests can’t be trusted to provide for everybody and laity can’t be trusted to let them. Less fights happen when people have the same prejudices. The Church stands more chance of keeping people if the people are happy going to church.

    Anyway, it’s only what happens already. My suggestion is that we publicise what already exists to make finding the right church easier for those new to an area or wanting to go to church for the first time.

  24. Wouldn’t know…every church I visit sooner or later suggests that I would be happier elsewhere. So I’ll stick with elsewhere…

  25. “It’s only what happens already”-and in lots of other facets of life, too: in North America people move away from those “we don’t feel comfortable with”. The inner cities get poorer and darker; people who speak only English or Spanish or French have less and less to do with those who speak other languages; the military in the US used to have people from all parts of the country and many different economic backgrounds-now it’s just Southerners and “people of color” who can’t get other jobs, unlike under the draft.
    And you wonder why calls to “Celebrate our Diversity” don’t get treated seriously

  26. Well, I am a priest, so I may well be prejudiced against the position you’re taking here. But I can’t help thinking that if my God seems to agree with all my opinions and prejudices, there’s a good chance that he’s a figment of my imagination. Going to a church where they do everything the way I like it seems like consumerism to me, and I’m pretty sure that consumerism is incompatible with the way of Jesus.

    • I’m simply asking for churches to state clearly and honestly what they are like, Tim. If people want to go to a church that provides what they are comfortable with, that is up to them. If people want to go to their local church whatever its style of worship, that is up to them. Why should some people be satisfied and some not just because of where they happen to live? And what option are you suggesting, Tim? That people are forced to go to churches where they will hate every minute of the worship? It may be consumerism but of the Pauline type – to the Greek etc.

    • I’m not advocating that people be ‘forced’ to do anything. I’m just saying that I think the attitude that says ‘I can’t really worship God unless everything in the service is to my liking’ is a dangerous one.

    • Not everything. The style of worship, the churchmanship, the beliefs of the parish priest (see new post) etc. Those people who don’t care about such things wouldn’t bother checking the resource out. Also, I’m not saying that every church must have a defined party political identity. But if they don’t they should advertise the fact – honestly.

      My contention is that if a seeker optimises his or her chances of enjoying his or her first church experience by knowing what he or she is letting themselves in for beforehand, it is more likely that he or she will go back to that church the following week. This is a primarily a mission plan. And I know that you care greatly about mission, Tim.

  27. So why bother and try to share 75 minutes of time once a week? You want people to take your calls to share and cherish those not like them seriously, you will have to start with yourselves. Otherwise, your churches will continue their slide to irrelevance, becoming nothing more than a world-wide National Public Radio/BBC at prayer. Middle-class, middle-aged, middle-brow.

  28. Didn’t creeds and denominational affiliations once serve this function? The desire for brand information is not a new development of our consumer society. What’s changed, perhaps, are the criteria we use to select a church – stylistic (incense, music, etc.) and demographic (rich/poor, urban/rural) rather than based on common beliefs. That does seem like a move towards shallowness. What’s the harm in wandering into a church that does these things in a way you don’t like? You don’t have to go back, and you might discover you appreciate something new.

    On the other hand, there are some criteria that have to do with a person’s basic feeling of safety in the church – such as the church’s positions on gays, women, exclusivity of salvation, interfaith issues, and disabled access. These should be clear from the website for the reasons MP suggests. Whaddya think?

  29. What’s the harm in wandering into a church that does these things in a way you don’t like? You don’t have to go back, and you might discover you appreciate something new.

    I’m mainly concerned with the first time atender and maximising the possibility that such a person will return. If I was to walk into a charismatic service, never having been to a church before, I would never go back. I’m not condemning charismatic services, they just scare the living daylights out of me.

    But a more mundane answer to your question, Jendi, concerns myself. I live in an area of wall to wall evangelicalism. To find a church that is not I would have to travel and I can’t really afford the petrol at the moment. Knowing the closest church that offers the sort of worship I like without being ravingly misogynist would help me minimise my costs. Also I hate walking into a new church, it scares me. I don’t want to do it over and over again. It would be great to look up all the churches on a central database and get it right first time. That would minimise my stress considerably.

    I agree with your last comment 100%.