I have another preaching invitation for this Sunday, although this time from a different church in town. So far we haven’t made too many forays into other churches, so we thought we should make an advance trip and spy out the land as it were. We were given the “government health warning” from a member of our own congregation whose parents are members of the other one: “It’s small, elderly and very traditional. Expect hymns and an organ”. Yep, got the drift, we’ll be fine with that.
Sure enough, we pulled up outside what could have been an old-fashioned little Methodist-style chapel. Two banks of pews are visible through the open door, symmetrically arranged on either side of a central aisle. Milling around the back, we could see a small gaggle of predictably salt-and-pepper headed parishioners. So far, so unremarkable, we might have been in any of thousands of little churches on any regular Sunday across Europe or the Americas.
I was both pleased and surprised to discover two of our neighbours among the ranks of the salt and peppered. One is our favourite grandmotherly neighbour who always detours across the plaza to say hello when she sees us, and to let me know how wonderful it is that Joni is given the freedom to enjoy playing in the mud, so it made me happy to find out that she was a Christian…. maybe I should have guessed. The other lady I knew to be a Christian, but I thought she attended a larger church across town. “No, I have been there, but they have loads of people doing things, so I came here because they need people who are able to serve”. I loved that; I think in five years here that’s probably the first time I have ever heard from someone actively swimming against the prevalent current of consumerist and thrill-seeking spirituality.
We were warmly greeted, took our places, armed ourselves with hymn books and were pretty much settling into a familiar “doing church” groove albeit amongst strangers, when the guy leading the service burst into song. A traditional hymn it might have been, but set to a raucous folklore accompaniment on his backing CD. I’m not entirely sure how well it worked as a piece of music, but the concept was novel, and it certainly woke us out of the groove, as well as setting the tone for the sermon where a lady came to the front and screamed down a microphone for twenty minutes, also followed by bursting into song. Never judge a book by its cover. So here I am today flicking through the gospels seeking divine inspiration or even some human imagination as to what I might do on Sunday. So far the only decision I have definitely taken is that I will not be singing from the front. The congregation will be grateful for this, even though they may never know it.