Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lent 5: 10:30am St Johns Methodist

I'm supposed to be an Anglican so was surprised that the Methodist church seemed the most natural so far. The church is part of a "circuit" of 8 churches, served by 2 ministers, and supported by a bunch of lay preachers. These ministers and preachers circulate round, leading services in different churches on the circuit each week. 

The preacher for today's service was a woman, who announced that the service would, unusually, be "by the book", (which made me think of Star Trek, Wrath of Khan) and that we should all pretend we were in some Anglican cathedral or something. The interior of the church isn't much like an Anglican cathedral. Nevertheless, at this point everybody found, as if by magic, a methodist service book. My father was a Methodist, and James knows about the Church of Scotland and both have always been quite insistent that one doesn't write down the service. But there it was! A whole book full. Most noticeable was the creed which consisted of believing in Father, Son and Holy Spirit and included none of the other various details common to both Anglican and Roman Catholic. 

There were maybe about 35 people in church (I sat too near the front to count easily). The sermon was pretty good - about how, as little seeds falling into fertile soil, our hard outer shells are removed so that we can grow and bear much fruit in Jesus.  At the end of the service, the man behind me could be heard to say that the preacher couldn't be faulted for going on too long, so I suspect they may not always receive such a clear message. Like proper Methodists, the singing was very loud. The words were written up on an overhead projector, but were not particularly modern, and the organist allowed the congregation to drag him back such that every hymn was a dirge by the end of the first verse, no matter how sprightly the starting tempo. Organist should make sure not to listen to the congregation, but I suppose in this case, when they were actually pretty loud, that's was more difficult than usual. However, the problem wasn't quite so bad on the 1970s song, played on the piano that the service was ended with. There was coffee after the service (only instant), and everyone seemed extremely friendly. No one asked stupid questions, and someone even asked the one question I had been wondering that no one else had asked, which is, after hearing we'd moved from Japan, to enquire what churches are like there. There were some people there of around my age, although, unlike at the Roman Catholic church, children were not in evidence. 

And their toilet is twinned! For all know, this practice is all last-decade, but I've not seen one before.

The church has big plans underway, architecturally speaking. The current building, built at the end of the Victorian period, is too big to heat and repair for an hour a week, so they've sold the land, and the building is to be demolished. They're also hoping to sell the organ (wonder if the organist will be included in the sale). A new "worship space" is being built in the car park of the present church hall, which will position it directly next to the Catholic Church and its church hall. I think they really ought to get together and rationalise these buildings. One church, one hall, one car park.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Lent 4.5: Fountains Abbey

It was dissoluted by Henry the Eighth so is no longer a proper church, but last Thursday we visited Fountains Abbey. Faced by about 15 members of the Cambridge Uni Society of North and West Yorkshire (plus me and James) the tour guide tried really hard to fill the hungry minds before her in the hour long tour. It was all extremely interesting, with the history of the foundation and growth including explanation of the historical differences between common all garden Benedictines and the back to basics Cistercians (Fountains Abbey was the latter), and there were many insights into the daily lives of the monks. Quite a lot has been deciphered by archaeologists analysing the features of the ruins. To me it all looked like piles of stones of many colours (see pretty pics at the bottom of this post), but they can see cupboards and notice boards,  can identify who the sculptures are of,  and even find plumbing. Yes medieval plumbing!

In Japan, quite a lot of religion occurs out of doors, which really is as it should be, but over the hour long tour I grew to appreciate why this is not very practical in Yorkshire. Fountains Abbey no longer has a roof (thanks to Henry, who also realised this was the best way of making the place uninhabitable), and even on  pleasant March day, it got very cold. By the end everyone was hoping that the warm and furry dog that someone had brought along would come to them to be petted.

Walk through the Abbey and you get to Studley Royal Water Gardens and the tea shop. Then walk through the deer park and you get to St Mary's, which, like our house is a Gothic Revival Church.  Unfortunately it is only open from Easter so we couldn't go inside. Some similarities in style between St Mary's and our house are apparent, but St Mary's is really very beautiful. It had a famous architect.

The water gardens may be a historical feat of engineering, but they are a bit dull being just grass and water and statues. There is also a stately home built mostly from stones taken from the Abbey after it was ruined, and a Mill which dates from when the Abbey was a big profit making enterprise. We had only the afternoon so no time to visit these two places. Together all of this is a World Heritage Site. It is a bit strange that Kamakura failed to obtain this status a couple of years ago. Just its water gardens are much better let alone the many temples. 

Lent 4: 10:45am, Zion Independent Congregational Church

I'm slow to comment on the Congregational church because I still don't really know what to make of it. This is what wikipedia says,

"Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practising Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.
Many Congregational churches claim their descent from a family of Protestant denominations formed on a theory of union published by the theologian Robert Browne in 1592. These arose from the Nonconformist religious movement during the Puritan reformation of the Church of England. In Great Britain, the early congregationalists were called separatists or independents to distinguish them from the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians. Some congregationalists in Britain still call themselves Independent."
"In 1972, about three quarters of English Congregational churches merged with the Presbyterian Church of England to form the United Reformed Church (URC). However, about 600 Congregational churches have continued in their historic independent tradition." 

After my visit two weeks ago I am still not much wiser than that. Zion Independent Congregational Church, built in in 1816, is located about 5 minutes walk from our house in Upper Settle. There were 13 in church, and I was youngest by perhaps 3 decades (I'm 45). They have a service once a month, and I'm not sure what they do on the other weeks. I think that that Congregationalist means that the congregation do it all themselves without a big unwieldy church hierarchy. So I was surprised to see a great big pulpit in the church, which really suggests a fairly major hierarchy, at least between leader and congregation. This wee congregation is presently without a pastor. I have no idea where an independent church get a pastors from anyway. I suspect the congregation has swung from pillar to post throughout it's existence, as exemplified by this very entertaining early history of the church that I found online. But it is certainly a curious establishment.

So, without a pastor, one of the congregation did indeed introduce the service, with some jolly good and heartfelt prayers and then some rather quiet hymns. The majority of the time, was, however taken up by a powerpoint presentation from someone from Open Doors. I wasn't impressed as the speaker repeatedly used the word "Islamist" when they actually meant not Islam at all, but actually the flavour of radical extremist looney-tune-ism who, this decade, associate themselves with Islam. It is actually not the first time in a church in Settle that I've heard this and it makes me so furious that I am even moved to agree with the comments made a couple of days ago by the Home Secretary Teresa May, who expressly pointed out that this distinction should always be made. After 12 years of Buddhist and Shinto influence in Japan, it is obvious that Judaism, Islam and Christianity have far more in common than they have not in common. And yet it feels like, in the UK there's a lot of churches capitalising on the unfortunate current situation to promote Christianity in a kind of "we're right and they're wrong" kind of a way. Like no one has ever committed mass murder in the name of Christianity! When I got home and looked up Open Doors, they didn't seem quite so bad - they basically give Bibles and other things to churches who can't get them because they cannot worship openly. It all started in the 1950s with someone smuggling Bibles into the USSR. 

For Lent 5 I visited the Methodist church (post soon!), which, of the churches in Settle, is probably the closest in style to the Congregationalist. I met there someone who had previously been in the URC (United Reformed Church - see info in Wiki article above). He also had no idea where Zion would get pastors from. So I remain ignorant. But I do think someone needs to write a history of this incredibly independent church it before it completely disappears... 

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Lent 3. MOTR CofE: 8am, Holy Ascension

"MOTR" = Middle of the Road. This is the kind of Church of England Anglicanism that is neither conservative Evangelical nor Conservative Anglo-Catholicism but something often perceived as being in between the other two, while actually being something quite different. It comes in for criticism for being nothing much, but is actually rather an interesting thing, as it is, by neccessity, trying to include all members of the local community. Mostly, therefore, it is Liberal Christianity, and at its best, this inclusiveness means all sorts of different types of worship are practiced. But, being community based, it often gets a stuck in "tradition", when people who have lived in an area a long time find it hard to even try any new things, and this has the unfortunate consequence of keeping new ideas and new people out. These are the kinds of churches found in small towns and villages all over England. 

The thing I like best about them is that they have services at 3 different times of day. I really do like walking out through the silent streets to an early morning service, or, alternatively, winding down at an evening service and then meeting James for a gentle curry afterwards. These morning or evening services are usually less hamstrung with trying to be cool and  relevant to families with children, who it seems are the principle focus of all churches. It's a bums on pews game - get a family and you get all of their bums! Get a single person, and that's just one, sad, bum.

In the Settle area, there are three Anglican churches under the same priest, and this leads to an almost incomprehensible schedule of services, not helped by the frequent misprints on the website. Twice I have turned up to non-existent services, which is really annoying at 8am! Another time I ended up phoning the priest on Saturday night because I didn't believe what was on the website (which was wrong again). Something really needs to be done to fix this chaos. Three services each Sunday but only one in each church would be a start. Last Sunday the 8am service was at the church in Settle, Holy Ascension. It was the modern style service (Common Worship) with a short sermon but no hymns. With only 7 in church, there was also time after the service to talk with the priest, which was a rare treat - she is usually far too busy charging between the three different parishes to stop and talk! I'm not actually very familiar with Common Worship, even though it came in at the turn of the Century, as that was the time we left for Japan. It is funny the things we have missed; things that everyone else thinks are old that are novel to us. 

Our own living room is rather nicer than the general interior of Holy Ascension, but a treat for the 8am crowd is that they get to sit right up near the altar and so enjoy not only a greater sense of togetherness, and close observation of the Communion ceremony, but also the prettier part of the building. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Lent 2. Evangelical Anglicansim: New Wine Wimmin's Day

New Wine is a curious Evangelical sect movement within the church of England. And last Saturday was their "Blaze" Women's day at the fantastic Harrogate International Center.  I am so delighted that such a building exists, in Harrogate, Yorkshire of all places. Unfortunately, with seating of around 2000 in its main auditorium, it is probably too small for a big geoscience conference and too big for the more specialised workshops.

Anyway, back to the main event. It was a bit different from a normal church service, mostly in that it was longer and the congregation much larger (at 1200). First there was a lot of singing, and my legs got tired after so much swimming the day before. Then there was a talk by a worthy woman. Then lunch, more singing, a movie showing an astounding venture among the homeless in Halifax followed by an interview with the leaders of the venture, another talk by another worthy woman and then "ministry". It all started at 10am and finished at 3pm. 

I like modest amounts of pop-music worship, although inane words (not tooooo bad on this occasion) and the overuse of the guitar is as wearing and the overuse of the church organ. At least there was a female singer. Male singers plus guitars tend to turn to auditory mud. The first talk was about getting out of one's comfort zone, and hitting bottom, before being able to rebuild a new you who soars to great heights. This is the plot of Fight Club, which is one of my favourite films, and I'm not sure that the talk added much new insight to the theme, except of course, at Blaze it was God who was helping us rebuild, which is not necessarily the case in Fight Club. The second speaker's talk was about how we should keep God close when we are in trouble. Her hope was that our behaviour in our big life troubles would be like a God-beacon to the un-Christian (they are Evangelicals, remember!). Still, the keeping God close part is a reasonable sentiment, although she didn't give us any practical advice as to how to achieve it. Both speakers were quite big on Twitterish soundbites, Eg. "faith precedes the miraculous", "do things you know you are not capable of", "not perfection, but authenticity", "go through, help through". A symptom of the size of the event  was that it was kind of performance-Christianity. The speakers didn't share anything of themselves, other than to say what super crazy and amazing lives they had had (both A-type personalities, I think!), so I'm not sure about the authenticity. I've found smaller events are really more powerful, where you are physically close to the speaker, and can talk to them afterwards. Having said that, my companions all said they had been very moved by some of the speakers in previous years, so it may vary from year to year. The venture among the homeless was quite amazing. They have a food bank and are also helping people to sort out their lives a bit while also holding a worship service each Saturday, which is well attended and resulting in baptising people in droves. James would probably say they are preying on the weak, but it did look rather like they were offering considerable support to people who had no one else stable in their lives to support them. 

Then there is the "ministry". I'm very ambivalent about this. I think people being given the option to come forward to be prayed for is great. But I object strongly when it turns round and it's coming from the stage - e.g.  where someone on stage starts to pretend that they have some insight into what someone else in the 1000 strong crowd below them is going through. Simple statistics tells you these sorts of things are just made up crap/ astrology/ witchcraft. I've experienced worse, and I just went out and got a nice cup of Earl Grey tea at this point.

As often happens with Evangelism movements, I think New Wine probably comes with an unpleasant level of intolerance. There was only mild allusion to this; some comments which suggested depression was a decision, and that the world out there was the work of the evil one. This isn't a world view that makes any sense to me. In fact I'm so sick of the "them and us" mentality that I've given up  saying "them" for 2015. We are all "us" together, humans on Earth!

The best parts for me were the travel and break times. I went in a group of 10, who go to or are friends of people who go to St Alkelda's Anglican church in Giggleswick. It was great at last to have a chance to get to know some people from the congregation a little bit better. I'd do it again just for that. I met one very interesting person, who is a Methodist but attends The Christian Fellowship as well as St Alkelda's. She was able to tell me something about all the other churches in Settle, apart from the Quakers, so as a result of her encouragement, I feel considerably more prepared for the rest of the Lenten journey!!

The most astonishing thing of the day, was the Energy Performance Certificate for Hall D in the HIC! Wow!!!

This is the more traditional style of Harrogate, over the road from the HIC; these houses probably have EPC ratings more in the F and G zones: