I go to church. Yeah, so what? Now there’s an understandable response because for most, even church goers, ‘going to church’ (said through pursed lips and clenching ones fingers together) doesn’t mean much.
My school days were impregnated with traditional church activities. School assembly every weekday morning and trips to the on-site chapel twice on a Sunday, with Sunday School sandwiched in between. I hated every bit of it. Who’s business was it but my own what happened to my soul? Yet for twelve years of my life the battle for my soul seemed to be the business of everyone else’s but mine. It mattered little whether it was the disciplinarians of the Methodist boarding school establishment or the free-spirited Happy-Clappies who attempted to make church ‘fun’ once the disciplinarians had retired, there was little doubt that my soul was for the taking. But what direction it would go was anyone’s guess as I wasn’t much into rules.
When it was eventually won neither group had anything to do with it. It was just me and a quiet, gentle voice saying, “Stick with Me and everything will be alright.”
“That’s fine,” I said, “Just don’t make me go to church.”
Don’t get me wrong, I like church, but in its right place. And for me, ‘in its right place’ isn’t always in a building with a spire, or a school hall or even in a drafty barn, where a lot of the free-spirited, happy-clappies decamp to in the summer. For me church is wherever I find myself and for the most part it’s not on a Sunday.
Years ago I used to help out at a breakfast drop-in centre for asylum seekers in Hammersmith, west London. It was run by a Shaftesbury Society Mission and while they had a church service of sorts mid-week, most of its work was outside the building in one of the poorest parts of the borough. Coffee, croissants and endless form filling was the primary purpose for my being there it seemed. Breakfast was hectic, tragic, frustrating and occasionally rewarding. Sadly, many seeking asylum in the UK rarely get it, but at our breakfast drop-in, when they did it was cause for great celebration.
None of us who helped out knew anything about how to navigate the Home Office asylum systems, but Hammersmith was a ghetto for those let out of the detention centres, but not quiet let into Britain and they were on the church’s doorstep. Housed in dilapidated tenement buildings with food stamps and whatever they had brought with them, those arriving to our shores had little or no knowledge of spoken English let alone written, yet they were expected to complete endless paper trails that kept them dangling for years.
In Hammersmith there was a need and it was right in front of us. I suspect if we looked really hard we’d find similar needs in our own towns. Its a challenge stepping outside the traditional church boundary, but it could be fun.