In defence of Church attendance (by one who does not.)

The former Home Secretary, Charles Clark chaired some debates on the place of faith in our society recently. He argued that church attendance (in decline in the UK for decades, with some minor fluctuations) was not a good way to judge the importance of faith in the life of our society.

You can hear what Clark had to say here.

He argued that if we focus just on two polar opposites – the ‘Richard Dawkins’ position (there is no God, all religion is dangerous superstition and should be stamped out) and those who would firmly believe in the existence of a divine deity at the centre of the universe – we miss the obvious fact that most people are somewhere in between.

Most people instinctively dislike the extreme position. On the one side we have the God shouters- the Evangelical truth dealers and hell threateners. And on the other side we have the Dawkins brand of religion- elitist condescending rationalism that cuts the colour from human experience.

But in the middle we have millions seeking their own understandings of what it means to be body mind and spirit. 

What we know is that in order to make our spiritual enquiries- or journeys- many of us need a vehicle in which to travel. We need the shapes around us made by the journey of others.

And because we are social animals, we also need to make these journeys in community. We need to find ways of marking our anniversaries, our life boundaries, our coming and going in company. Ceremony and liturgy have their place too in allowing us into the depth of things.

Which brings us back to Church.

I no longer attend formal church services regularly- at least in terms of the sort that gather beneath steeples. That is not to say I never go, but rather that our ways of churching in Aoradh tend towards the informal. I am blessed with a community of friends who journey with me, and this is all the church I need for the most part.

Along the way I have spent a lot of time critiquing church, because Lord knows there is a lot to criticise. Most institutions lumber along with a weary momentum that appears to suppress life and vitality. But this would be a false stereotype- Churches are also places of light. Places where we might learn to be light givers.

So here is my defence of arch and steeple, font and choir stalls, Priest and Pastor, organ and acoustic guitar, parish committee and conference, flower rota and Sunday school, back pew sitter and pulpit preacher.

If you are weary of soul and spirit, if you are hungry to encounter God, you may seek him in the mountains, or in a city train station, and you may find him there.

Or you could go to Church and sit on the back row.

6 thoughts on “In defence of Church attendance (by one who does not.)

  1. Hi Chris, Great pic! I heard Clark on the radio, and hackles were immediately up as usual when I feel faith is ‘attacked’ in some way, but listened further as I know that many people do not attend church regularly, many more than do attend.

    My Catholic church is full most Sundays, whatever time of mass I attend, and when I talk to others (I take my son to ‘evangelical’ toddler group and my son goes to a C of E school, I support ecumenical worship 100%), their churches are also very well attended.

    I beleive Clark is a non church goer and this influences his discussions…this is what annoys me about polititions. Actually, to those who DO attend mass, it is a very precious and intimate time. In my view and very important.

    Ok, my children are young and not exactly thrilled about sitting still for an hour. But I hope they will grow to appreciate the community feeling of love that is there in the church, and shown by words, gestures and small gifts (Easter eggs for example, given by people we barely know, just ‘cos we see them most weeks). Churches are struggling…because there are not enough people to staff them at the moment.

    I don’t care whether people do or do not attend mass, and hope they still have a great relationship with God if this is their leaning. I do get really ratty when churchgoers are sidelined as mass attendance being unimportant and insignificant. I don’t feel this is the case.
    Best wishes, Nik

    • Hi Nik

      Perhaps it a sign of how backslidden I am because I did not feel the same annoyance at Clark. Rather I was encouraged to hear some discussion of the role of religion in society that was more or less positive! However I would very much agree with you that if this means that attending church (however we understand this word) is regarded as not important then I think he is very wrong. We need a core of believers to carry the fire- even if they become the place that others adventure from.

      The photo is of an old installation that some people put together- which was an inflatable ‘pop up’ church- it was great fun- google it and see!



  2. Pingback: social animals and cultural evolution of herds « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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