Welcome to Church

The Church of England has recently published a guide to the “Top Ten Facts About Christenings“. It is a starter for ten for people making enquiries about their local church and “getting little Timmy ‘done'”.It seems to have picked the same scab that The Weddings Project picked for a lot of vicars….. it educates people about their rights (something vicars don’t like to admit people have) and their responsibilities (something many vicars insist people should be born with pre installed like iOS6).

I am not a cradle Anglican. I may have mentioned this once or twice. I wasn’t even a churchgoer. I grew up with the belief that The Church TM didn’t have anything to do with ‘people like me’. In all honesty, the church treated me like a pariah when I was a teenager with a Helloween patch on the back of my denim jacket – I managed to attend for 5 weeks. When I arrived at university this is what I told Ruth: The church does not want people like me in it. The David Mitchell portrayal of the Evil Vicar isn’t just a cultural stereotype, it is often the real lived experience of a first time enquirer.

“Hello, are you the vicar? I am just ringing to ask about booking a venue…..”

There are two responses to this phone call:

a) [a brusk] It isn’t as simple as that! You are not simply booking a venue…
b) Congratulations. That’s great. Let’s have a chat about how we can help you celebrate the gift of a new child/celebrate the love you have for each other as you come together in holy matrimony…

I have sat in a room and watched both of these happen. I know which one I picked up as good practice.

The Church TM is a daunting experience for those of us you refer to as ‘unbelievers’. Walking through that door for the first time is a real challenge. If your first instinct is to trip someone up on their way in for the first time you will probably never see them again and neither will anyone else.

There is a massive theological issue at stake here. Jesus is the incarnate God who had a table ministry. He welcomed everyone in. Regardless of their religious literacy. Regardless of their knowledge of canon law or the parish system. Regardless of whether they had the language to ask for a service rather than a booking.

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“I didn’t realise we could get married in church vicar”. Happy to help.
“Can we have Timmy done?” Why don’t you meet me and the church wardens on Sunday and we’ll help you along the way?
“Will I be able to bring my son with me, he’s got Asperger’s so he may not be the most well behaved.” That’s fine, everyone is welcome here. If we can cope with a noisy vicar like me I’m sure we can cope with a little noise. After all, some famous guy said ‘let the little children come to me’.

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Jesus Never Went Out of Business

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I just took this in Plymouth.

Worship Idea – Pentecost Popcorn

Fr Simon Rundell published one of the best idea for Pentecost on his blog whilst I was on holiday. I found myself in a bar in Rhodes looking up popcorn machines on eBay. When the day of Pentecost had arrived, we were gathered in Holy Nativity Church with the scouts and a load of visitors when there was the sound of a violent air powered popcorn machine and the pop of corn all over the altar.

I hate watching videos of myself. If you want to see it done well, check out Simon doing it himself. He didn’t accuse the first followers of being small and round!

Sitting at the Table: A Sermon on Acts 11:1-18

When I was younger there was a church I used to walk past every day in the center of town.  It was called St Thomas’ Church.  And as a small boy what an impressive place it was.  There were huge vertical lines that were accentuated by the spacing of ornately carved pillars.  Each window consisted of intricately cut coloured glass creating beautifully illustrated scenes from the bible.  In one window there was ‘The Good Samaritan’ placing the beaten and robbed man upon the back of his donkey.  He was then shown taking the man to be looked after.  Then little gold coins were depicted as little yellow discs of glass being handed over to the innkeeper for his trouble.  In another window there was the last supper.  A simple shared meal between friends that symbolized the relationship God has with the world.  There was this huge table at which people were invited to come and share the Passover.  Jesus sat with his disciples as he welcomed them to come and eat with the God-man.  St Thomas’ was an impressive place.  It was a spectacular place.  When the summer sun shone through the windows and the incense was wafting between the pillars it created a dazzling sight as streaks of reds and blues and greens danced through the air.

Anybody who was anybody would be found there on a Sunday morning.  The Mayor would be there two rows from the front.  Behind him would sit the headmaster in the next pew.  Everyone was highly polished and neatly trimmed.  Partings were always worn and suits were neatly pressed.  Sunday best was the order of the day.  All of the people from the town we lived in who had any kind of status could be found there.  Everyone was ‘just so’.  As you looked around the congregation each Sunday morning you could see lots of white faces and nuclear families.  Mum and dad would bring the two point four children through the big oak doors each week.  In this congregation everyone was the “right type of person”.  There was no one in this place who could really be called “poor”.  Over the years plenty of people had come in and quickly gone back out because they soon realized that they weren’t the “right type of person”.  Here at St Thomas’, people in need were out of the question.  People with the wrong kind of accent need not apply.  If you are going to grace a pew, make sure your surname isn’t Unpronounceableovic.  Heaven forbid you would have a different coloured skin!

There was one family who attended for many years.  Mum and dad and 2.4 children happily coming to church each Sunday.  Dad had a good job and a company car.  Mum stayed at home and looked after the children.  The cracks started to appear when dad was made redundant.  Gone was the company car. Then one thing led to another and their marriage broke down.  It is hard work going to church when you find out that after ten years you are no longer the “right kind of people”.  Suddenly mum was taking the 2.4 children to St Thomas’ by herself.  No one said anything directly to her but she could tell.  There were conversations that would suddenly stop whenever she approached.  There were cups of tea passed to her with a knowing smile.  After a couple of weeks the energy it required to get the kids out of bed, dressed and ready for church was just not there.  The small nuclear family stopped being the “right sort of people” each Sunday morning.  As you might imagine, St Thomas’ did not receive many new members.  Its members simply grew older.

Years later as an adult I learned that St Thomas’ Church had closed.  There just weren’t enough of the “right type” of people.  They just didn’t exist, I guess.  One time I went back to that town and there I was passing beside the familiar gothic architecture and the ornately carved pillars.  St Thomas’ church building was still standing only now it was a restaurant.  Oddly given the history of the previous occupants of the building it was a curry house called the Indian Cottage.  I walked in through those massive gothic doors and where there had once been pews, now there were tables, waiters, and people eating dinner.  Candles were lit at each table and people were eagerly tearing naan breads and pouring fresh glasses of wine.  The familiar hubbub of community meals was all around as the sound of glass upon glass clanking together and laughter filled the building.  As I looked down the nave of the ancient gothic church to where the altar had once sat underneath the image of the last supper, now there were tables. 

A young waiter came over to us and asked if we’d like a table for two.  My wife and I exchanged a glance as I responded to his question with a simple “yes please”.  We were escorted to a table at the back of the restaurant where the sanctuary had once been.  The young man took our coats and pulled out a chair for my wife to sit at.  He asked if we would like to order drinks and I asked for a bottle of the house white.  As he went to get our drinks I began to unfold my serviette and turned to my wife.  As I pulled myself closer to her over the table with said with a hushed tone “Now, I guess everybody is finally welcome to eat at this table”.

The Wedding

Here’s something original that I’ve written.  It isn’t meant to be read, it is meant to be orated by someone with a strong Yorkshire accent – Me.  If all goes to plan, I will be doing that very thing at this moment in time in church.  Hope you like it.

Wedding at Cana

It was the end of one of the most bizarre weeks I’ve ever had.  I have seen some strange things in my lifetime but some things make you stop and take notice.  I mean yesterday was one of the…

Hang on, I should really start at the beginning of all this and let you see for your self what I mean.  My name is Matthias.  Not many people know what my name is.  Not many people speak with me for long enough to ask.  If they do take time over it they usually speak at me rather than to me.  You see my job is mainly to do exactly as I’m told, when I’m told.  If that doesn’t happen I’m in big trouble.  My job is to work up at the big house.  The work isn’t too bad as long as I keep at it and don’t slack off.  I have to start early in the morning and usually have to work late into the evening but I enjoy my work.  It is my job to ensure the smooth running of the house.  The master is a fair man and I make sure that his house is clean.  He has things to do and I ensure that the family are well fed.  They call me a slave but it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Mostly I work in the house and make sure everything runs smoothly.  Well that is how it has been until recently.

Things all changed when the master came and told me that he had just announced the engagement of his daughter.  He was not acting like himself, he seemed so happy.  He spent a great deal of time talking to me that afternoon and not just the usual instructions.  He even asked about my family.  It was the first time and the last time he has ever shown any interest in my life.

He was so keen to show the rest of the town just how much he could spend on his daughters wedding.  After all a hefty dowry was being paid and he wanted to show them all that she was worth it.  His plans were grand but it all rested on me to make them happen on the day.  Obviously there are others up at the house who helped with the onerous task but the organisation was down to me.

Of course the closer to the event the worse it has been.  I have spent most of the last week fetching and carrying.  I’ve only managed to catch a couple of hours sleep – I’m so tired.  I had to make sure that everything was ready and the wedding would go off without a hitch.  Of course the last few days have been nearly unbearable.  As the day has drawn nearer people have been getting more and more stressed and began barking orders at me.

“Matthias go get the tables.”

“Matthias, where are the guests going to stay?”

“Matthias, what is happening with the food?”

“Matthias, GO AND GET THE TABLES!”

I had to bite my tongue just to get through it but finally we made it to the wedding without a falling out.

And when it arrived it was such a good day.  Everyone was wearing their best clothes and behaving as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  Everyone was really enjoying themselves.  Some would say that they were possibly enjoying themselves a little too much.  It is always the same once someone gets married.  The band strike up and people start to drink the wine.  They dance o the music and they have some wine.  The food is served and they have some wine… People like to enjoy the occasion and let their hair down.  Some may say that some of them enjoyed themselves a little too much but who am I to judge.  I’m probably just bitter because I didn’t get to join in.  What I heard all day was

“Matthias, show the guests in”

“Matthias, bring out the food.”

“Matthias, clear that up.”

The work of a slave is never done, there is always something that needs fetching, carrying, cooking or cleaning.

As the evening progressed everything was looking fantastic.  The wine kept flowing and everyone kept laughing and dancing.  It was good to see that all of the hard work I had put in was going to pay off.  The event was going off without a hitch which was a good job as it was my neck on the block if anything went wrong.  And how it was going to go wrong!

As the evening wore on there was a problem that is even now still a mystery to me.  I had made most of the preparations for this and I bought the wine.  I had strict instructions to buy enough for two hundred guests to have as much as they want and that is what I did.  It wasn’t the best of wines but it was by no means the worst either.  You wouldn’t give it to the emperor if he came round for dinner but lets face it, he wouldn’t be coming.  I know that I told them to bring enough!  Here we were half way through the evening and we were running out.  If I am honest with you I was about to find somewhere to hide.  This was about to be the most embarrassing moment for the master, running out of wine on this day when he was so proud.  No-one would forget the wedding they went to that ran out of wine.  I was so sure but what if I was so tired I made a mistake?  I knew that he would punish me either way as all he would care about is that he told me to sort it.

As all this is racing through my head there was a bit of a commotion in the corner of the room.  I’m not quite sure what happened as I was observing from a little way away so this will be a little sketchy.  I didn’t really know who these people were but I recognised some of them.  I think they were from Nazareth which is a few hours walk away and it isn’t the sort of journey you make every day.  Suddenly the man and woman start being quite curt with each other.  It is all in hushed tones but you can tell from the way they are looking at each other that she is being quite insistent.

With all this going on at the same time as the crisis I am having over the wine I was a little panicked to say the least.  Being summoned over to this furore was an added complication that I didn’t need.  I walk up there expecting harsh words to be spoken to me in front of everyone.  At the least I was expecting the master at any minute to publicly shame me for my mistake so that he can save face with his guests.  The funny thing is it didn’t happen.  The woman just tells me to do whatever this other guy says.

I was astounded to say the least.  His instructions were the strangest thing I’ve seen.  He says to me “fill the jars with water”.  I’ve never been of the most religious persuasion but it didn’t seem to be the most appropriate time to be worrying about ritual purity.  I tried to explain this to him but he was quite insistent that I do it.  I got help from the others and we kept our heads down.  It took us half an hour to do it too.  Somehow we managed to get 180 gallons of water from the well and into the room without disturbing everyone.  We used every bucket we could find and filled those great stone jars to the top.

So we let the guy know that we had done it and informed him that he could perform his ‘ablutions’ but he just stayed where he was.  He instructed me to take some of the water from the jars and give it to the chief steward.  I started to protest that he was enjoying the day but this guy was insistent that I should take the water for him.  Not only that he intended that I gave it to him as a drink.  I’d never heard anything like it before.  I already knew that I was in trouble with the master so I decided to do as this guy said as I had nothing to lose.  I crossed the room to the cold stone jars and took a drought.  Again crossing the room I presented it to the chief steward.  At this point there was a large commotion as you would expect.  It took me a moment to realise what had happened.  Instead of being chastised for my stupidity by the chief steward he was shouting across the room at the bridegroom.  “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

We were stunned.  No-one knew what had happened apart from the group  from Nazareth and the servants who helped to collect the water with me.  We had to check it for ourselves to make sure.  Back across the room to the stone jars and sure enough, filled to the brim with wine!  Everyone was sat enjoying themselves as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place.  The day continues without a hitch and the master is saved from being shamed in front of the whole town.  For my part, I am saved from being punished for my mistake.  And all because of this young guy from Nazareth.

If I was in your shoes I too would be cynically thinking that it was a trick.  I have seen some charlatans over the years and this sounds pretty far-fetched.  Recently we have had lots of people in the streets performing ‘miraculous deeds’ and trying to take your money.  I know that we filled those jars with water from the well.  He didn’t ask for anything or make a big show out of what he had done here that evening.  He didn’t even go and touch the jars so most guests were oblivious to what he has done.  I still don’t really know who he is.  He is just some guy from Nazareth.

And after the party has ended and the excited feeling seeing something so miraculous abates it is back to normal.  There is clearing up to do, a house to run and a master to serve…

Merry Christmas Everybody – O Little Town of Bethlehem

It has been a busy few weeks in our house.  Beginning a new parish ministry at the start of advent is always going to feel like you are jumping onto a moving conveyor belt.  We have also been consciously pressing the brakes and trying to ‘do’ advent without rushing into Christmas.  This has involved some interesting mental gymnastics.  I don’t know how well I have managed to compartmentalise myself whilst preparing all of the Christmas services has been an interesting experience.  Whilst I’ve been telling people to await expectantly I’ve been going to my computer, digging out common worship and looking up Christmas responses ready for tonight, tomorrow and the next few weeks.

In the midst of all of this, we managed to spend our day off in the same room playing music.  Ed came and did drums and Ruth and I spent an afternoon recording the other parts for O Little Town of Bethlehem.  It was finished on Friday ready for the Online 9 Lessons and Carols Service but embargoed until this afternoon when the service was transmitted.  In typical Metanoia fashion, it was a crazy idea Ruth had whilst I was noodling the Chili Peppers in the rehearsal room.  Hope you like it!

Now Christmas is here and I’m heading off to midnight mass in a few hours.  Then I’ll grab my guitar and go play Slade for the families who come tomorrow morning to meet around God’s table.

Merry Christmas Everybody!!

New Lectionary

I probably use this more than anything else every day. Simon Kershaw’s awesome new 2012-13 free Church of England Friendly Lectionary. Now in raspberry flavour.

Thanks Simon!