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I have a big head.
Apparently also a big ego.
I hope not.
My head seems to be physically slightly too big for any of the hats in the shops except those woolly stretchy ones (not good in the rain). I cringe when I see a cap in Tesco or somewhere and the label reads “One Size”. I know instantly it won’t fit my head. Is this supposed to make me feel abnormal? If it doesn’t fit my head, at least not at all comfortably, then I don’t fit the “One Size” which is presumably labelled that way as it fits ‘most heads’. It’s the head equivalent of the days when I tried to get my size 38 waist into a size 36 pair of jeans. Paramedics always needed for that one! The momentary triumph of getting them on was killed by the realisation it was impossible to walk in them!
I was at Greenbelt (Christian festival – my first) last year and there was a stall (run by a rather fun Mexican I think) which sold cowboy hats, in white. No black. I always prefer black, or at least dark. Anyway, I tried a few on and they didn’t quite fit. I almost decided to buy one (was reaching into my pocket for money) because with a bit of pulling and tugging it was almost there but I wouldn’t have been able to wear it without a bit of soreness or it sitting way too far up my head. I decided, no, if I can’t wear it comfortably then not at all. I’ll wait till I find a hat that actually fits and I like. The search continues…
…it made me think about church. I read an article recently about something called The Order of the Black Sheep. No, it’s not the original and subsequently rejected title of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (or maybe there’s an eighth never before revealed title!), nor the new Dan Brown novel about yet another secret society in the Vatican which uses ‘any means necessary’ to protect its secrets.
Clicking the link will tell you more but The Order of the Black Sheep is basically ‘church’ (a project in its infancy) for people who feel marginalised, people who feel a bit like the black sheep of society, or indeed the church. People who are increasingly uncomfortable in ‘traditional’ church or would never go there in the first place. Of course the word traditional has different meanings depending on our own history. For me the word traditional probably means an opening hymn, prayers, more hymns, children’s talk, hymn and offering, sermon, hymn, prayer, Amen and see you next week etc etc.
My upbringing was Brethren, Baptist, (Evangelical) Church of Scotland, Methodist and more recently a bit of exposure to the Anglican way of doing Church, a new but compelling experience for me. All have strengths and weaknesses. There is much variety…but perhaps still not that elusive ‘something for everyone’. What if there’s still that section of society which just doesn’t feel they ‘fit’? What are we going to do about that? In this case, one size does not fit all and while variety is good this still doesn’t mean all are catered for.
As far as churches go I’ve experienced both formal and informal, from very strict and serious to ridiculously relaxed and near comatose. What I’ve learned is that one size does not fit all, what appeals to one person may be a complete turn off to another. Yet Jesus reaches out to all. A church service which can accommodate varying styles and ‘tastes’ is commendable. Yet there are people who feel most ‘comfortable’ and ‘at home’ and, dare I say it, ‘safe’, in one type of service and doing things one way and if newcomers want to come in (everyone welcome!) they need to fit into this particular way. Whatever that type of service is will differ for different people.
I’ve experienced Baptist (with the size of baptismal tank you could launch a battleship from) and others with an inflatable pool just big enough to jump into and be dunked before falling out the other side into the beach sized towel your ‘supporting person’ is handily holding for you. Don’t these people know there are portable ‘one size fits all (most)’ tanks?
I’ve been in a Pentecostal Church where a crown of thorns was suspended from the ceiling above the pulpit so it hung just above the preachers head as he preached, and where towards the end of the service you could, should you so desire, be ‘slain in the spirit’, whacked on the head and fall backwards. I’ve been in Brethren Assemblies where women were required to wear hats (they had a room off to one side with a selection of ‘one style fits all’ hats should a woman have the audacity to walk in without a hat) and men took it in turns to preach each week because the Bible doesn’t say anything about a church having a single minister, there are preaching elders (plural). I’ve been in Free Church of Scotland services where you sit to sing (I rather like sitting to sing…why do we usually have to stand? I considered it an act of awesome rebellion when I decided to sit down half way through a chorus, I kept singing and everything, it’s just that the spirit was flowing but not through my legs) and stand to pray. The seats were solid wood and mega sore after awhile. They only sang Psalms and with no musical accompaniment. I confess I rather liked that.
I’ve attended traditional Church of Scotland services where the star of the show seemed to be the magnificent building (and there are some magnificent buildings) whether or not there was any life in the church itself, where the sermon could last up to an hour depending on the speaker and the baptismal ‘tank’ was the tiny font at the front where babies were welcomed into the church by having water sprinkled on their foreheads. I’ve been in ultra modern churches which seemed to be trying to be so modern in their appeal to general culture that there appeared little to differentiate the church from society.
Perhaps most of all I’ve been in churches where a ‘very warm welcome’ was extended to all but left you cold, and the church ‘welcomed people from all parts of society’ but if a homeless person walked in Jesus would not be found in the building. Bit unfortunate if the homeless person was Jesus.
Disclaimer: All these examples were some time ago and I’m aware things have changed in many churches. Free Churches have bands and hymns, women don’t have to wear hats in Brethren Assemblies, many churches do actually welcome people etc etc. So no need to sue for defamation of ecclesiology 🙂
As an aside, what I have also noted over the years is that the churches where I’ve been most warmly welcomed and experienced genuine love and the feeling that I am loved…were those churches and mission halls which were the least financially well off. In fact the one place I possibly felt God’s presence most was one where the paint was peeling from the walls, the carpet was threadbare and the the vestry which I was led into to prepare for preaching, was a tiny office (cupboard) with a table which would fail its MOT and crumbling stone walls. Materially poor but spiritually rich. Then there was a mission hall in a rough part of Glasgow where the windows had bars protecting from vandals and the doors had metal shutters for the same reason. They couldn’t afford a minister so had endless visiting speakers. Yet the people were alive with the spirit of prayer and love. I preached there once and afterwards an elderly lady tried to press £2 into my hand for my ‘expenses’. I was embarrassed, didn’t want to take anything from her but I saw that it meant alot to her to be able to offer something. So I gratefully took the £2 and, after she has gone, slipped it into the offering box. I then felt totally embarrassed to climb into my Mum’s Racing Green Honda Civic sports car that I’d used to drive to the hall that morning. I’d never been so conscious of all that I had compared to these people. I wanted to hide around the corner till everyone had departed and pretend the Honda wasn’t mine!
Once again, all this experience has taught me something. Ecclesiastically, church-wise, one size does not fit all and even with the variety on offer, there are still people who aren’t being reached and sometimes it takes the most radical form of ‘ministry’ to reach them, stepping right outside the ‘traditional’ ways, even the ‘previously seen as radical’ ways, to reach them. Those people who feel neglected, like outsiders, social lepers, disenfranchised, that they don’t fit…where do they go? Aren’t those people the very people Jesus came for? Perhaps it’s not where do they go but who will go to them?
There are many people and churches who ‘do’ church differently. Nadia Bolz Weber, Rachel Mann, Shane Claiborne, David Wilkerson, Jackie Pullinger, dare I say it…Rob Bell… duck!!
Of course, every ‘style’ of Church needs a central core. For me, Christ is central to all, forgiveness of sins, redemption, salvation, restoration. Everything else is negotiable. Big statement I know and yes it needs exploration but that’s for another time…
I like aspects of tradition, I think it provides stability, continuity…but I like God’s adventurous side as well. God gives us safe haven but God is not a safe God, ask Moses, David, Daniel, Rahab. Say YES! to God and batten down the hatches, if God takes you at your word…get ready for the ride of your life. Maybe God will take the most traditionally oriented person he can find and call them to the most radical life reaching the most difficult to reach people. It’s the kind of thing God does. It’s called life, following God, life as it’s meant to be lived.
One size doesn’t fit all but there are many different kinds of people and so many different ways of doing church means something for everyone. Yet there are still people who feel like outsiders, disenfranchised, disengaged, forgotten and adrift…time for the church to step up to the plate and follow God to reach them. Where will God take his Church? Will we follow? Say “YES! God!”
“I have come that they might have life and life in all its fullness.”