Posh Church?

Is it me or is Church a bit posh?

I know muesli eaters need Jesus as much as the rest of us!

we are very respectable gatherings normally in our Churches, and yet Jesus was constantly being criticised for hanging out with out-casts and sinners, it is in all the gospels.

Jesus talked of the “prostitutes and the tax collectors entering the Kingdom of heaven before you”, he said “those who are well do not need a Doctor but only those who are sick”.

Yet, I am aware that our Churches seem to have very few ‘sick people’ in them, or we are very cautious of letting people know about our ‘sickness’ or brokenness.

The adage that Church is not a show-room of saints but a hospital for sinners might be theologically true, but often not how it feels.

One of our Churches, All Souls (called that because everyone is welcome) does have a number of people who have problems, and I am very conscious of how unusual this is for a Church, when I think this should be normal.

Yet as I have reflected on this, their honesty and authenticity and refusal to ‘play the game’ and say that everything is fine whilst wearing their Sunday best, is actually a wonderful and refreshing gift, a blessing from God that teaches us so much.

As I have repeatedly blogged about, my greatest and most profound moment of understand what Church is/should be was whilst doing a placement in a Rehab centre, with people carrying one another’s burdens, serving and being served, the power of wounded healers sharing healing and their journey with others, a place of hope and transformation. I remember thinking “this is what Church should be like!” and yet not like any Church I have ever been in, but one I long to see break out.

The first of the beatitudes is “blessed are those who know their need of God”, Jesus mocks this “I’m sorted” mentality that the religious people had when he says “the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents than 99 who need no repentance”… later on in the same passage we realise that those who think they are sorted “the respectable” older brother, actually is MORE lost than the younger brother from the pig sty.

I worry that sometimes in our Churches people don’t really believe they are sinners, and so offer a sort of pseudo repentance which leads to an unleaded, graceless, legalistic and slightly superior-mind-set Christianity that flies in the face of the gospel of grace.

My friend Fane Conant says “we are all beggars, just one beggar tell another beggar where to find bread”.

I know Churches will reflect their neighbourhoods, and yet even in deprived and multi-cultural areas with a younger demographic still too often our Churches still look “white, middle class and older”. when a Church is properly indigenous it will look like the people it serves, because it has become a Church in, of, and for the community.

There is a famous saying that says “If you want revival plant your Church in the gutter”, yet when we lived in Poole (one of the most expensive areas in the country) everyone wanted to plant a Church in its nice leafy expensive centre (and I know there is an irony in us feeling called back to there).

Interestingly, when I was out on the Streets on Saturday the upwardly mobile seemed uninterested to stop and chat, and yet the first two people to pray a prayer of commitment with us were both homeless guys.

Neil Cole in his book organic Church challenges everyone to look for good soil around abortion centres, rehab clinics, young offender institutes, red-light districts and needle exchanges… in other words go where there is hurt and despair with the message of healing and hope. where people are at the end of themselves often the place they discover the grace of God.

Jesus prioritised the disenfranchised, ostracised and the marginalised and sent the rich young ruler away, and yet it seems as the Church in the UK has turned this on its head.

why in the Church of England will a Church in Southampton receive more responses to an advert for a new vicar than a Church in South-Shields?

where-ever you are based there will be pain and poverty of some sort, Mother Teresa used to talk about “finding your Calcutta”, so let’s not become a cosy clique for the sorted and respectable, but an opened hearted feast with room for all -including and maybe even especially- for unrespectable, the unremarkable, undesirable and the unwanted.

Let’s see the Church in this nation looking like the people of this nation, all ages, cultures, class, socio-economic standings, races, sizes and shapes.

Sadly the broken and the hurting run from our Churches because they feel their sin makes them feel unwelcome. Philip Yancey writes in the start of his Book “what’s so amazing about Grace” about a woman who messes up her life and when suggests she goes to Church, she says “Church? I feel bad enough already, they’ll make me feel worse”. Yet the gospel should cause them to run too Christ who brings healing, restoration, forgiveness and grace.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” -where we are all very nice and respectable, and maybe even a tad Pharisee-like- or the “fellowship of sinners” where we are real and authentic and share deeply the reality of our life and struggles seeking to follow Jesus.


One thought on “Posh Church?

  1. Christopher Deans says:

    Interesting that you should mention South Shields whose residents are often known affectionately as sand dancers. A Group of Yemeni seamen settled there in the mid 19th, century, practising Muslims they are accepted and one never hears anything about them as they blend seamlessly into the community; how refreshing.

    People talk about people who have committed serious crimes and received a life sentence, the general consensus of opinion being almost invariably. that life should mean life without the possibility of parole, and rejoining wider society, in other words, though few would say it. without any possibility of redemption.

    Any life sentenced prisoner in this country has to serve a tariff, set by the Judge at his trial, after which he is risk assessed to ensure, as far as possible, that he doesn’t represent a risk to the public, assuming he is considered suitable he is released to live in the wider world under the supervision of the probation service; should he/she commit any further offence they are immediately returned to prison whilst conduct is heard and resolved. The transition takes time, it is amazing how the world changes in ten or twenty years, so the process is gradual, an open prison, a supervised job, returning to the open prison every evening.

    There is a very nice church near where I live that specialises in giving some of these people their first experience of working in the outside world, and they do a very good job of it, some of the people they help join the congregation, others not, for a variety of reasons, but those they help are always welcome to return, a cup of tea, talk over problems, tell of their prospects and their joys. The church, the whole church is unstinting in being a good friend and neighbour.

    There are people who help and advise, befriend, available at the end of a telephone to chat, but mostly to listen; listening is often a very unrecognised skill. Some are Churchmen and some not but the work they do is of value. The secret being in allowing the undesirable, the unrespectable, and those who consider themselves unworthy, to be just normal, as opposed to guilty and hated.

    There are also ancient knights who tilt a wobbly lance at the windmills of DWP oppression, wise in the knowledge of legislative procedures, appeals, debts, bailiffs, rights, powers and suchlike who take on the various organs of state on behalf of those who are without the necessary knowledge.

    There is a little known charity, quite small, who do their best to look after prisoners abroad, those who have been convicted of an offence in a foreign country, for they are prisoners twice over, once by being locked up, and secondly as a prisoner with little or no knowledge of the language and culture of the people where they are, for some conditions are very harsh and often insanitary.

    No Andy my friend, it is not you, some churches are ultra posh, and some are so far up the candle that they spend all of Sunday suffering with vertigo. They are mostly concerned with Middle Class Morality and Establishment respectability, God the optional extra is decidedly a W.A.S.P., and schadenfreude abounds. You are much better suited to the tacky, needy end. Have you ever considered Prison Chaplaincy? you would be very good at the job, however there is always the danger of being institutionalized, so perhaps a quick in and out.

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