Despite a rather self-congratulatory tone, it was impressive to hear of churches with big budgets and lots of people laying on programmes of social action, support groups, food banks and the like, that fill gaps gaping ever wider as the government obsesses about the Daily Mail vote (I wonder how many volunteers vote for the policies that result in the conditions they are volunteering to address). I hope, though, that there’s something more to church than being busy. If not, I’m doomed.
Five or six years ago I would have come away from such a meeting feeling inadequate. I’m blessed with faithful and lovely people but we certainly don’t have a critical mass of volunteers, though I know my parishioners give in their own sweet and quiet way to voluntary programmes throughout the region. And as for funds, the buildings more than eat up our money.
I was pondering this all afternoon. Then in the evening two couples contacted me about baptisms and a wedding at S Paul’s. They had been inside (we must keep churches open) and they had been ‘blown away’ by it. ‘A church should bring you to your knees’, said Sir Ninian Comper. And it does. Even if we humans are not active in the community, our buildings certainly are. Thank the Lord for those that built them, those that beautified them, those that handed them on to us. They may be long dead, but they’re still at work. I count it a privilege to have them in my care.
I can’t compete with the busy-ness of some churches. But I can have buildings open and available; I can be seen around town myself, open and available. It’s terrific that churches are able to lay on extensive programmes of social action, but if that’s all they do there’s something missing. The Immanent is all very well, but without the Transcendent, churches are simply an arm of social services.
We are privileged to be able to offer something else: the Transcendent. We offer space, silence, beauty, the numinous. In our worship we can offer a glimpse of otherness, a glimpse of heaven. And it is that that recharges the batteries so that we can go out and serve each other.
Like I say, once I would have come away from yesterday’s meeting feeling inadequate. But I’ve grown up a bit since then.