This month.....

No Jacket Required

A few weeks ago I was invited to record a short interview for BBC Radio Wiltshire’s Sunday Morning programme with Jonathan Fido. There had been an item in one of the national newspapers reporting that an incumbent had been complaining that so many people came to Christmas services who never come at any other time of the year. So BBC Radio Wiltshire wanted to know what I thought; I don’t know why they asked me but I’ve done a few pieces for them now.

Every parish has days when the church has a large congregation. Christmas, Easter, Remembrance Sunday, Harvest (particularly in urban areas) for example. Over the years I’ve known many people who regularly attend church once a year; I rather look forward to seeing them. Of course it would be great to see them more frequently but it’s great to see them when we do.

I guess some people will be asking but why do they come? Now if you’re one of those people who regularly come once a year then I’m certain you have your own individual reason for coming. I’m going to guess that for some people the reasons they come to church at festival are along the lines of:

  • Tradition, it’s what I do at this time of year and Christmas (other festivals are available) wouldn’t be Christmas without going to church for a carol service/crib service/midnight mass/Christmas morning communion/etc.
  • I just love having a good sing of carols.
  • It’s for the children; I love the crib service.
  • I like to join with others throughout the country at 11am on Remembrance Sunday thinking about those who died in conflict.
  • I like to give thanks for all those whose hard work enables me to have the things I enjoy and to remember those less fortunate.
  • I like to celebrate new life at Easter.

I’m certain that there are lots of other reasons too. Most people will go to church for a wedding, baptism or a funeral even if it is just to support those at the centre of these life events. But why mark a marriage, a birth or a death in church?

Well firstly you are all very welcome whatever your reason for coming to church; I love seeing you even if it’s only occasionally.

Since weddings have been able to happen in a variety of registered premises the number of weddings in church have dropped, but only slightly. I suspect we’ve just lost those for whom there was no other option but church if they wanted to get married in a beautiful setting rather than a registrar’s office. It’s great that people have wider options. Of course people have options when it comes to marking a birth in the family or the end of a life.

So marking the occasional offices in church has to be because church has something that no other place has. When I meet with people when they are planning a life event in church I never ask them to justify why they want these events in church, I’m just delighted that they want to mark these events in church. I expect that if I did ask “why church?” most people would find that a rather difficult question to articulate an answer to. But I always get a sense of people’s faith; the individuals might not be aware of it or want to claim that there is always something there.

Going back to that grumpy cleric, why not come to church at other times of the year? Well I wonder if for some it’s being uncertain of a welcome on a normal Sunday; when I open the door what will I find? For some it might be that they think that there is a minimum level of belief before they are welcome. It may be that people would like to come but they are just not in the habit, I know the feeling it took me nearly 10 years to get up the courage to join a running club!

I expect that there are many reasons why people feel uneasy about coming to church on a normal Sunday but the level of their faith shouldn’t be one of them. We talk about faith but faith is not certainty. Faith is trusting in something but it does include an element of doubt too. I have faith that when I am driving my car that I will get safely to my destination but I don’t have certainty so I always wear a seatbelt and I’m very glad my car has airbags and a number of drivers aids to increase my level of safety but I still don’t have certainty about what other drivers might do. A good dose of doubt helps keep me safe but doesn’t guarantee safety. If it came to something like bungee jumping I’d have faith in the rope but a huge amount of doubt as well!!!

If I had certainty I’d have no doubt about something and I wouldn’t need to think about it. Faith means that we actively engage in something, be it putting on a seatbelt and being wary of other drivers or actively thinking about and reflecting about a religious faith.

Faith is about engaging in the big questions of life, the universe and everything. Church should be one of those places where we can explore those big questions. As someone whose first degree is in Physics I see faith and theology as being deeply. Science and faith both ask and explore the big questions of life and I love questions. Particularly the questions that I don’t know the answer too as I’ve then got the pleasure of trying to find the answer.

So however often you come to church, be it regularly, yearly, monthly or weekly or if you come just for those points of change in life you’re very welcome, as is everyone else whether they think they have faith or not. We are all on a journey so please feel free to come along and let’s share that journey together. Oh and by the way come as you are, no jacket required!

Happy journeying

Richard Curtis