Hallo again to all.
Last week we wrote about Bruce Springsteen and our sense that he is advancing the Kingdom of Heaven outside the church, perhaps partly because he had been taught the faith as a child. We received number of interesting emails in response—most of you liking what we had to say—but several challenging our assertion that it doesn't matter which side of the church door you're on, as long as you know what's on both sides.
Some of you thought we contradicted ourselves when we said that Springsteen's faith persisted despite years away from the church, wondering how faith ever 'got in' to someone if the church wasn't originally involved. In other words, you chided us, parents especially needed to be on the inside of the doors to make the Springsteen example work for their own children. We see your point. But we think it important to remember that the church is the people of God and not the building. Yes, coming together corporately in one place, for strength, sustenance, solace, caught up in the wonder, love, and praise of worship is, to us, like air and water. But does faith need to begin there?
Faith isn't taught, it's caught, as the old adage has it, lighted from soul to soul. Sometimes that light-bearer may be a parish priest, Sunday School teacher, perhaps even a bishop! But can't that fire be sparked by a chance encounter with the Book of Common Prayer, a friend or lover, or a sudden sharp knock on the heart by God after a personal tragedy? Because it is normal, proper, and comfortable to think that the faith is learnt inside church doors, should we assume that it cannot be born elsewhere and—later—find its home inside? Or begin inside the doors and then leave for the vast unknown of the world, for a time? When we wrote last week, we saw 'doors' as metaphysical and permeable, and perhaps we should have explained this. But we do wonder, with all the present turmoil in our communion, would a just-aborning faith be more sheltered outside the church than in it at the moment? Would a young faith find more trials heaped upon it by our sad internal wranglings than it might in the indifferent hardness of a post-christian world?
We go to our parish church every Sunday that we aren't ill or on the road. It's just what we do. We like to attend church for many different reasons. If nothing else, it's easier than trying to find God in a cornfield. Having someone read us a Bible passage is a different experience than reading it to ourselves, and having a priest consecrate the elements means we can partake in the eucharist every week. The hymns are usually easier to sing than 'Thunder Road', but the coffee is usually bad.
We attend church because we're in the habit of finding and worshipping God there. But we aren't so silly as to think that we can't find and venerate God in other places, too. We're not animists; we don't go looking for God in livestock and swarms of insects. But sitting on our old stone wall as the sun sets, humming Hyfrydol to ourselves, grateful to God for everything that we see around us, and reading about dry bones, no canon lawyer to be found anywhere in sight, we are absolutely certain that, at times, this is closer to being the church that Jesus had in mind than is a musty old building with a red door where people are deposing one another and arguing about sex.
We'll go back to our parish church next week, because we always do, but you're going to have to work pretty hard to convince us that Jesus would rather have us there than, say, sitting here on this old stone wall. Maybe we'll meet some spiritually hungry teenagers here on the wall, and maybe we can drag them into our church so they can learn Hyfrydol and learn which hand they must use to cross themselves with. Hmm ph.
See you next week.