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Hallo again to all.

Sometimes, when we look over the centuries of Anglican infighting, we get the sense that every combatant has a strong sense of 'the way church is supposed to be', which derives in part from that combatant's childhood experiences, in part from the combatant's cultural and literary traditions, and in part from the ever-so-human trait of selective memory.

Today we were driving to church and ...

Driving? Isn't a church supposed to be in the middle of the village, high on a hill, with bells loud enough that they are audible to everyone but annoying to no one? Aren't we supposed to walk to church, or at least ride a bicycle or a horse? What's this about driving to church?

In our fantasy of The Way Church is Supposed to Be, we walk to church not just for Sunday services but for midweek saints' days and for little mid-day eucharists. Whether it's a stroll down the street, a hike up the hill, or stepping carefully across the railroad tracks to get to the old church on the other side, we want to retain our sense of place, of the church being in our community and us being in its circle and its shadow. When you arrive somewhere in a motor vehicle, you are robbed of a deep sense of place. It's much harder to hold onto the feeling that the church is part of your world, part of your life. At many urban churches, the congregation arrives by mass transit, usually trolley or omnibus or underground. In our experience, that's even worse.

At those phases of our lives when we've been able to walk to our own parish church, the walk is every bit as much preparation for worship as Lent is preparation for Easter and Advent is preparation for Christmas. We feel warm through-and-through with the memories of humming or even singing hymn tunes as we walked, or reflecting on last week's sermon. Walking preserves our sense of being connected to our home while connecting us to our church, keeping it all feeling like one continuous place rather than two isolated places. By contrast, to get to church by automobile or mass transit we need to devote pretty much our full attention to the trip itself, which breaks our connection to the journey's origin. When we've taken the underground to get to church, it has always felt somewhat like the 'wormholes' or 'transporter beams' of science fiction. You enter the wormhole at Knightsbridge or Russell Square and emerge minutes later just 36 rods from the church's front door, with absolutely no sense of the places being otherwise connected. This might be the neighbourhood church or it might secretly be off in another solar system.

Once upon a time the world was divided into parishes, and each parish had a parish church, and everyone who lived in that parish attended that church and got baptised and married and eulogized in that church, and that was the way it was. No matter that the priest was a fool, or the atmosphere was more like a theatre than a place of worship, or your ex-boss whom you helped put in prison is a member there too, that was your church. It was, really, the invention of motorized transportation that made it realistic for people to attend churches that weren't their local parish church. It seems only fair, we suppose, that the experience isn't as good. And then there's the issue of denomination: if you can't abide the Anglican church near your home, and you don't want to drive to Emerald City or take the underground to St Hammersmith-by-the-Bookstore, maybe the nearby Methodist or Lutheran church will meet your needs. Back when the original design was hammered out of each parish having a parish church, there weren't any denominations. The church was The Church; you heard the peal of its bells and walked to it.

Ultimately, it becomes a tradeoff. Do you walk across the street to the church-as-museum, or do you drive for half an hour to a faraway church where, for whatever reason, you feel closer to God?

So tell us: how do YOU get to church? Can you walk or ride a bicycle? Have you ever walked to church? If you've had experiences both with walking and with motor vehicles, do you share our feeling that not being able to walk to church diminishes the experience? We have a feeling that many of our readers would enjoy hearing from you, so be good enough to take the time to write.

See you next week. And we hope that we'll hear from you this week.

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Last updated: 22 May 2011

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