“You know what the problem is with the Church?”
I waited for the pearl of wisdom.
“It’s been too successful.”
This conversation took place some years ago now, but I recalled it on two occasions recently.
The first was a gathering of over one hundred people who had come together to plan our response to the arrival in Lincoln of the first refugees from Syria. We talked about collecting clothing and household goods; we explored the possible problems that refugees might face. We began to plan a fundraising event and someone said, “this is what churches used to do.”
In the discussion that followed, it became clear that many there had been brought up with the church as part of their lives, but that they had long since stopped attending. My suspicion was that that early church going may have given us all that sense of concern for our fellow human beings that had brought us all together.
But there were others there, probably most, who had no history with the church. My colleague who had identified the ‘problem with the church’ would argue that christian teaching over centuries had entered the blood stream of the nation and so we all have, or can have, that sense of christian values. This is dangerous territory since atheist friends would take issue and point possibly to some shared set of values that come from our shared humanity.
In a sense it doesn’t matter, since, whoever we were, we all came together for a common cause.
This brings me to my second occasion. This was in Veryan church at the end of November when the school gathered for their Friday assembly, which they do each week. What struck me was just how at home everyone appeared to be. I remember my time as Reader working with the school and how the church had in recent times been an unfamiliar place for most. Not so now: mums, grandmas, toddlers, all happily chatting before the school children arrived. Then the children themselves came in, settling down to something that was part of everyday life.
They heard the story of Ruth wonderfully told by the Open the Book team. I was struck by how the story resonates with the refugee crisis. The children listened and then prayed. I went away happy that those children would have a sense of christian values which would last them through life.
Is that enough? Or should we worry that they don’t come to church on Sunday?
What matters, surely, is that that christian values are being learnt by another generation, but also that the church is being used for this purpose.