It was a visit to the third possible probation placement church today. This was my ‘wild card’ one but it’s also the one I’ve been feeling drawn to. It was odd sitting in the nearby car park and feeling a sense of excitement and trepidation. What if I had created a ‘fantasy’ of what it would be like? What if my expectations were unrealistic? What if I ended up deeply disappointed? It was a useful corrective to the purpose of my visits. They’re not about where I want to be or where I would feel comfortable but about discerning where God wants me and where I can learn the ropes.
Anyhoo… this was a very different experience from either of the others and, for that matter, any other church I have been in. But I liked that. There was something about the worship that was very appealing: the choral music; the sense of ‘ritual’ or at least a sense of structure. I particularly liked the way the theme wove through all aspects of the service, where certain key words and phrases were repeated and emphasised and reinforced.
I was also struck by one part of the service in particular. There was a baptism today (two in fact) and the point where the congregation stood to respond to the responsibilities laid upon them was split in two. First of all the gathered Sunday school children were asked if they would look after the newly baptised infants as if they were a younger sibling, hug them when they were sad, pick them up when they fell and continue to love them when they were not so well behaved? They then responded with a, “We will.” Similar questions, in the more conventional wording, were put to the congregation who also responded with a particular formula (written in the order of service). I thought the extra kids’ bit was really good and a great way of making the baptism more meaningful (and inclusive) for them.
On the negative side, although the welcome was friendly enough, no-one was in any rush to speak to me, even over a coffee in the halls afterwards. It would be a relatively easy place to remain ‘anonymous’ given the size of the congregation and the number of visitors it probably attracts. But then it’s probably not fair to make that judgement on the basis of one visit. Mind you, I did happened to bump into one of my former lecturers who sussed out that I was probably on a ‘recon mission’. They did promise to stay silent on the issue but it was a chance to get a little bit of insider knowledge (and I may well speak to them again if I decide to include this on my short-shortlist).
So yes, an overall positive impression but I don’t want to jump the gun just yet. I have one more church to visit before I turn my thoughts to narrowing down my choice to two. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel visiting that fourth possibility.