Number three

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.

8 responses to “Number three”

  1. ‘At least a sense of structure’…. I take it that you mean there was a more obvious liturgical pattern to worship ?? Taken at face value you imply that other churches don’t have a structure to their worship. I’d like to think my services have a coherent and worked out meaningful structure to them…..
    As for the baptismal question. I kinda like that too. May well try it out on my folks at the next baptism.
    I was at a centenary celebration service this morning and there was a lovely moment in the children’s talk. When asked what you usually get at a birthday celebration, a wee voice loudly and accurately claimed ‘CAKE’ !!! Wonderful moment. Never ever underestimate the power of a child to make a service !

  2. David,

    Yes I did mean a more “obvious liturgical pattern”. As you’ll appreciate I’m talking ’round’ the thing, but I guess anyone with a passing familiarity with churches in the area will know where I mean. Yes there was a strong liturgical element to the worship. And in seeking to draw the distinction I unwittingly suggested that other churches I have been in didn’t have structure. That is obviously not the case, so I apologise for suggesting it might be.

  3. Thanks for the swift apology, John.
    Your comment about liturgy does raise an interesting question as to why some folks get a great deal of comfort out of a sometimes fixed and elaborate structure to worship, and why others prefer almost no structure at all. It would be easy to speak of ‘high church’ and ‘low church’ and of formal and very informal worship.
    I attended a Pentecostal service in Princeton a number of years ago, and it would be fair to say that there was little formal structure to the service and it petered out towards the end, so much so that I turned to my American friend and asked ‘is that it ?’, suggesting that I prefer a fairly structured service myself.
    I’m not one to have creeds recited a lot, partly because I come from a church that just didn’t do that kind of thing, although I appreciate their usage from time to time.
    I remember a PT1 visit to a church in Edinburgh which geographically was at the low end of a particular street while an openly evangelical church was at the geographically high end of the same street. The lecturers found a good deal of irony in this !! (as they do)
    I tried to find a description of ‘typical’ CofS worship in my Diploma year and came to the conclusion that there was no such thing, and that we can rejoice in our rich diversity.

  4. Just playing a little devil’s advocate, but perhaps the more structured nature, as you described John, was for a particular reason today. In my home church I have been involved in “one-off” services where the structure seems more structured (argh – repetition of word!), if that makes sence?
    So perhaps another visit might confirm of deny this?

  5. “…although the welcome was friendly enough, no-one was in any rush to speak to me, even over a coffee in the halls afterwards.” Went to your church no2 today to observe (couldn’t go before as I’ve been no’ weel). This was like my experience today.  Most impressed with the quality and versatility of the organist (but I’m into church music) – everything from organ preludes to Redemptorist songs and everything in-between!
    Apart from that, very different in style and theology from what I’m used to – I’ll learn lots. I think we need to be taken out of our usual comfort zones sometimes so we can grow and hone our practice. It’ll be really good!
    BTW – no3 sounds like the one 121 were trying to get me to, but I nearly had a paloorie – no way could I learn and grow in that sort of environment – I’d need to buy a frock said I, although the theology is much closer to mine!

  6. CB,

    I had the advantage at No2 of bumping into someone I know who introduced me around. Not really what I had intended, but unavoidable in the circumstances. As for No3, if it’s within a stone’s throw then it’ll be the same one – and maybe I’ll need to start wearing a frock (or robes at least). As for the theology – it seemed to fit very much with where I am at the moment as well – a strong emphasis on a social conscience. I perhaps would have liked a slightly stronger gospel-driven message for it, but again that would be judging based on a single visit.

    Mrs G,

    I think in this instance it’s their ‘normal’ way of doing things rather than a one-off. Such is the nature of this particular church. I’m actually growing to appreciate and actually like a more formal liturgy. I like the whole ‘flow’ of a liturgical/structured service. Whilst it’s true that most folks in the pews wouldn’t actually appreciate the theological significance of the order of things or even why particular things are included at all, I think they are a good corrective to the pick’n’mix faith that many other contemporary services offer.

    I realise all this sounds like I’ve already made up my mind, but I’m still open to No4 on my list.

  7. It occurred to me that I should point out that we’re not talking ‘high kirk’ worship here. Just a greater sense of liturgy in the ‘flow’ of the service. The collect, approach, word, response and sending out are all found in most CofS services (as David rightly brought me up on). I think though that there was a sense of more ‘formality’ about it here. Or maybe I was just looking out for it – part of the expectations of the visit.

  8. I know which one it is! Seriously, the two people I know who went there had a fantastic learning experience, and I know I would have had too – if my no 1 spot hadn’t worked, it was my no 2 (frock or no frock!), but the strong liturgical setting  may have been a challenge too far for me, I think. I’m sure you could fit in well and develop in all sorts of ways. How intriguing and what a difficult decision you have to make. Keep us posted!

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