We’ve all known those churches. Old churches. Old not just in age but in feeling. The ones where the average age is about 70 or more, who feel they really ought to try and attract some young people.
So what they do is change the hymns. Make some of the hymns more modern. Some of the elderly folk really like Kum Ba Yah, and maybe will even go as far as “Shine Jesus Shine” although the organist insists on playing it at a slow march. They might even include a sentence or two in the pewsheet that the church “particularly welcomes young people”. Whenever there is a baptism, they smile really broadly at the young families, although there are a few at the back who really don’t like the noise they make. But, you know, you’ve got to be welcoming.
But surprise surprise, these new techniques don’t work. After a while the grumbling about the new hymns increases, and they appear a bit less often. Those who were keen to try and welcome young people feel betrayed that none of them have ever turned up.
What no-one has thought of doing, because they are trying to welcome “visitors” to “their church”, is to learn how to be hungry for new insight into God, by asking people outside the church about their views on God. No-one has thought about how to seek God in new places, because they already know what God looks like inside the church. Because keeping the church the same, or more or less the same, is in fact the priority, and welcoming young people is an optional extra. Young people are required to keep the church going, not to change it. And as long as the church “sees us out”. All the people in those churches are kind, Godly, devout. But tragically, they think they’ve got enough of God to not need any new perspectives. They think it is their own understanding of God which needs to be stewarded into the future not the pilgrim path itself.
Such churches close.
I’ve just finished reading the C of E report on human sexuality. It feels like a report from a very elderly church on how to be welcoming to new people. The tragic thing about it, is not just that the level of welcome is akin to that described above, but that it seems to read as though there really aren’t any LGBT people in the church at all, as though there is no insight or knowledge, understanding or common gound with LGBT people. And that is after three years of conversations.
It calls for compassion, of course. We should be nice to people. Good. It also tells us that various things need to be revised, clarified – with no steer on how they should be clarified. It calls for a new tone and a new understanding, but crucially without any actual change in practice, or guidence.
It’s the clickbait compassion of the internet – let’s be nice to one another, as long as it involves no more than a click of a finger to post a “like”
I’ve always been a great believer in that old phrase, “when you pray, move your feet” Prayer, good intentions, without action, is a whited sepulchre. Love always calls us to do something, whether it is to change something in ourselves, or to change something in the outside world. Love is always dynamic, never a static object. And because God is love, that means that God is not a noun but a verb, calling us to be different.
But like those elderly churches who are hoping to look welcomnig in order for their infrastructure to be stewarded, it feels as though the level of desire to see God differntly, to understand how God is moving in an arena they don’t yet understand, is almost nil.
I don’t identify as LGBT, and I can only imagine how personal and cutting this report feels to folk whose lives, personalites, souls, feel undervalued by this. But I do feel like I’m part of a generation and a people who the church wants to look welcoming to, but doesn’t want to listen to.
It makes the C of E feel like an anchor which is steadfastly refusing to be hoisted up. And I wonder how long it can be before the rope holding the church to God starts to fray.