Sunday, August 28, 2005

Churches that don't meet every week

So I tried to go to church today. My local church is Newcastle Unitarian Meeting House. The trouble is it does not meet every week, it meets twice a month. The website says that there are services on the second and fourth Sunday of the month. And today is the fourth Sunday, is it not? So I trotted along there for worship at 10.30 this morning.

When I got there, the door was locked, there were no cars outside, and when I looked at the notice board I saw that in fact they had met last Sunday, at 6 o' clock in the evening. I had missed church.

So I decided to wander across Newcastle-under-Lyme to find the Quaker Meeting House that I hadn't been to before. It was very nice, though pretty low on the ground.

So I think I've been in Stoke-on-Trent for about 6 weeks now, and I've only managed to get to church once. I was there one Sunday, then I went to Opus/Concentric in Iowa, then I came back, and now I've missed another service because they switched to the third Sunday instead of the fourth.

This got me thinking about how viable it is to have a church that does not meet once a week. I think it is very difficult for a church to grow if it does not make a commitment to meet once a week. The Newcastle church should have updated its website (which does not look like it has been updated in a long time) to say exactly when it does meet. They do this outside the church, so it should not be too difficult to put this up on a website. I don't want to have to walk all the way in just to check what time services are. Of course, if I was a regular attender, then I would know when the services were going to be. But the for the casual visitor this is pretty off-putting. Finding a locked church door once is probably enough to put most people off.

Better than an updated website, would be a commitment to meet every week. I think a lot of Unitarian churches in the UK (maybe half?) meet less than once a week. While this is not the case in the US, a lot of churches do have three months off in the summer, which is very bizare. A religious community needs to meet every single week of the year.

Now I know that might be difficult for a lot of Unitarian churches. For example, Newcastle shares their minister with the Macclesfield church, so he can only be there every other week. That's fair enough, and that is going to continue to be the case for many years in this community. However, I think the church should be prepared to meet the weeks that they are without a minister too. This need not mean lay people trying to do the same thing a minister does, but less well. It should mean an opportunity for egalitarian spiritual meeting. It should be seen as a great opportunity to do something different.

What could a church do on these weeks without a minister? Well the least they could do would be simply have coffee-hour, and that's it, simply fellowship time. Or there could simply be a time for check-in, for everyone to share something honest about themselves and their week. A simple gathering with candles for joys and concerns, a couple of readings and some songs. Maybe the organist can't be there either. Then sing songs with a piana, or a guitar, or without accompaniment. Or, do what I did this morning, have a Quaker meeting in silence. This wouldn't mean that anyone needed to stress to prepare a sermon or book a guest speaker. There are better, more effective, low-resource ways for us to gather. I am convinced that any of these things would be better than nothing. Any of these things would grow our sense of community and make us more open to visitors.


Blogger Lewis said...

Hi Stephen,
I totally agree with you that a religious community should meet every week. I recently had this very discussion with the organist at one of the chapels where I am a member, and which only meets twice a month.
I had turned up at the chapel to preach, only to find the gates were locked. I then went to the nearest congregation members house to get the key, and they were not in!
The organist arrived but nobody else turned up, which surprised me somewhat, as people had been complaining about a recent service being cancelled because of the preacher was ill.
It's now appears that there was some sort of misunderstanding, and one person had believed that the service had been cancelled that week, and had telephoned most of the other people to tell them that this was the case!
What I shall be putting forward to the chapels management committee is that we continue with having a minister/lay preacher on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month, and on the other Sundays we meet with nobody scheduled to lead the service. That way if people want to bring along a reading, or a prayer then they can. We can sing a couple of hymns, have a period of silent meditation, and discuss the weeks world events! Which I sometimes find more helpful than a regular service.
It is more important that the chapels doors are seen to be open every week, than just having somebody stood in the pulpit!


1:34 pm  
Anonymous Mike Killingworth said...

Stephen, many thanks for "opening up" - what it seems to me you and Lewis both are describing is not so much as a church as a religious members' club. The (false) self-esteem that people can get from being a large fish in a small pond should never be underestimated.

In London & the South East at any rate I have ceased to be surprised by tales of congregations asking District for help, only to discover that the medicine tastes so nasty that they decide to go on being sick instead...

10:04 pm  
Anonymous Bursting Bubbles said...

Please be generous and give them the benefit of the doubt. This particular Sunday was the last Bank Holiday Weekend of the Summer, and most people probably had other, dare I say better, things to do over this weekend than go to Church.

Sounds like they had rearranged their normal service to the preceding Sunday for precisely this reason.

A sensible move in my book.

Plus, don't be too critical of the website updates. If they are using the GA's scheme they are allowed only TWO updates a year.

I hope you have informed their Secretary of your concerns so they can have the opportunity to make a positive response to your observations, and make some improvements in the process.

11:45 pm  

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