For myself, a sizeable aspect of settling in to new surroundings is finding a Church I can belong to. This probably shouldn’t come as a massive surprise – Church is an important concept in my life. Starting afresh in a new place offers a challenge and a moment of opportunity: it can take some serious energy to find a church that one can fit into, rather than simply attend as a peripheral pew-filler.
I’ve been wondering what sort of Church I might end up attending when I get to Manchester in 2 months time. It started out with the realisation that I’m likely to be out of town at weekends a fair bit, so a church where I don’t miss Sundays just from being on the road makes sense – evening services are likely to be a big bonus. Otherwise, I could easily only be around a dozen Sundays during my six month stay.
The wonderful thing that is the media tends to reduce all churches to a one-dimensional sliding scale: traditional to modern. This is a hideously simplistic way of looking diversity in churches. Some of that diversity I’m incredibly thankful for: we have churches in Britain that engage people on just about every level – ‘visual learners’ and ‘lecture addicts’, those seeking ancient musical wonders and those seeking guitars, or beats, or no songs at all. There are churches that focus on specific cultures, such as the African Caribbean community or the Goth community.
Then there’s the parameters with big names: Charismatic, Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, Liberal, Conservative. I haven’t even ruled out a break from the Anglican Church just to widen my horizons for a few months. A city like Manchester has some fairly niche churches that a city like York wouldn’t be able to sustain. Choices, choices…
So what am I looking for? First, I do want a church that takes the bible seriously. It annoys me how often churches which are regarded as great forward-thinking communities actually don’t have their foundations fixed. Second, it needs to be a church that is engaging with the world. Given I’ll be doing 9-5 in an organisation focused on such issues, it would be odd to then go to a church which doesn’t connect with that. I’m not very interested in churches that shroud themselves in a world of upbeat music and back patting whilst the world goes on around them.
Then there’s the stuff I really want to see in a church, but so often accept is just far too rare to count on. I’d love to be part of a church with a genuine understanding and concern for the damage churches are doing in the lives of many people in today’s world. I don’t mean “all those wars” or the Spanish Inquisition, I mean all the little incidences in which the church manages to crush people or fails to ensure their emotional wellbeing. I want a church that takes mental health and disability seriously, not just wheelchair users and children with learning disabilities.
You might notice that I’ve not said I’m looking for a high-church, or a low-church. Mostly, I’m not. I’ve quite happily been a member of both, in neither case have I been frustrated by that fact alone. I’ve been to churches with modern music and traditional music, and in all honesty, I think there’s far more to music used in church than whether it was written last year or last millennium. Does it deal with the width of human experience, or just sweep that under the carpet and put on a pretend face?
I suppose in a potentially-six-month stay in Manchester, I’m not looking for somewhere that’s a perfect balance of everything. They say “if you find a perfect church, don’t join it or it’ll cease to be perfect” but is it possible I could just find one that doesn’t drive me nuts?