Saturday, 15 September 2012

Policy X And The Sunday Morning Dad Dance Service

One topic that comes up from time to time is why don't a particular group (the menfolk, the young people etc.) go to church.

I have a worry that often the replies are looking at why the writer wouldn't go to church if they weren't a Christian and then project that onto the group they're writing about.

Now, I am a Conservative. We spent 13 years in the wilderness, and it wasn't until the May 2005 general election that I thought that there would ever be a Conservative government again- indeed, at points in the previous few years I wondered if it wouldn't be better for Conservatives to leave a sinking ship and join the Liberal Democrats to get some sort of centre/centre-right grouping that could take power after Labour.

During that era there would be the occasional suggestion made as to how we could come back big time. There were millions of voters, apparently, who refused to vote for us at the May 1997 general election as they were angry at the "matricide" of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. Curiously, not angry enough to abstain at the April 1992 general election.

And in that era there were suggestions based on "policy X". This was a policy that was obvious to whoever suggested it- and if only we adopted policy X, then those millions would forgive us for removing Thatcher and we would see a landslide. The policy was never obvious to a succession of Shadow Cabinets or Party Chairmen.

It might be Europe, or the death penalty, or grammar schools, but whatever it was, the person making the suggestion would be so confident that millions of disgruntled voters agreed with them and that they had found The Reason millions were not voting Conservative and had The Policy that would bring the Conservatives back.

You see, they were projecting their annoyance with Conservative policies onto the general population.

The odd thing about various ideas as to why people don't go to church is that they follow the same pattern.

Years ago, I was in Mensa's Politics group (and ran it for a while when they were looking for someone to take it over). Sometimes discussions would be about the Church of England. And for a couple of men, the decline in Church of England attendance was blindingly obvious- those pesky evangelicals (or, as it's Anglicanism, surely it should be those piskie evangelicals?) had taken the English people's birthright away. In the good old days, one could go to one's parish church, gaze at the stained glass window, listen to the robed choir and the organ, while the service was in 17th century English.

Then came the evangelicals and it all went "happy-clappy" and modern English and guitars, and lo, there went English people's birthright to hear a traditional Church of England service. They didn't like modern services, and it was obvious to them that many of the millions who do other things on Sunday morning were refusing to attend church until services went traditional again.

Now, I want to mention something about this. I am quite traditionalist about worship, and quite like the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. But I know not everyone is. Many Anglican churches will have enough services to ensure that everyone has something that is styled for them. So, when we say that people stay away because of the style, are we saying that the style should be changed so a different group of people stay away? Or that there should be a service with an alternative style?

As a postgraduate I found myself caught up in a small discussion as a group loved the later morning, more modern, service. And they were discussing why anyone would attend the earlier, more traditional, service. None of the suggestions were that people went there to worship God (and indeed, I remember a comment by someone who wanted the church to drop the early morning service, who was of the opinion "They're not there to worship God."). God wants worship to be guitars, clapping, modern choruses, none of this old solemn hymns played on the organ. Does He really?

Of course there is the other extreme. I was once at an Anglican church when an elderly lady- who disliked modern worship styles- announced mid-service she had received a word from God. He wants us to worship in beauty and holiness, which meant getting rid of modern worship styles. The guy leading the service said that all prophesies need to be weighed carefully- I think this is Anglican-speak for "Oh, put a sock in it, sister". Anglican-speak can be difficult to understand- for example if an Anglican clergyperson invites you to sit down, they don't say "Please sit down". They say "May I speak in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen"

Sometimes from the liberal end of the Church of England there is the idea that people are not going to church because same-sex couples can't get married and that the Church of England doesn't consecreate women presbyters to the episcopate, i.e. people stay away because the Church of England has not introduced the changes that the liberals want.

Now, the modern person on the Clapham Omnibus isn't an avid follower of General Synod debates. Sorry, but people have other things to do. Sure, suddenly having women bishops and "I now declare you man and husband" being an acceptable phrase for clergy to utter would make the news. But would it really be Earth-shattering? Would managers of garden centres wake up in a cold sweat on Saturday night and think "The Church of England has women bishops. Our takings will be down as everyone will be at church"?

Then there is the Christian bloke's movement, for whom the solution is to make churches blokier. Are men staying away because churches are not blokey enough?

Well, I am thinking of a group of non-Christians around my age and a bit younger. From the men, the criticisms of Christianity (and "religion" in general) are that Richard Dawkins has used science to disprove it, historians have disproved it, 9/11 and Northern Ireland show what happens if religion is tolerated.

In fact, the menfolk give exactly the same objections to Christianity as the womenfolk do. Indeed, one non-Christian man in that group went to a Sunday service. I know the church he went to- quite high Anglican, with flowers in the sanctuary and embrodiered hangings. Yet, the following week, he didn't even mention them. Clearly he wasn't thinking "Flowers. Embroidery. No place for a blokey bloke bloke like me."

And now on to getting the young folk in. What keeps them away? Could it possibly be not being able to do actions to songs?

Fortunately our church doesn't do "All-Age Worship". Where I have seen it done, the attendance is low, and young people are conspicuous by their absence. It seems to be old dears planning the service and thinking "what would the young people want? Action songs?"

And so you get the dad dancers, as they show they are down wiv da kidz, and elderly people who should not be doing actions to songs without their doctor's permission, while young people cringe and wish the LORD would perform a Numbers 16-style miracle. As a former vicar of mine was fond of pointing out, we shouldn't say things like "young people are the future of the church so we should do something for them". Instead, young people are part of the Body of Christ today, and we can ask them what they want.

I mean, if you were rush up to a group of youths hanging around on a street corner and say to them "Come to church tomorrow. We have songs with actions you can do" would they really be interested?

The problem with all these approaches is that it sees people are groups, like a company would target its advertising for various segments of society. Instead let's think of people as, well people, as individuals.

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