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As the Church of England announces a £27 million growth programme to promote new Christian communities across the UK I am left wondering whether that is really going to help increase numbers long-term.  Is a lack of churches really the reason why people no longer go to church?  It seems unlikely as there are more churches than I can count, all within a stone’s throw or short drive even from where I live.  Not enough churches of the kind that people want to attend might be more like it.  Certainly there is a huge growth in membership and attendance at the more evangelical charismatic churches.  Here in MK it’s one of the few church types that continues to grow in huge numbers.  Professional looking band at the front playing contemporary worship music and songs with smoke and strobes pulsing in time.  Concert style dimmed lighting in the auditorium [yes, I did say auditorium].  Great visual graphics and words on screens to avoid the need for books or sheets.  It’s actually totally fab as atmospheres go.  It really is like going to a pop concert.  I can see why it attracts a younger audience and that’s definitely one area we should be focussing on because that’s where the future of Christianity lies.

I personally struggle to find or ‘hear’ God in that setting.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a rousing hymn and a good jig around praising the Lord, but due to the vast numbers I also feel very lonely and insignificant.  It’s quite impersonal and difficult to feel part of things although there are ‘Welcome Teams’ and areas set aside purely for newbies to grab a coffee from the ‘in house’ coffee shop, and have a chat with existing members.  There are smaller Cell Groups that meet weekly to make things more intimate and personal and courses and workshops offered for those new to the church and/or new to the faith.  But despite all of that, there’s still something missing for me.

I’ve always ‘done’ faith on my own.  I was taken to Sunday School as a small child, left, then picked up later.  I was attending the Anglican church on my own as a teenager.  It’s no surprise therefore that my call to religious life at eighteen received a big fat ‘no’ from me due to my revelation being dismissed out of hand by my parents.  As a result I’ve done most things on my own so my lack of ability to be sociable is probably why I find the Happy Clappy [no disrespect meant] charism so lonely and difficult to fit into; it’s way out of my comfort zone.  It clearly suits the spiritual needs of many people though, especially in our multi-cultural city.

I need to be still and silent to ‘hear’ God.  I ‘hear’ Him loudest in places like Turvey Abbey, St Beuno’s, up a mountain in The Lakes.  Not in a church, in fact if I’m being honest rarely in a church.  My retreat to St Beuno’s [a Jesuit community in North Wales] in June of this year was singularly responsible for reviving my lacklustre faith which took a horrendous nosedive after the terrible events of last year; losing my mother to Lymphoma in July’17 and coming close to death myself due to complications after my hysterectomy in October’17.  I had a real crisis of denomination and I really needed that weekend of complete silence to listen, pray and discern what God had to say and where He wanted me to be.  It was an amazing and very emotional weekend!! 

Interestingly, even in the very beginning I didn’t find God in a church.  I found him in the bible stories I read as a child and many years later He found me in my LOUNGE!  He held out His hand and invited me to follow Him.  No pressure from Him and no answer from me either, at least not straight away.  However, a Call that profound is hard to ignore.  A privilege afforded to few but still no church you notice.

I worry that Ethan’s generation will never be still or silent for long enough to ‘hear’ such a call.  It will have to be heard over a cacophony of electronics and devices and will have to compete with and be more desirable than eight hours on the Play Station!!  There is something amazing about hearing God speak straight into your heart, I’m sad to think that he may never experience that.  Hence my concern that all this funding is brilliant but will it actually make any difference?  Church is central and important in uniting the faithful but there has to be more to it than that, it has to be desirable and inviting, more interesting than the instant hit of social media.  If people don’t have either the time or the desire to read that flyer or leaflet or spend ten minutes over a cuppa with their Christian neighbour who is full of enthusiasm about the new church in the town, then no amount of new Christian communities are going to have the hoped for impact.  Their curiosity needs to be piqued, they have to want it more than what they have already.  That’s going to be tough, really tough.  The priests and clergy will also have a large part to play and I pray that they’ll be warm, welcoming and Christ-like.  There’s nothing like a ‘hell and damnation’ speech and a large dose of dogma to put a soul off instantly and forever.  I also worry that people no longer want or need a faith, that they don’t realise how important their spirit is, that it too needs to be fed and nourished.  I’m praying that God has a plan and that He will use this new initiative in ways that I can’t fathom. 

So, where do you ‘hear’ God the loudest?  Do you listen for Him in those quiet moments?  Do you spend time in silence just waiting to see what comes back? Maybe you ‘hear’ Him in church.  We’re great at looking after our health, our families and our homes but what about your spiritual life?  You don’t have to be Christian or of any faith to get something valuable from being in silence for ten minutes or so a day.  No devices or demands, just ‘being’….quietly and comfortably, maybe with a cuppa or a flickering candle or maybe both.  Rest in that presence.  Surround yourself in the silence and renew your soul.  Try it, it’s truly amazing what you ‘hear’. 

Every Blessing

 

Sharon xx

ETA ~ Silence – Ignatian Spirituality

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