I sat somewhere different in church this Sunday, which in the Christian world is as disturbing as looking up to find that the cat has not only been watching you in the bath, but then nods and says: “You’ve missed a bit.”
To be honest, until this madcap gambit of insanity was underway, I hadn’t realised how unsettling it was going to be. I hadn’t noticed that I had tended to stick to a particular part of the hall, like a little religious rabbit, happy in my habitat. But once I’d crossed over to The Other Side, I realised that everybody tends to stick to the same necks of the church wood. In fact, some of us have developed a herding instinct, seeking out and joining safe groups of associates. I’m not sure what it is we’re afraid of. Maybe the weekly request of the worship leaders for us to ‘put up our hands’ is being misinterpreted as an attempted large-scale mugging.
And I spotted all sorts of new things. Turns out, for example, there’s a bit down on the left-hand side which the teeny-tiny kids have claimed as a dancefloor during worship. Not being a parent myself, I hadn’t wondered where all the younglings went during worship, assuming that perhaps they just got back in their foeta-pods and powered down. (They’d need, of course, all the energy they could muster for the splendidly-timed squawky interruptions during the most meaningful pauses in the sermon.)
But then some friends arrived. I safely joined their pack, and balance was restored. They had little ones with them too, so I was definitely safe from whatever imaginary predator might appear, as I could certainly run faster than them.
This led me to reflect on what’s going on here.
It’s possible that social awkwardness plays a role (see a previous blog post on this), and presumably part of the discomfort of moving to a new part of the congregation is the horror that this could involve meeting people. But there must be more to it than that, because everybody’s at it. Take the Smiley Christians, the ones with warm handshakes and easy conversation who make people feel like they’re joining a loving family (rather than my particular brand of nervous feet-shuffling and stilted conversation that makes people feel like they’re joining a Ponzi scheme). The Smiley Christians also set their towels down on their favourite sun-loungers (not literally, of course – though that would be an amazing church).
It’s not just nuns who have habits
The reality is that we are all creatures of routine. We like to do certain things at certain times, go to certain places, and do certain things in certain ways. And this is fine – it gives us structure. The world is complicated enough without making it deliberately unsettling all the time. The 33 trapped Chilean miners set up a system of routines for their time underground. Routine is one of the things that gets people through hard times.
But experimentation is good too. Because actually, if we think about it, many of us tend to sit in the same place in church metaphorically too. We go to the same types of church activities, we play the same roles in the church machine, we associate with the same people. And if we stick too closely to our routines, we miss out on meeting new people who might just have something important for us. Or discovering new gifts or talents, or new ways to look at the Bible or our lives.
Sometimes we find ourselves praying the same prayer again and again without hearing an answer. God doesn’t seem to be listening. Maybe, sometimes, it’s because the answer already exists somewhere in our church. Maybe someone’s got it, or there’s an activity or a team to join that will show you the answer. If you don’t get out there, increasing the opportunities to find out new things, you’ll never get it.
Jesus wants us to do this – part of being a Christian is living in community. Not just the community we feel comfortable with, not just those we like sitting near – but everybody. All Christians.
Next week I might mix it up by sitting amongst the worship band.
Or that might be taking it too far.