Some thoughtful commentary on the Church in England that applies
directly to the Church here too:
CHURCH TIMES 01 September 2006
How can the Church have got it so wrong?
By Juliet Hole
The Government has reportedly shelved plans to tackle light pollution
- excessive artificial light that can obliterate the night sky. One
does not need to be an addict of hidden-agenda theories to see why an
aggressively atheist political establishment does not mind if we
cannot see the stars.
The stars are a constant reminder that there is an "outside" to the
social systems being constructed around us - to the "world" in the
biblical sense - as they help us to see ourselves in a different
light, and in relation to something else.
A society that denies God must set itself up in his place, and provide
secular answers to all our needs and questions. To do this, it must
secularise us as well, control our concerns, and, if necessary,
manufacture ones to which there are political and commercial answers
ready. The stars are no help here.
That otherness that sets us free and nourishes our souls is
encountered pre-eminently in prayer and worship; also in nature, and
in art. This can take place, though, only if we can escape the
intrusive packaging that so often obstructs the real encounter that we
need: packaging that is frequently intended, consciously or not, to
suggest that the experience is given its significance by the people in
THEN there are churches. To enter a country church is to enter a
different dimension, and be completely at home in it; enfolded in a
community of prayer, faith, and love.
I mean the church when it is empty: the "building", so often nowadays
referred to as if it were a nuisance rather than God's house.
These buildings, with their silence and spaces, speak to the heart
like no others. Entering, we can leave the world behind. This is an
escape, not from reality but to reality. Broken connections are
restored, and some are moved to pray, perhaps for the first time.
The church where I was brought up is, like many others, under attack.
"Developments" are planned for the west end - if I say lavatories,
kitchen, meeting rooms, welcoming area, you will get the idea.
The proposals are architecturally and aesthetically disastrous, but it
is not just a matter, as sometimes in the past, of carelessness and
poor judgement. It is a deliberate move to import precisely the
secular chatter and clatter, busyness and corporate self-importance
that these churches, uniquely, have always enabled us to leave behind.
Visitors must no longer slip in during the week and find themselves at
peace in the silence and emptiness. (Look through any visitors' book
if you doubt the nature and value of such experience.) Visitors and
parishioners alike must negotiate apparatus designed to make them feel
"welcome" - even protect them from "embarrassment" (no reverence,
ONE CAN understand how an atheist establishment is driven to market
experience so as to block the way to the transcendent, and keep our
minds on the here and now, so that, for instance, before we can walk
in the woods, we are directed to information in which context nature
becomes "nature" - an artificial rather than a real experience.
It is harder to see why influential churchpeople seem to want us to
encounter their God rather than God. Several factors suggest
themselves. The Church of England is in love with manageralism, and
has adopted its very conformist mindset, forgetting that the Church is
supposed to represent something different.
It fails to grasp that modernisation, as now practised, is identical
with secularisation; that the whole point of destroying the
traditional and familiar is a totalitarian one: to disorient, and
create dependence on an imposed political or commercial culture, with
no sign of an alternative, or outside.
The technique was known in the old Communist states. Conniving with
this process is the direct opposite of what the Church should be
doing. When a church building is de-sanctified, a real answer to a
desperate need is lost - reduced to the sort of thing that can be
found in any community centre.
OUR CHURCH is having one of its regular attacks of the fidgets. It
knows that the nation desperately needs to be re-evangelised, but it
keeps losing its nerve in the face of materialistic mockery and
politically correct disapproval. But it has got to be seen to be doing
something, and has gone for the soft and futile option of chasing
popularity through modernisation.
Yet this approach has been failing for so long, and so spectacularly,
that it should be obvious that more of the same is not the answer.
These pretentious and destructive developments are, needless to say,
staggeringly expensive. It is almost beyond belief that nobody in the
Church can think of better and more truly faithful ways of spending
money. We - the people, insiders and outsiders alike, and perhaps most
of all, the young - need our churches as they are.
Juliet Hole is a schoolteacher and PCC member in Worcestershire. This
is a shortened version of an article that appeared in Faith and Worship.