Nic goes to Church

DSCF5104The invitation was offered – Clarrie suggested to her daughter in law that she might like to join her in attendance at the parish church. She hastened to add that she was not ‘trying to convert’ Nic, so what was she trying to do? She simply wanted Nic to experience something of what she experienced in St Stephen’s – an hour of ‘peace’. The vicar would offer a ‘nice’ sermon. And there was a Junior Church so Nic did not have to worry about keeping an eye on her two young children.
There’s a number of things in this that the rural minister will find familiar: the notable absence of any suggestion that the menfolk of the family might be interested in attending worship; the fact that Nic has already been involved in the flower arranging; the idea that church attendance does not demand belief but is about a place of refreshment, like a sort of spiritual spa. All of which, of course, might be equally true in urban contexts also, but is there something about the village church that contributes to this sort of approach? Is the village church there to represent something that is Christian but broader than creedal tradition?
The invitation was considered: with some hesitation at first (‘It’s not that I’m against – it’s just that I only go at Christmas…’). Nic’s hesitation is itself full of meaning; the practice of Christian faith, like some foodstuffs, is reserved for significant highpoints of the year (the festivals) or life (rites of passage). Does Nic represent the 21st century mission field – a generation that is broadly sympathetic to the practice of Christian faith simply because her contact with it has been occasional and (perhaps) she has never thought very much about it?
The invitation was accepted – and the experience was so positive that Nic travelled with Clarrie to Darrington for the service the following Sunday. There are features of this rural Christian community, moving its worship from village to village, that appeal: the friendliness and potential of meeting new friends, the offering of activities for the children, and the ease of participation (which was unexpected). But what seems to be significant is its relationship to the wider community – going to church is a part (though an optional part) of living in an English village. Is this (contrary to some of the claims about contemporary religious practice) about belonging rather than believing? If (as) the story develops, might that change?

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