September 2013

We’re all in it together

At my last school, parents registering their son or daughter had to fill in a form for the school’s database which included a question about the child’s religion. As a school which drew in people from around the world as well as from a wide swathe of the country, a number were down as being Muslim or Jewish or Hindu and a few more besides. Just for interest one bored evening, I checked how many of the pupils were down as being Christian. The answer was 11. This was a bit surprising in a school of 600 where Chapel for everyone happened 6 days a week. A bit of delving revealed that the overwhelming majority of parents had answered the question by putting down not the child’s religion, but the denomination – Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist or whatever. There were altogether 19 different Christian denominations which made it on the the list. In other words, well over 500 sets of parents when asked about religion felt that denomination came first and Christianity second.

I think we would be kidding ourselves if we felt that this attitude was entirely absent here: if we felt there weren’t some people who think of themselves as ‘C of E’ or as ‘Chapel’ or whatever. Now, you do not have to read too far into the Book of Acts to find the sad truth that Christian divisions go back a long way: there is also the obvious fact that we come with a variety of temperaments and that certain ways of worship and of prayer work better with us. I remember when I was being trained going on a residential weekend where we were asked when hearing a Gospel story to imagine ourselves as being part of the story and imagining how we would think, act and react. I just could not do it and felt there was something terribly wrong with me, until someone made me do a personality test which revealed that I was of a type for whom that sort of prayer would never work, but that there were many other types which would. People will find that that certain types of worship or prayer work for them: the problem comes when they assume that theirs is the only way and that every other method is, at best, wrong. And that does happen. I was at a (non-church) meeting a few months back when a name was mentioned and someone said ‘But he is a papist’ – that last word hissed with all the venom of a disgruntled viper. As an incident, this was extreme, but it is by no means a one-off

I find this sort of thing really concern-making and I sometimes wonder whether there is lurking somewhere a gospel I have never read which has Jesus saying ‘Judge not that you are not judged yourself, unless you are judging fellow Christians in which case you have an open field’ or ‘Love your neighbour, unless he or she goes to a different church’.

That there are different ways of worship and different styles of prayer should be a source of joy, for it means that there is an enormous and varied richness of help for all of us as we journey on our pilgrimage of faith and we should be so happy that we can find from the experiences of others ways which might help us.

We are all on a pilgrimage, but we are not on our own. We can plod our weary way refusing to help or to be helped by others or we can not just offer help to others but also take help from them. If you think that the latter alternative is the more promising, then there is an inter-denominational prayer meeting at Upper Maescoed Chapel on Friday 20th September at 7.30pm. See you there.