Commitment-Phobe: My first church visit
What to wear for the Methodists
In my mission to find God − in a church, any church − my first port of call is the Methodists. Why them? I could read the timetable from the pavement. This is very important for a non-churchgoer. It avoids the possibility of stepping onto holy ground and being hit by a bolt of lightning, or, just as bad, bumping into the minister who might want to give you spiritual counselling and a cup of tea.
I look up the Methodists on their website. I see they believe that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love. I like the sound of that. They were “born in song”. Interesting.
Now I face another important decision: What to wear. The outfit I think I should wear is smart, modest and boring. I ask Google “what to wear to church”. I am told to cover my arms and dress as I would wish to be “seen by the Holy Spirit”. Hmmm.
I choose an outfit that makes me feel like a plain-clothed policewoman trying to pass herself off as a churchgoer. On my short journey to the Methodist church, I pass the Baptists in sequins and lace, long legs and low tops and everything I’ve been told isn’t appropriate for church. I feel completely unprepared and terrified of being late or early.
I am early – an hour early, to be precise. Through the glass doors I see two men putting Bibles on chairs. I decide to rush home and change out of what now feels like a preposterous disguise.
I arrive at church again with 30 minutes to spare. There are more people around but I linger outside and ring a Christian friend to ask advice on when to go in. This requires an explanation of why I’m there, to which she responds: “You don’t find God just because you go into a church.” Thanks, I know, I know. We agree that as she is too pregnant to travel to church, I am going in her stead, and this gives me the courage I need to go in.
I don’t know my churches, but this seems different. There are no vaulted ceilings, altar, pews or pictures anywhere. There’s a central lectern, an organ, and chairs in a square so we can see each other. This is not good – I’d been planning on hiding. I sit in an empty row and soon congregants are on either side of me. I feel politely welcomed by everyone. I keep my head down mostly.
An organ starts up and everyone stands. At first I am not sure why, but we are standing for the entry of the Bible, the cross and the first hymn. A man in a suit leads our service, flanked by purple-robed choristers. Everyone sings at the top of their voices in different keys and I can hardly hear the organ so I quietly mumble the words. Later we sing “Sing Hosanna” and I realise that rather than sing in registers too high or too low, everyone has made up a register that suits them and is blasting it out. This is liberating and I join in too. God’s ears are hurting.
The purple-robed choristers lead so much church business, I wonder if the robes actually mean something else. One of them is the most terrifying host ever. She asks if there any new people here today. Gulp. She looks around. ”Anyone?” The ground shifts beneath me. I feel myself lowering into it, when a brave couple stand up. The husband quietly says that his family have just moved to the area and are very happy to be here today. “Anyone else?” I am sure she is looking at me. There is a long pause, I quietly die inside, and we pass on to the business of a seaside trip. I am sure the lovely lady was trying to be welcoming but I felt like I was Clint Eastwood in a western, about to be called out: “You’re not from these parts”.
I am curious, eager, but closed off… then something changes. The man in the suit talks about the reading from Luke 11: 1-13. He quotes it by heart, as it is his favourite from Sunday school. It’s all about asking for help and how difficult that can be. He talks about his own difficulties as a boy asking from his father. I connect with this; I feel we all do. We are invited to pray for ourselves. It is so wonderful to be given permission to ask. I pray heartily, forgetting my pose, my expression, my clothes, my chair and I ask: for me, for my family, for my friend, for the people around me who I see praying so hard. And I feel overwhelmed with emotion.
So when the last hymn is sung I feel released and join in with great gusto despite not knowing the words or the tune. Is this what Methodism is about?
Commitment-Phobe is trying different churches in the search for God
This article was published in the November edition of Reform.
Read more Commitment-Phobe columns