Do stay for tea and coffee: The ten micro commandments
Paul Kerensa devises ten micro commandments for new church visitors
In our church, look heavenward and you’ll see three huge, stone slabs. One inscribed with the Ten Commandments, one with the Beatitudes and one with the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a healthy reminder of, well, what they are, I suppose. Who today could recite all three? Anyone in our church can – and all they need do is pretend they’re thinking and glance up.
It’s good to be reminded of the rules – but trickier are the unwritten rules, those not set in stone. I’ve visited unfamiliar churches where you learn the hard way that we don’t all do things the same way. There are the obvious differences – a church organ instead of a worship band, a pew instead of a seat – but these need not encumber the service. It’s nice to change things up. Variety’s the spice of life. There’s no such thing as a perfect church, after all. Even church services have different names. While Sunday mornings are more traditionally ‘morning worship’ or ‘family service’, Sunday evenings vary from ‘evensong’ to ‘Re:Ignite’ and ‘CHCH@6’ (what’s missing? UR).
But perhaps a list of micro commandments would be helpful on church walls, for visitors like me. BBC Radio 5 Live’s flagship film podcasters Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo champion a cinematic code of conduct – no shoe removal, no heavy petting etc. Perhaps we need one of those. I’m not saying these should be sealed in stone like the Decalogue, but here are ten mini rules that I’d have appreciated knowing over the years, each from a different church I’ve had the joy of visiting:
- Thou shalt not sit where Marjorie sits. Sit anywhere else thou likest, and yes, some may tut or harrumph. But woe betide the posterior placed where Marjorie regularly dwells. She might be late – but it’s still her seat.
- Thou shalt not sit near the front, if thou art visiting. Because then thou won’t know when to sit, stand or kneel, and thou wilt do what thou thinkest best, and thou wilt look rather silly.
- If there is a peace to be shared, and hands to shake, expect to travel. Do not just greet those in front/behind/next to thee. Thou wilt find the sharing of the peace lasts a good two to three minutes sometimes, so make an effort, and try and get around everyone. Also, expect to lose your seat when you get back. Also, pack hand gel.
- Thou must attempt to keep up with the Bible reading, even though it may be in a different version than thou wilt find in the Bibles in the back of the seat in front of thee. The reader has given a page number, so thou hast no excuse not to follow along. The clue that thou hast lost thy place is when everyone else turns the page at the same time, and you thought you were still halfway through the previous chapter.
- Speaking of which, join in with the right Lord’s Prayer. You might say ‘trespasses’ in your church. Here, they say ‘sins’. It’s on the screen, so open your eyes for that bit.
- Share the Good News! Also, share the church news, with the person next to you. They’ve not printed enough to go round. Be aware that the person next to you might be 18 empty seats away. Share.
- Thou shalt respect the flag waver. Even if the flag’s fabric grazes your head during the upbeat worship song, don’t bat an eyelid. Just be glad it wasn’t the flagpole.
- If you really need to go, beware flushing mid-service. Thou should really have gone before thou arrived. If thou absolutely hast to, try and flush on a loud bit. In some churches, the tank fills up to loud gurgling noises that really distract from the prayerful silence.
- Don’t heckle the sermon.
- Keep your shoes on. And no heavy petting.
Alright, those last few weren’t me, and I’ve only committed about half of these site-specific sins. But I’ve witnessed the rest. If only a list had been posted on the wall, these problems could have been avoided. An A4 printout would be fine. No need to carve anything in granite…
Then again, variety is the spice of life. It’s good to be different, and sometimes we bring that difference ourselves – even if it means glares when returning from the toilet, having shattered that moment of peace (sorry, that one was me.)
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster
This article was published in the November 2018 edition of Reform