Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Church hoppers, stop’
I’ve spent many years not settling in a church. It wasn’t the churches’ fault. It was me. Hear my confession: I’ve always been a church hopper. And hear my call: Church hoppers, stop it.
As a student, I must have visited every church in Nottingham. From high Anglican to low Anglican (no one ever calls themselves a low Anglican, but they know who they are), via Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed (of course – in fact, let’s say that was number one on my list), Pentecostal, Vineyard, and a dozen more who either didn’t identify denominationally, or whose labels I’ve forgotten. I recall the look and feel of each different church though, from bells and smells to a sticky-floored community centre fresh from toddler group. (Read more about this in my first book, So a Comedian Walks into a Church.)
Eventually, a friend paraphrased JFK by saying: ‘Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.’ I picked a church and stayed there, till I left Nottingham. It turns out I can’t even settle on where to live.
In normal times, the idea of going to a different church comes with added social awkwardness. Will my absence from my old church be noted? Will crossing the threshold of a new church be seen as a sign to put me on their rota? What time does it finish? When it does, am I allowed a second biscuit? Can I sit anywhere? (Sorry, not there, didn’t realise you were sitting there. No, I didn’t spot the scarf.)
With Sunday services online in this ‘new abnormal’, I can church hop by channel hopping, and those social dilemmas vanish. The minister of my current church doesn’t know if I’ve watched, not watched or half-watched – or if I’ve had tea and biscuits during the sermon instead of waiting till after.
I can try the YouTube channel of the church up the road, or watch my old student pal preach (he settled into a church a lot quicker than me. In fact, he found one, stayed there, and became the vicar.) I can ‘visit’ a fancy London church for an evangelical sermon, or for their orchestra playing impressively edited worship songs from home. I can choose whichever preacher stands in front of the most impressive book collection, watch a North American megachurch, a South American family praise, or live-streamed Iona worship from the isle of Iona.
I’ve not channel hopped to all of these in the last few months, but I’ve tried a couple. Yet, I’ve always come home. My church is my church is my church. Of course, the church isn’t the building, it’s the people. But I think the people at my church are God’s chosen people, for me, right now. Even if I don’t see them on screen each week, it’s great to know that community is still there. Some weeks we ‘meet up’ for a post-service coffee on Zoom.
Choice is a marvellous thing, but sometimes I choose to stop choosing. I spent years not settling, and never found happiness flitting around. Happiness, for me, means home, and home means stopping somewhere long enough.
In a time of great change, we cling to what’s unchanging: God, our firm foundation. But there are also those movable, tangible, earthly things, that we could choose to change – but perhaps now isn’t the right time. More than ever, I’m leaning in on my church, embracing the familiarity of community, and finding the comfort of the unchanging Father.
So, for me, I won’t be overusing the channel change button. Instead, I’ll pause where I am, make this my channel of God’s peace, and turn up the volume on his word.
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster
This article was published in the September 2020 edition of Reform