As the Rector of a benefice I know that it is very difficult to get people to go to a different church from their own village church. I will admit it is one of those bizarre frustrations that is like having a small piece of grit in your shoe: it doesn’t stop you walking but it is constant background niggle. We have 5 churches in a very small geographical area, but they are churches in 5 distinct communities and somehow our religion just doesn’t seem to travel.
A rural colleague said recently “People demand a particularity about church which they do not expect or get in any othersphere of existence.”
While we are fortunate to have village shops, we do not use them exclusively, but drive happily to Lidl or Tesco. We may even have the luxury of a doctor’s surgery, but if we need more extensive treatment we drive without question to Poole or Dorchester. Not every child attends their own village school, and parents with young children will trawl the local area for toddler groups.
But church worship? Well that has to be on a Sunday preferably between 10 and 11 am and in my own village church, (and if it could be a service which suits my tastes so much the better).
Do we realise how bizarre this looks compared to the rest of our life? Are we consciously aware of this demand for particularity which is at odds with how the other parts of our lives function? I believe people do know and yet cannot seem to shake off this need for particularity.
I wonder if it has something to do with what attendance at church gives us. A church offers a sense of family, a gathering of the community where for an hour things that divide us are set aside. It is a place of peace and security right in the heart of our village that we can access and plug into. Worship speaks of a God who holds us all in his hands, who loves us, every single one of us, and who gave his son to die to sort out all the mess we make in the world.
We know in our rational heads that this God transcends geography, individual churches and our local habits and customs, but in our hearts I wonder if we want to capture this God for us in our communities, to make him local and real in our place and time.
This is all fine for now, but as our parish system creaks and groans and the maintenance of our buildings becomes harder and harder, we may need to remind ourselves of what our heads know – that our particularity is peculiar and it may have to change.