I read FP's post earlier with some interest. I was present at both of the services described below (and was even the literal driving force behind Rev George Walsh and Alex) and I can't argue with how great both of those services were even though they were quite literally at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Unfortunately though both of these services still left me despondent and after reading blogs today and mulling things over I have even reached a point of mild anger. Why? Well, as FP said yesterday morning we went to Essington Wood to take part in their Sunday School anniversary. As FP has said though this was an anniversary for something that currently does not exist! The children that were present were all from or related to the choir that sang.
Last night there was a tremendous turn out to recognise the amazing achievements of three of our local preachers. Out of probably close to 300 people I was the youngest at 24. The next youngest person was probably nearly 40 and I would say that at least 85% of the congregation were over 60. As I sat looking round the congregation last night (a congregation that contained probably two thirds of the local preachers from our circuit) I stopped and asked myself what would have happened if any of the other local preachers from our circuit had gone to lead the service my dad lead in the morning.
Would the children have been the centre of the focus? I have to say I doubt it.
Would there have actually been anything in the service directed at them? Maybe, but I suspect not much.
Would the parents and the children who were there (and I suspect for 90% of the parents this was one of very few occasions they had set foot in a church) have left thinking that church is a boring, pompous place where you have to be quite and respectful and, ultimately, bored. I have to say I think they would.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that my dad is the best preacher in the world, although I do enjoy his preaching very much. And again I don't think he is the only person in the world who can communicate with kids, bring them lollipops or do something that is on their level like a puppet show. I'm not even saying that the service was wonderful just because I took part so it must have been. What I am saying though is that that service was tailored for the people who were there. It was light hearted, fun, relaxed, but still reverent and it got a message across without pushing it into peoples faces.
After experiencing these things, and looking round the blogosphere recently I can honestly say that I am disheartened. My view of Methodism has been altered and I honestly feel like I am part of a denomination of "old men" (an analogy only) who sit about complaining about how things are and disagreeing with each other. I see a denomination full of people who are willing to jump down each others throats because they hold differing opinions and often be very rude and abrasive in how they do it. I see people who are not willing to compromise or take others people views on board without taking them as personal offence. I see a group of lay workers (Local Preachers) who take upwards of 70% of the services in our circuit who would simply not know what to do if they had a group of young people in their service whether they were under 10 or under 25, and no training being offered to help them with this. I even see new Local Preachers coming onto plan who, after completing the Faith and Worship course have still really received no help in how to cater for young people as there is very little provision for this in the course at all.
I agree that I will quite happily have a moan about things, and yes that's exactly what I am doing now but the difference is that I have respect for the views of others and am more than aware that God can teach us things through encounters with those who are over sixty or under six alike. I'm ready to stop and listen to God if he puts someone or something in my path that has a message for me, whether it be a message of change or a message or reassuring and strength in my opinions.
I feel that at both of those services yesterday there was amazing sense of respect and a real presence of God. The problem is that I cannot see the two of them ever being compatible in Methodism as it is today.
There will always be people ready to jump up on either of the fence and yell about how the "other side" have got it all wrong. I appreciate both of those services yesterday for what they were, two totally different ways of expressing our praise and worship for God. The problem is that you will not bring new people into our churches if we cannot even accept each other. I respect all forms of worship that take part in our circuit and I know there were many people there last night who would have found the service a little too stayed and formal just as there would have been an even bigger number who would have thought the service yesterday morning was not even worship as they define it. I even know there were a few people there who, like me, would have enjoyed both of them. To me its the third group who have the right idea. The group that can be accepting of others opinions and even learn from them. A group who will stand up for their religion but are not so pompous, arrogant or power hungry so as not realise when God has a message for them "from the other side of the fence".
The only thing I have learnt so far from looking at these blogs is that, even more than I had realised before, we as Christians can be just as stubborn and vindictive as anyone else and until we can admit we are human and accept we are wrong with grace there will always be a fundamental problem in our churches that no amount of talking can fix. Let's get back to listening to God instead of listening to others on tender hooks ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
We are on the same side, lets act like it and then, maybe, once we have sorted our own "house" out we can actually start to invite others into it and fill the gap we so desperately need to address in our "dying churches".
FP was right, yesterday was a great day at church and I loved every minute of it. How many others would be able to have attended both of those services and honestly say the same? As I see it at the moment, far too few.