You might be like the many tens of thousands of people who went to church when they were young but have now drifted away. I too used to go as a boy. I found church to be dull and as I got older I stopped going. It was simply irrelevant to me and my life. It was a relic of something from my days growing up in Northolt.
But I have news. The church still has legs in it. More than legs, it’s got heart and joy and love. That’s quite a menu.
As a parish priest I’ve been asking myself just what is church. And why don’t more people come?
I made a discovery early on in my ministry. I learned that our communities are awash with loneliness. People sometimes say that they don’t speak to another human being for days on end. Children move away and older folk are left in large houses that can be hard to maintain. When bereavement strikes, a life of colour can become very grey indeed.
And that brings me to the issue of church. For me, church is the community of welcome and hospitality. Our actions need to do the talking. We welcome because we are called to.
So if the estate on my doorstep is full of older people who stopped coming to church but are now really wanting community, then church has to be that place.
Here at St Cuthbert’s North Wembley we recently set up a memory café. But that’s just the start.
I have seen in my own mum’s life how going to church can kick start a life. We lost my dad 6 years ago. Mum and he had been inseparable. They worked together. They spent every minute in each other’s company. Then dad got Motor Neurone Disease and mum was on her own.
Where can you go to when something so seismic happens? By that point I was doing my vicar training and I suggested that mum go to her local church. She was reluctant. How can I go when I am not a believer?
But she went along. To start with she sat at the back. But she began to be won over by the sheer affection and love in the place. Rather than hurry off immediately at the end of the service she started to stay for coffee.
Then she did an Alpha Course. It didn’t answer all her questions but it did help her to see that God may be about.
And I look now on mum’s life and I see a beautiful revolution in her life. She teaches refugees to speak English at a women’s group at church. She runs a craft club. Although she is shy she has read the Bible verse in church.
This simple local church has helped her to recover and to find who she is. In her 80s, mum has discovered new talents. She has had such fun. It has supported her and she now supports others. The church is old-fashioned, but only to the degree that it is local and not really glossy.
There are thousands of lovely communities like this. In fact a small local church would love for people just to come. The good ones won’t pressure you. But they will know that god loves people enough to see all that is good in them.
For me, the church is on the brink of an amazing revival. It is happening around the country and it starts by being a blessing to the communities we serve.
That involves, in our case here, a vicar who visits, regular cups of tea and not taking ourselves too seriously.
What is most touching is that at church you shouldn’t have to be on your best behaviour and you don’t have to be good at anything to be accepted. It is the complete antidote to the modern atomised life. So from one ex atheist (me) may I encourage you to take a risk and see what’s out there?
by Reverend Steve Morris