April 06, 2010

In which we go to church

Lauren and I popped down to Exeter for the Easter weekend, for a hoot. On the Saturday night we thought we'd wander into the cathedral for what we thought was some kind of choir service. Choirs are nice, so it would be cool to catch an actual Cathedral choir which would be... more nice, I guess. Anyway it turned we completely misunderstood and we walked into an Easter Vigil service which went on for two hours.

It was actually interesting. Well, apart from the massive bit in the middle where they did a bunch of baptisms and comfirmations, which is incredibly dull unless you're the family of those in the ceremony. I haven't been to a church service since I actually believed in God and Lauren hasn't ever been to a non-wedding service so we were able to appreciate the whole thing as observers. The one thing to stuck out to me (which occurred to Lauren also as she whispered it to me as I thought it) was just how cultish it all seemed when you're not taking part.

If you're unfamiliar to the way church services go, the whole service is written in a booklet for you. Every so often some of the text is highlighted to indicate that the congregation are meant to speak aloud. This spawns the bizarre natural drone of a melody that you'll often see in primary schools when an entire class chants, "Good Morning, Miss Gardner" (or whatever your teacher was called).

An example: Vicar: Let us give thanks to the Lord
Congregation: It is right to give him thanks and praise

After a couple of these you start to realise it's just like being a great big cult. Not that I've ever been in a big cult. The synchronised mumbling of the emboldened text makes it very clear that everyone is on some kind of autopilot, not really thinking about what they're saying, talking about "submission to this" and "praise to that" as they probably do every single week. The Easter Vigil has little extra bits you don't find in normal services like lighting the Easter candle and beginning of the service in the dark. Some people seemed a little out of their comfort zon with this and I'm not surprised - they probably haven't been concious in church for most of the year.

As an interesting aside, I couldn't help thumbing through the bible in the pew in front of me to Matthew Ch 6, verse... I don't know - 6ish ... to point out the part where Jesus specifically tells people not to bleat out meaningless, repititive words and to make your prayers personal and meaningful. I'm not sure why every church in all the land chose to ignore this part as I'm pretty sure the whole sermon on the mount (in which this tidbit is included) is an important part of Christian theology, despite its many contradictions.

Anyway, my thoughts during and following the whole service were how a lot of the everyday Christians seem more than a little passive, like sheep, not giving much thought to what are pretty important beliefs - whether true or not. I think a huge chunk of the British "Christian" population (I can't really speak for other nations or religions) would tick "Christian" on a census but haven't ever given any real thoughts to their beliefs at all. Maybe they should.