Six months in Scotland, living right in the centre of Glasgow. There is a big Church of Scotland church in Buchanan Street, so I decided to give it a whirl. Apparently it was built in the early 1800s and modernized about 20 years ago. So now it’s chairs rather than pews and I seem to recall it was nice and warm, but the atmosphere was not very churchy. You could use it as a conference room.
Very nice, very contemporary, but like the big parish church in London I mentioned last week, it didn’t scoop me up in its embrace, so I just didn’t feel the urge to go back.
Then somehow I came across a place near Kelvinbridge, half an hour’s walk away. In Glasgow that means half an hour’s walk in the rain, but if you live there you soon find yourself buying waterproof things. As they say: there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.
This church was older and, frankly, in need of some care and attention. Very informal. Although it was an actual church, it reminded me of a place in Cleethorpes – or maybe Grimsby – where a congregation met in a disused theatre and the services were led by three men dressed mainly in black, but not clergymen-black. Black jeans here. A silver shirt there. One had a leather jacket. I used to refer to him as the rock’n’roll vicar. I don’t even know if he was ordained, or any of them were. It didn’t matter. We went to church, which doesn’t mean a building, but a group of people. We sang and we prayed and we listened and learned. We spent an hour or so in the presence of the one we wanted to be with. We got into the zone, we felt the vibe, however you want to put it.
This place in Glasgow wasn’t quite like that, but it had a congregation I don’t expect to find in church. There was an ‘alternative’ edge to it. Sweater-clad single mums with ‘feminist’ written all over them. Children wandering and running all over the place until they were brought to order for the service. All in all, it was full of the kind of people one now expects to be dismissive of religion in general and particularly what they see as the stuffy western variants. The kind of aggressively unbelieving individuals who like to taunt Christians by saying they feel closer to Buddhism or Islam. Anything to wipe the smug smile off our privileged faces.
The Bible tells us it has always been like this, or rather it has been like this before, way back when Jesus had just departed and the apostles were taking the message to towns where they might be listened to or they might be laughed at. Or they might be persecuted.
What we face today is the tyranny of science. Collectors of facts and proof can see no further than the last press release which says this is true and that is false. We can’t even prove Jesus ever existed, never mind show that he was who we say he was. And don’t try telling the fact-merchants that he will be back one day. They will want to see authenticated documentation with the fingerprints and DNA of God all over it.
So we plough our much-reduced furrow and we gather when we can to share what we believe in.
If you grew up going to church and as an adult you’re still attending the same building, there is a consistency in your life that should be of help. But, just as it is gratifying to find a complete stranger who somehow shares your love of Motown or Picasso or Beaujolais, so the wanderers among us walk into strange buildings all over the world and find kindred spirits.