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Is there room for me?

Is there room for me?

Viv Groskop recounts the story of how a rigid vicar drove her out of her parish church on the day of her wedding.


The vicar, the Rev. Stephen Bould is leaving the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church and wants to take the bulk of his congregation with him.

Groskup says that Bould’s rigid attitude sent her running down the aisle after her wedding never to return. She wonders if there is room in the Church for people in search of ritual, community and a open mind and heart but whose spirituality is not set in stone.

While she is writing in the context of the Church of England, her story and her questions are worth pondering in our pastoral experience.

She writes in the Guardian:

I would not describe myself as a religious person but I do have some sort of faith. I grew up singing in the choir in the church where I got married (sorry, blessed). Over the years, though, any belief I once had has dwindled away to next to nothing because there is no way to express it casually or on a part-time basis. You’re not that welcome at church services unless you want to become a regular member of the congregation – and you’re not that welcome at your own wedding if the person you want to marry is divorced.

Around the time I got married I convinced myself that the Church of England’s stance on remarriage was impressive: I told myself that I approved of the fact that my husband’s first marriage wasn’t going to be swept under the carpet; that the church had more respect for marriage than to pretend it doesn’t matter how many times you do it. But over time I’ve changed my mind.

Ten years on I’m disillusioned for the opposite reasons to the angry Anglicans. I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church. It’s not as if you’d ever be turned away from a service, but there is a clear message on high days and holidays. Always the hopeful raised eyebrow: are you coming back on a regular basis or not? How serious are you? In today’s Christian Britain you are either atheist or God Squad. There’s no inbetween.

Those, like Bould, who look to Rome would say this is right. That if you want to marry in our church, you follow our rules. That there is no room for fellow travellers, you either believe or you don’t, the church is your life or it is not. But this is completely unrealistic in modern society. In any case, the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now?

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Larry Shell

@Sarah

It was not my intention to sound harsh…my apologies. I am a nurse and when working a weekend rotation, my church attendance suffered.

I was simply trying to speak to those who only WANT to participate a few times a year, not those who are unable to participate.

Also, as I stated all should be welcome regardless. The difference though is that one should not be miffed for being treated like a guest when he or she only “visits” on rare occasion.

Church is a community activity that is so much more than just passively observing liturgy on occasion.

I loved a former Rector who always responded to my apology for being absent for a number of Sundays with “We don’t do attendance.”

Peace!

Larry Shell

tgflux

“Slapped down” “with barely contained hostility”?

I guess I’d just have to see it to believe it, Sarah. I’ve been a member of Episcopal parishes all around the country, and visited many more. Some of them are warmer than others, to be sure (a few snooty ones still give off that “Republican Party at prayer” vibe).

But actively hostile to newcomers? On Easter Sunday?! I’ve just never seen it.

JC Fisher

Gary Paul Gilbert

Sarah Ridgway, Thank you for that beautiful statement! I think church people should get out of the way and let people find what they need or go elsewhere. Trying to make people feel guilty is counterproductive.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Bill Dilworth

I don’t get it – if the priest were that that much of a jerk, surely there were signs before the wedding day. Why go through the process with such an a$$hole in the first place? I’m sorry she had such an awful wedding, but it seems as if it easily could have been avoided.

Sridgcw

I think some of the comments are pretty harsh.

There was a time in my life, in the half-dozen early years of my marriage, when I very frequently was working on Sunday mornings. Think of nurses, for instance, very often working 12-hr. 7 to 7 shifts, who either miss church services altogether or have to stagger in after being up all night. But one Easter Sunday morning I was free, and went to the nearest Episcopal Church to be filled with joy, and was greeted with barely contained hostility from a lot of the congregation and a sermon castigating those who only showed up for the Birth and Resurrection Club.

I didn’t go back for several years. Yes, it is important to make a commitment and become a member of a worshipping body, but when you make a tentative effort and get slapped down, it hardly encourages more attendance. Later on, when my first child was born, and a new Rector had been installed, I tried again, and 30-something years later, and through a succession of Rectors of varying levels of openness, I’m still there.

I’ve been in the sanctuary, doing Altar Guild after a service, when a visitor has stayed after the Recessional and everybody else has filed out, and has said “I came today even though I’m not even an Episcopalian (or “just because the church is pretty” or “because I’m looking for a church I like” or “I don’t even know why”) and I felt a holiness here” (or “I really appreciated the welcome, and I’d like some more information”).

Because of my own experience, and because our current Clergy believe it and practice it, I (and most everybody I know there) make an effort to welcome each and every stranger who walks in, because you don’t know if this is going to be the day that they will become aware of God in their life for the first time, or if they are in a world of hurt and are desperate for somebody to reach out to them, or if they will end up joining and becoming an incredibly vital part of the community.

My own two children, raised there, have drifted away from “organized religion” as so many young adults have. I think some of it is laziness on their part. But both still seek spiritually, and there is always the potential that they will realize the incredible benefits to be gained in being part of a worshipping community. I can pretty much guarantee that that won’t happen, though, if they’re lectured or shunned if they make a tentative effort, or admit that they have doubts about parts of the Creed, or have work conflicts that prevent regular attendance.

I very much empathize with the writer of the article. I hope she’ll keep seeking, despite questions or doubts, and will find more of a welcome if she decides to make an effort to recommit to church membership.

Sarah Ridgway

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