Dave Tomlinson: The bad Christian’s manifesto

A review of a talk given on Sunday 22nd Feb. in St Marks.

If someone had told me two years ago I’d be sitting in a not overly-warm church at 6:30 pm on a gloomy Sunday in February, listening to a talk on modern Christianity and faith in general, I would have been politely sceptical. However, there I was with about twenty other people. Furthermore I’m glad I went.

Dave is an obviously intelligent person who thinks long and deeply about the reconciliation of faith and our modern technological society. He combines this with an ability to communicate ideas without resorting to scholarly erudition. He has written two books on this theme: “How to be a bad Christian” and “The bad Christian’s manifesto”. This talk was associated with the launch of the second book.

I won’t attempt to cover everything in Dave’s talk. As I found myself in agreement with much that he said, it would probably be my own less-coherent thoughts coming through, anyway. I’ll just touch on a couple of messages I took away with me. If you want more, read the books.

One was the concept of a two-dimensional existence. It’s very easy to go through life not thinking about faith and what we are doing here, and not be troubled by such questions at all. You might only get a glimpse of such a weird world when you’re asked to go along to a baptism or a funeral and awkwardly participate in rituals you don’t understand. Equally you might be a regular churchgoer never questioning why you do it, or attempting to reconcile your habit/faith with the modern world. However, if you start to plumb the third dimension, asking about belief and why etc., then maybe you are finding God, no matter what your starting point. (Indeed, God was never lost, just waiting.)

The other idea is that we all have our own ideas of God, irrespective of whether we believe in the concept or not. Your idea will almost certainly be different from mine and you might not believe in mine any more than I could accept yours. This might make us bad Christians in the eyes of those who insist on conformity of thoughts, but .. so what? The key thing is to have such thoughts. Let’s celebrate the diversity.

Basically, a very illuminating and thought-provoking talk, and somewhere in the thoughts, maybe God was having a quiet chuckle.

Bob Shatwell

Plans for St Mark’s

History and background

St Mark’s church is in the heart of a populated area, opposite Hale School and surrounded by many families. It is a church that is growing – over the past three years the congregation has doubled and the number of children attending has tripled.

In 2011 the numbers were depressing, with an average of ten people dotted around the 200 chapel chairs in a cold and dark church having a traditional communion service with an organ which made horrible whining noises. So the decision was made to change the worship to make it “all-age” every week, the chapel chairs were sold and replaced by comfortable, flexible seating, the organ was mothballed (as it would cost £15,000 to repair) and a keyboard was purchased, the hymns were replaced by a mixture of hymns and modern songs and the hymnbooks were replaced by a projector and screen. The congregation, although small, longed to serve the local community. So they worked with the Diocese and Jane Voake, our families support worker was employed to do befriending work and classes for parents with children who have ADHD. “Messy church” was started, on Thursdays after school.

Inclusivity is an important feature of the St Mark’s congregation. A quarter to a third of the congregation are now children and they are full members of the congregation – they never go out to do something different to the adults – they serve, they sort the Powerpoint, they take the collection, they read, they help with the intercessions, they aren’t talked down to in a special all-age sermon.

Many families, who don’t come to church on a Sunday, still see St Mark’s as their spiritual home – they appreciate the courses that Jane runs and return to see her and her team. We are working with our architect to create some spaces at the back of church for Jane and the team. We would like comfortable places with settees and movable storage units to create the sense of rooms where people can relax and chat, and also where they might like to sit and have a private conversation with Jane in comfort.

Messy church has grown such that the church needs some rearranging – we have the meal at the back of the church and the worship at the front – but we have a congregation of 80 and we are finding that we are too squashed when we are having our meal. The rear of St Mark’s church is also used a great deal for other community activities – the Youth group, a younger youth group and a toddler group. These groups are growing and the church is becoming a space for the community. However, the font is a significant obstacle and a health and safety issue when children run around.

Position of the font

Hence, we would like to reposition the font (pictured below), it is getting in the way of using the building for the community. We also feel that it would be nice to have the font in view when we worship and especially would like the font at the front and up a level so everyone can easily see when people are baptised.

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Picture of the font which is a trip hazard for children running around.

Removing the choir stalls

To have the font in our preferred location we need to remove the choir stalls which are just into the nave on the raised area with the organ. The choir stalls are no longer used because the style of worship is informal with a band and songs projected onto a screen.  The photograph below gives a sense of the style of worship. Both St John’s Church in Hale and St George’s Church in Badshot Lea have choirs, but the style of worship St Mark’s suits those who prefer a more informal experience.

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A picture of the interior of St Mark’s Church

Moving the nave altar

The most beautiful area of the church is the chancel which has some lovely “art and crafts” style paintings and altar rail, the flower arrangements and the high altar with its altar frontals. There is a sense of peace and beauty in the chancel. Below are photos of the paintings (which we are hoping to restore).

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Wall paintings in the Chancel.

This part of the church feels entirely cut off from the rest of the church, the choir stalls and creating an almost complete barrier between the congregation and the chancel. Even the priest doesn’t venture into the chancel area. We would like to move the font and nave altar into the area where the choir stalls currently are, then move the chairs for the congregation forward and without the barrier of the choir stalls there will be a greater sense of unity between the chancel area and the body of the church.

Bringing into view the Tudor-style Altar

The high altar (underneath the window at the far end of the church) has an inscription “GIVEN BI HENRIE LVNNE 1608”. However, the church was built in 1883 – 275 years later! So it is amazing to find something so ancient in the church. At the moment no-one can see the altar because it is covered by the altar frontal. But we intend to bring it forward and have the newer altar as the high altar. That way everyone will be able to see it more easily.

Restoring “Emily”

The Organ at St Mark’s is nicknamed “Emily” and we would like to hear her being played again. Hence we will be getting some advice about how to restore her and then applying for grants to see if we can raise the money to fix her up. Hopefully, we will have a concert too, with our organists playing her to raise money.

Other changes

At the moment we are looking at improving the insulation, the flooring and the lighting. None of these things have been finalised yet, but I’ll blog when I know more!

Silence

Silence is really absolutely necessary for the human spirit if it really is to thrive. Not only just to thrive, but to be creative, to have a creative response to life, to our environment, to our friends. Because the silence gives our spirit room to breathe, room to be.
In silence, you don’t have to be justifying yourself, apologising for yourself, trying to impress anyone. You just have to be. It’s a most marvellous experience when you come to it. The wonder of it is that, in that experience, you are completely free. You are not trying to play any role; you are not trying to fulfil anyone’s expectations.
(John Main, The Hunger for Depth and Meaning)

Tudor Altar Mystery

Can you help the congregation at St Mark’s Church, Upper Hale solve a mystery? The altar underneath the window at the far end of the church is Tudor in style and has an inscription “GIVEN BI HENRIE LVNNE 1608”. However, the church was built in 1883. So where was the altar for the first 275 years?

Parish Priest The Revd. Lesley Crawley said:
“I was absolutely amazed to find that we had something so ancient in the Parish. It is a real treasure to have an ancient Altar, but we are all mystified as to where it came from. We’d love to know. Our church documents say it came from Waverley Abbey, but that can’t be right because the Abbey was closed in 1536 as part of King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.”

If you would like to see the altar then the church is open on Thursdays between 10am and midday for “Drop-In Coffee” and the Sunday Service is 11am for 45minutes followed by coffee so you take a look while you drink your cuppa. Otherwise contact the Revd Lesley Crawley on 01252 820537 revdlesley@gmail.com.