Saturday, 2 July 2016

First Find Your Church

On Thursday I gave you some advice on how to find a church. Now, here are a few tips to help you out when actually in a church service.

First up you will be offered some kind of paperwork - some combination of notice sheets, psalms, hymn books, service books. If it is a leaflet calling you to support Jeremy Corbyn, you have either accidentally joined a political march, or you are in a church in South London. It's easy to confuse English Christianity and the Labour Party. Both ascribe unlikely powers to an old bloke with a beard. And both should care more about the poor.

Having established that you are in fact in a church service, do not be fooled into small talk with the welcomer. Anything they can wring from you in the way of personal information will have been converted, by coffee time, into a series of invitations to ring bells, trim gardens, lead the Sunday School or do something incredibly dangerous involving roof maintenance. Give only your first name, and concede that you live "locally". As Paul Merton once pointed out, we all live locally. Wherever we live, that's local.

Hang around near the back. This gives you a wide view of the congregation. DO NOT SIT DOWN. Wherever you sit will be somebody's pew, in which they have prayed ever since a close friend was involved at Dunkirk. Give it until after the first hymn - then sit down. STAY AT THE BACK. Then you can see what everyone else is doing, and not look like a complete raw prawn for everybody else to laugh at for the next week.

If the rest of the congregation stands up, stand up. If they sit down, sit down. If they kneel - sit down. Your knees ain't what they were. On your first trip to church you don't want to have two people have to lift you back to a sitting position. If they all start hopping, sit down and look wise. They're just trying to fool the newbie.

If at any point a child runs around, or a baby screams, look very hard at the parent/s and tutt loudly. In this way, the congregation will know that you're fitting in already.

If you are in a modern Charismatic church, you will be forced to sing songs in the kind of musical style that were popular 30 years ago. Church ministers who are into Grime are far and few. But everybody loves an 80s revival, don't they? Grief, people go to Butlins for special weekends of this kind of stuff.

If in the Church of England or the Catholics, you will likely be at a Communion service. If the priest says "Peace be with you" to the congregation before Communion and everyone gets up and runs around shaking hands with each other...  DO NOT PANIC. You may be an extrovert, and happy to go around saying hello to everyone. If not, then here's the drill. Don't just stand there looking like a drip with your hands by your sides. Someone will run up and shake your hand. Don't sit in a wheelchair with your hands in your lap - someone will pat you on the head. Or stick their hands into your lap to grab your hands. If you are someone with reasonable agility, the best bet is to crawl under a pew and lay there screaming "Leave me alone! You're all weird." In these circumstances most people will leave you alone. Most of them.  If you are a wheelchair user, get the heck out of there as fast as you can. If necessary, run over people's feet.

Some churches will announce that everyone is welcome to receive communion. If  you don't know what any of it is about - I'd just stay where you are and observe. If you go forward "for a blessing" because you're not baptised / confirmed, and you've not learnt the precise local bodily posture that means "I'm coming here for a prayer not to receive communion" then the priest might assume you're just holding your hands at an odd angle and.... oh, well, all sorts could happen. Just watch for a week or two.

After the service, you may be offered a cup of instant coffee in a green cup. If I were you I'd just take the cup on its own. Woodsware "Beryl" is a mystical form of earthenware that has the ability to transport you through time and space into a Methodist Church Hall in the 1960s. Or that may just be me. The coffee, on the other hand, is a reminder of the things that await us if we do not repent and follow the narrow path. Instant coffee is the only beverage on offer in the Smoky Place.
Mystical vessels containing an infernal substance

If all of the above makes no sense at all to you, don't worry. Just follow the instructions above. You should get out OK. And if you liked it, found something peaceful or uplifting or somebody was friendly - maybe go again. One day it will make sense. One day.


  1. Very good, oh yes, very good indeed :)

  2. Birmingham Salvation Army Church serves really nice filter coffee in disposable cups. Top marks!

  3. You forgot to mention having your hand suddenly grabbed by a perfect stranger at the start of the Lord's Prayer.

  4. Why, I don't know. I think the idea might be for the whole congregation to sort of link up. Maybe they prefer a commiunity sing. The same people also tend to stand in the orans position whenever they can and are always asking why we can't sing "kumbaya".

    As to where, you will more likely find it at the evangelical end (of the Catholic spectrum, at any rate). I've never seen anyone trying it on at a Solemn High.

  5. If you've ever experienced the 'Messy Grace' you'd really be confused. A Parlour Game has been transformed to an end of Service, mutual congratulation activity. The huge Amen, hands upraised to heaven, while jumping in the air deserves its own risk assessment.


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