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From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

First Find Your Church - Knowing When to Turn Up

So you've found your church.

Now you need to turn up at the right time.

This can be trickier than it sounds. If you live in a large town then you should be all right. The service1  times should be pretty much the same every week and you can turn up, confident that something is likely to be happening. You may or may not like it – but it will at least be there when you expect. Also - some churches won't be Church of England. Which normally means things will be simpler than if the C of E gets involved.

In the countryside things are different. Most churches are C of E these days. And the days when every village had a vicar, and every church  had a service every Sunday, are long gone. Nowadays it’s trickier. The vicar will have three, four or even up to eleven churches. And the times of the services will be randomly scattered across the month and across the villages.

The normal pattern will be for a church to have one or more services a month, normally at the same time on the same week of the month – so St Ethelbald’s on the Wold will have an 8am Communion every first Sunday, and a 10am “Family Eucharist” on the third Sunday. Meanwhile Holy Cross, Chipping Orton will have its 8am on the 2nd Sunday and an 11.15 on the 4th. The vicar in these circumstances is normally a shattered man or woman, tearing across the countryside to take 3 or 4 services every Sunday, with a phenomenal memory for names and faces. And terrified it might snow.
Come back in March

You may be thinking to yourself – are members of the Church of England the only people that are aware of what week of the month it is? And you may be reassured to know that the answer is “yes”. But even this odd realisation won’t help you with the wonder of what is called a “Fifth Sunday”.

Fifth Sundays of the Month arise every 3 months or so. In some special years you may even be able to fit five in – a nightmare to retail accountants, but they’re not really our problem here so let’s push on. On a Fifth Sunday (always capitalised), if you live in an area where a vicar has care of more than two churches, the people from all the parishes2 in the benefice3  will come together 

Of course, nobody can be prescriptive with these things. You may instead find that the services are allotted randomly every month, or the vicar may have introduced an 8 week timetable, or some churches are so cold and so far from electricity that they’re closed from October to May. Or the plague may have struck. Or, if you're in Norfolk, they may have reverted to paganism and only hold services at the time of the full moon.

So - C of E or other, country or town - your best bet once you’ve found your church is to go to it and find the notice board. Quite often then are stuck up by the wall or the gate to the churchyard. Sometimes, they’re in the Church Porch, behind a locked gate. But sometimes they’re accessible, weather proof, and the rota hasn’t been hopelessly smeared to illegibility by the ingress of rainwater.

You may be best off bringing a friend who has a degree in quantum physics so they can interpret the complexities of the rota. But after ten or fifteen minutes of close examination, you should have worked out when the next service is and can plan your visit...... 

1 Service – a time set aside for worship. In principle it’s the “service” of the people in the church to God. Some vicars assume it’s them receiving the service of the church – or the church receiving the vicar’s service.
2 Parish – an area usually bigger than a street but smaller than a medium sized town, normally with its own church building, that would have its own vicar if any of the inhabitants went to church. Now often banged together into benefices.
3 Benefice – from the Latin for “a good work”. A bunch of churches banged together with vague reference to geography, to the point where there may be enough people to justify paying for a vicar.

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