(West Cork Horses waiting for that strange guy with a camera to fall off the fence,
and no I am not sitting on any metaphorical fences, see below).
By the time I was in my early twenties I had been thoroughly put off the Anglican Church for life, or so I thought. I had attended a Church of England boarding school where we were required to attend chapel every day, seven days a week. Listening to the chaplain preach, carefully explaining why the miracles in the Bible never actually happened and then singing the Te Deum (tedium) was like some kind of Chinese water torture. I finally gave up on the Church of England when on my first Sunday at University I went to the local Cathedral, to be greeted by no one, sat in a space where no one came within a hundred feet of me and then no one said good bye as I was leaving at the end of a very dry and boring service.
I started going to the Baptist Church when I was home. They were brilliant, friendly (but not invasively so), and I learnt so much from the great sermons and the example of the way those in the youth group lived. At University (after my brief flirtation with the Cathedral) I followed the crowd and went to the Elim Pentecostal church. They too were great people, great sermons, great ministry to the students (especially the free lunches – of course there is no such thing as a free lunch, the catch was that these people really cared about you). I probably learnt more about God, His love for me as a sinner and about personal holiness from these two churches than from anywhere else since. This was the place where I met my future wife; we journeyed though these churches together and it was a wonderful time.
Skip forward a few years and we find ourselves living in Ireland. Yes, there was an Elim and other churches in the nearby town, but we felt drawn to the local Church of Ireland. A good sized congregation was eight people; it was difficult to see any hope for the future. In my massive ignorance and shameful naivety I doubted how God could use a place like this. We helped with the Sunday School, more children then showed up and we began to realise that this place mattered to God (I am ashamed to think that I ever doubted otherwise). I can’t remember if it was a dream or a very clear picture in my imagination but I saw clearly that this church was like a table where there was very little food on the table and the people were very grateful for whatever there was. Other churches had more food than they could eat and their tables were overflowing. There was no doubt where we were needed most. It was not long after this that the sense of call (to ordination) came, starting as a small voice and growing gradually to the point that it was impossible to ignore or put off any longer.
I get frustrated today by anyone who thinks their church is better than someone else’s. We could take all day and hundreds of pages outlining the faults of the Anglican Church (in fact this is what many people seem to spend their whole time doing), but it is my home, it is the part of the church to which I feel called to help out in some small way.
I’ve been skirting around the edge of what I want to say because I am trying to put it as delicately and sensitively and lovingly as I can. Please my brothers and sisters in other church denominations don’t think that your denomination has got it right and the part of the church to which I belong has got it wrong. Please don’t feel sorry for me or patronise me; yes we pray using a book, yes our new hymns are not very new or trendy, yes our clergy wear seventeenth century fancy dress, yes we struggle with a historical / modern / relevant dialectic and I could keep going, but my point is this: We are part of the Body of Christ. Together.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
(1 Corinthians 12:12).
When I was thinking about all this a phrase which I haven’t heard for a long time popped into my head, “Horses for Courses”. I couldn’t have told you what it actually meant, so I looked it up: It means that some horses are more suited to some race courses than others, so some people take to some things better than others. God has made us all uniquely individual. Some people I believe are naturally predisposed to worship God in different ways (see Gary Thomas’ book “Sacred Pathways”, Zondervan, 2000, for more on this). Now if someone finds their home in one church denomination, how strange it is that they should look negatively on others who attend churches of other denominations. Some like to worship in silence, some like to look at icons to help them pray, some like organ music, others like drums and guitars, some like incense, some like video screens, some like medieval hymns some like songs that are in tune with contemporary music trends. All these things are good if they draw a person closer to God. All these things are bad if they become an end in themselves.
Horses for Courses and lets leave it there.