Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A New Menu?

After six years in the area, I finally get round to riding the heritage tram.

Alas, it only goes round the corner, but in style!

The inside of the tram.

Edward engaged in the serious business of driving the tram.

In the park with my niece.

I have been busy recently with all kind and manner of things, including a couple of very unlikely pastoral visits and planning this weekends day out. It seems that we are to be very busy, so that is good. I also have much thinking to do about my curacy next year, the motives behind a certain choice are now becoming clear, it is surprising what people who do not really know you think will be good for you! As a socialist leaning sort, I would not like to pop people into certain social classes, much less assume that they ought, when there, to move to another one. Anyway, the more information I have the better to make an informed choice. My email has stopped working for the time being as well, so my presence at the coal face of news is somewhat disabled. For all these reasons, my apologies for not writing much of interest over the last weekend.

We have about a hundred or so people coming to Bolton Abbey on Saturday and an able team of servers assembled. Can I just make one last plea, if you are coming and you have not informed me, please do so otherwise it will be impossible for you to attend the latter, afternoon service at Broughton Hall. Broughton Hall is a private house and I cannot arrive with a large amount more people than I have arranged for with the owner, it would be rude of me. I keep on meeting people who say how much they are looking forward to coming, which I am very happy about, I hope it will be an enjoyable day for us all, but please, please tell me how many of you there are!

Whilst I am asking for things, I wonder if anyone has a copy of volume III of the Novus Ordo Lectionarium? I like to keep my Latin up by reading the readings for Mass in Latin as well as reading Vespers in Latin from time to time but strangely volume III has gone missing. Any help would be most appreciated.

Yesterday was the last day of the holidays for me. I was taken out for lunch to a warehouse in Miles Platting attached to a fish importers storage place. It was wonderful, I went into a black glass door, into a dimly lit black glass lift where a thai lady took me up a couple of floors and the lift opened to a huge black door which swished to one side revealing a room of burnished copper, with tall tables and hanging lamps of vast proportions in copper. The dining room was black, lit with the light of a colossal segmented pyramid full of illuminated budda heads. The bar was full of pods, where one could recline and drink if one wanted before eating things of great wonder in the dining room. It was completely empty, although the manager said that they had had a busy weekend, apparantly weekdays and lunchtimes are quiet. We had the same problem in Church, I said, that for an hour on Sunday morning we are busy, but then we can be quiet in the week.

This led me to think about the useage of buildings. Restaurants have fairly long time slots, one could open all day, or at least for a long lunch and a longer dinner slot, people can come and go during those times and still have the full 'experience', enjoying a never ending lobster banquet and a gallon of champagne or a bowl of soup and a coffee at any time they choose, because the kitchens are always full of chefs and produce needed to do so and the floor is always staffed with waiters and waitresses ready to take your order. Contrary to that, even a busy Church is only well used, unless it is a tourist attraction, for small slots. Daily Mass takes half an hour, maybe, and the Sunday Mass rather longer. People clearly feel that the Sunday Mass is the better experience, the lobster banquet if you will, and the daily mass the bowl of soup. There are those who find lobster banquets too much, of course, but they are in the minority. So the potential 'feeding times' for want of a better analogy, are short and even though they are free, they are attended in such a way that if the Church were a restaurant, it would have shut down or at least be offering a change of menu to attract new customers.

Bear with me, for I am deliberately avoiding missiology. Even a Church in a good location with a few dedicated lay ministers can rarely offer more than daily Mass, Sunday Mass and evensongs and morning prayers at various times in the week. Some of course try to be as confusing as possible with 'Ist and 3rd Sundays Eucharist 10.15, 2nd Sunday Family Praise 11am, 4th Sunday Matins 9,30 and 5th Sunday some drivel at six am', but people, against all the odds work out which Sunday it is with the aid of a magical device and insist on attending. Ah, you may say, but this restaurant analogy falls down because we cannot change the menu and furthermore people have a physical need to eat. Quite right, we cannot change the menu but we can change the presentation, if I opened a restaurant now, much as I like the food at the Beaujolais Club in London, full of duck fat, rich pates and old fashioned preparations, I would open somewhere more fashionable, of the zeitgeist and accessible. I would situate it with care, with open doors and welcoming staff. I would do this because I realise that people have a physical need to eat, but they do not have a physical need to eat in my restaurant and the choice is vast.

Years ago, Churches were full becuse there was no choice, really, of what to do on Sunday mornings. Now there is a bewildering choice and, if we are honest, people are going elsewhere. I realise that there is a thought of keeping the same and presenting the incarnation and the faith faithfully and prayerfully, in the way we have always done (or of picking ones favourite era of history and attempting to replicate that, if we are honest), but we seen to be entering a new age. Some will, now, be jumping to the conclusions they understand as being the natural outcome as this and which they comfortably know as wrong, much as they have previously, mistaking the positing of a question for a statement of belief. So can I underline, this is a question. What can we do to change? I am thinking of a FinF Church in the midlands which has hundreds of worshippers on a Sunday Morning, in an almost totally Muslim area, so it can be done and done with no loss of the teaching of the Faith. What else can we offer in our buildings outside of the main meal times, or service times and what are we doing to present the vital truth of the faith to people tempted elsewhere?

We know that the food we give out is real food and the drink real blood, for the life of the world. If we believe it to be so precious, do we not owe it to the Lord to do all we can to bring more people to the faith? To realise that the history of the Church is one of painful change and to honour the past by learning from it? Oddly enough, the period which we most like to replicate in our churches is the period when Church attendance first began to slump.