I have to admit that the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” is one of my least favourite hymns. For me it conjures up images of old women in funny hats going to chapel on a Sunday night. As a boy in Wales you would see people off to chapel humming these sorts of hymns. It’s funny that these sorts of childish impressions stay with us throughout our lives. I think I have this childish impression in my mind because it has been put there through the culture. If I am honest, I can’t remember ever seeing these mythological women in hats going to chapel. Yet this image is there within my mind, why?
The sad truth is that I have grown up in a culture that tells me implicitly that this is true. Even though I have always gone to church, on some level I have bought into this image. Such is the power of our culture to shape how we look at things. If we think for just a few seconds about the Church we see in our culture and the reality of Church, we see that they are almost opposites.
This is perhaps the greatest reason why people find going to church difficult. People are uneasy about church because like me and everyone in our society we have been sold a lie. So how do we combat this myth? Perhaps the simplest and most difficult is for all of us to be more open about our faith. To enable people so see the reality of God within our lives. This is difficult because we are told that people don’t want to know, that is true on the surface, but not deep down. People don’t want to know about the church they are told exists, the old women humming going off to chapel. But they do want to know about the real God that works within our lives. Once we have courage to take that first step and be honest about who we are then all the silly stereotypes evaporate.
In the church council we have been thinking about what we can do practically to help in this situation. We have designed a new scheme which many churches use, called Friends of Christ Church. In our town people are very appreciative of the work that we do in Church. The community work and the work on the building.
People often tell me how pleased they are that we have ‘sorted out’ the churchyard and the church building.
People often tell me how pleased they are with the work we do in the community, the Film and Co, Art group, Tots and so on. There is a huge amount of goodwill towards the work that we do.
A good example of this was the Labyrinth of Lights, the Christmas trees and Christmas services. People who would never think of themselves as ‘Churchy’ loved being part of these events. In fact people often don’t think of these things as church, when in fact they are at the core of what we are actually about.
In a few weeks the crocuses will begin to bloom and many in the town will see a sign of what church is all about. People will as they do every year congratulate us on the work that we do. The Church council have agreed that this is the perfect time to launch our Friends of Christ Church Scheme. The scheme works by asking people to enrol as a friend of the church. They will give a donation to be enrolled and will receive the parish magazine each month. This way they can keep in touch with what is going on in church too. We can also invite them to events that we hold at church via their enrolment.
People do want to support our work in the town and the Friends of Christ Church will give the the opportunity to do so. Over the next few weeks and going forward throughout the year, we will have some enrolment leaflets in church. We all know people who may want to be part of this scheme. Both locally and further afield. If we make this step it will in a small way dissolve the myths about church and allow people who want to support us to do so.
Fr Hywel Snook, Parish Priest.