This was the fourth church in my mission to witness, as an outsider, what ‘the competition’ dished up on Sunday mornings. Aside from obligatory visits when I had been in the Boy Scouts, weddings and the occasional funeral, I had never previously attended any form of church event. When I began these visits, I was writing a comedic book of moral philosophy, intended for the bourgeoisie of Brighton & Hove, for them to read on their kindles when commuting to their posh jobs in London. However, that project was abandoned due to a series of personal disasters, including gaining a job, losing it in a mass lay off and nearly becoming homeless. These events came in quick succession and derailed my deadline of publication six weeks before this year’s general election.
It seemed unfair to publish blog posts about some of my local churches and not others, so I have assumed the burden of continuing the project. When I’ve been to them all, I’ll publish a summary of the whole lot.
Although my plan had been to quietly attend, sit on a back pew and keep out of the proceedings, that has not proved possible. An Archbishop cannot attend church without causing a stir. Furthermore, it is impolite to talk to people who warmly greet you without telling them of your intentions. So there’s been a lot more conversation than I had intended.
Although I reckoned myself an outsider, the fact is that I carried my prejudices into each consecrated building. I had expected some specific moral instruction at each church. There was no such thing, at least not in any form I could recognise, in any of the first three churches I visited. A friend suggested to me that the Church of England had shied away from publicising any moral prescription these days, preferring instead to offer one-to-one practical moral help. Since she is a church-goer, I assume she knows what she is talking about.
However, St John sub Castro appears to have no such hangups. The service comprised of a series of little speeches from John, a retired vicar, and some members of the congregation. It was Mothering Sunday and the theme was love. By the end of the morning, the congregation of 25 souls had been given example after example of how to show true love by sacrificing our own wants for the sake of others. The business of being in Jesus’s fan club hardly got a look in. We were challenged to accept we were imperfect and asked to consider some form of self-improvement.
The singing was accompanied by a pianist but the communion of voices was muted to say the least. At the end we were all given flowers and invited to have a cup of tea. The atmosphere was convivial, engaging and constructive. This isn’t a competition but if it was, this church would be leading by a country mile by now.