Why you need to go to church this Sunday
SCM member and Unitarian Robin Hanford reflects on the recent murder of a Catholic priest in France and encourages us all to go to church this week.
The recent terrorist attack in a French church that resulted in the killing of Father Jacques Hamel as he presided over a service was more than an attack on the church of any one denomination or country. It was an attack on the Kingdom of God itself. At least that was my instant gut feeling when I saw these events unfold on the news and learned that security services in this country have issued advice for places of worship to “remain alert”.
The Kingdom of God has both a present and a future dimension. The future eschatological vision is of a world turned upside down – “on earth as it is in heaven” – where injustice and suffering is a thing of the past. I see my job as a worship leader as trying to reveal a little slice of that kingdom to the congregation in the present, so as to keep the spirit of hope alive within them, ready to face another week inhabiting a world where suffering is still a painful reality.
In order to do that it is necessary to ‘hold the space’. Those three words should generate a collective groan from anyone who has been through the Worship Studies course in my denomination as they probably constitute the most repeated words from the instructors! Yet they should do, as they are by far the most important. I still remember some services where I felt completely alive with the spirit even after enduring a service where I liked none of the readings, prayers, the sermon, or even the choice of hymns – just because the worship leader was that good at holding the space. There is nothing more satisfying then the feeling that you have held the space so well in worship that the community has felt the presence of the divine together, and thus, have received a taster of the Kingdom.
Yet this space is so fragile, even a moment of nervousness from the worship leader can destroy a congregations feeling of security, never mind an act or threat of violence. Yet this is what worship leaders can encounter. While on the Worship Studies course myself I heard from an experienced worship leader who had a service disrupted during a moment of silent prayer as a man entered the back of the chapel wielding a samurai sword. On another occasion a friend of mine had a congregant come up to her after a public small group service wondering if she realised that a long, heavy sports bag by the side of one of the public attendees contained a number of shotguns. I dread to think of what would have happened these incidents had not of been defused so effectively. I also pray that I will never have to face something like this while conducting a service and that if I am faced with it I will know what to do.
Worship space has to tread a fine line between being both welcoming and secure. The day we start excluding people from our worship because they look odd or different to us is the day we cease to be effective as a church. Yet if people cannot tune out of their everyday concerns to access the holy as they are too fearful – then we have failed as well.
This is why I implore you to go to church this Sunday.
We cannot let our churches become places of fear when they need to be places of love. At the end of the day writing and sharing articles like this is a start but ultimately not enough. Sometimes we have to physically be together in solidarity. In times like this it becomes more apparent that to pray together in community is not a nicety. Instead, dedicating yourself to a worship space, even if for only a matter of minutes, allows you and others the opportunity to be served with a sip of the Kingdom of Heaven to come. As such your attendance at church this week (and every week) is an act of revolutionary defiance.
Robin is a Unitarian worship leader, a Masters student studying Marxism and Christianity, and a member of Leeds SCM.Tags: ChurchesCreating CommunitySolidarity