Church Exchange - Part One

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father.

John 17:20b-21a

Despite knowing each other for a good year or so, and even living together for a month, we had never made it through the doors of each other’s churches. Enough, we decided, was enough - last September, we kicked off our church exchange by throwing Jamie (a Catholic) in at the deep end at an international service at Jessica’s Methodist Church. It was many things, but it was not a solemn Mass. Jamie was heard to mutter, ten minutes in, ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore.’ It’s six months later now and we have dragged each other, more or less willingly, to a few of Jessica’s preaching appointments, Mass at a variety of Catholic Churches, a cheeky bit of Latin vespers and a United Reformed Methodist partnership in the middle of the countryside. We met up last week to discuss our thoughts and reflections. After a good half an hour of making the iPad work, ecumenical banter and general procrastination, we wrote our reflections.

Jamie - When I attended my first Methodist service, my initial thought was how one-sided it seemed to be: the minister did all the speaking and the congregation was only really involved in singing the hymns and the Lord’s Prayer (which I stopped earlier than everyone else, making painfully obvious how new this was to me). I was brought up with a Catholic liturgy and am used to knowing what to say and speaking as one voice with the congregation during Mass, so I felt excluded from the worship by just sitting and listening. Having said this, I realised by the time we left that the exposition of the readings and quiet contemplation between them and the sermon was just as significant as vocally praising God. It was a refreshing change to explore the readings in such depth - ones which are so familiar to me now though I’d never stopped to really listen to the true message - and hearing the sermon made these readings more than just stories or letters but a very real and personal dialogue with Him. Looking around during one of these sermons (yes, of course I was paying attention) I could see on the faces of everyone listening that this exploration was such an important part of their lives; hearing God’s message and learning. I don’t find this during Mass, which is so focused (and rightly so) on praising Him and asking for His forgiveness that maybe we forget to look to the divine within us instead of outwardly praising. This, I think, is the most prominent difference between our two churches. I did miss the ritualistic motions of standing, kneeling and making genuflections at the appropriate times - in my opinion, it makes the Mass seem much more significant and holy - whilst in the service we merely sat and listened, plain and simple. I think to really understand the Methodist way of worship I’ll need to accept that one doesn't always have to show outwardly one’s devotion to God, but that doing so quietly and privately is just as meaningful.

Jamie Naylor is a 20 year old Music and Maths student at Birmingham University and comes from North Wales. Jessica Dalton-Cheetham is a 25 year old Theology graduate who studied at Bristol University and now lives in Brum.