An email from a friend this week asked me a simple question: “what would your ideal church look like?”
My ideal church would consist of maybe three hundred people. It would gather around 10:30 on a Sunday morning. Everyone would arrive in a dribble, to sit together, in a kind of cafe format. There would be good coffee, pastries, and a general breakfast atmosphere for at least half an hour before anything formal kicked off.
Then, from a dais on one side of the cafe, there’d be brief introductory music or a song. Then the minister would welcome everyone and rehearse the church’s dedication to the worth of all people, and its shared quest for meaning and growth. She or he would explain that this place isn’t about gods or spirits: every person is free to bring whatever god they choose with them, but no person should fear being confronted with one belonging to someone else. That neither brains, nor problems, should have been left at the door. She or he would explain how this, most unusual of churches, works, and how to get the most from it.
After no more than 10 minutes, the church would separate into smaller groups focussed on individual proclivities. Some weeks I’d feel like going and singing. The singing group would sing, but they’d also learn to sing. It would be somewhere between a choir rehearsal and traditional worship. Many people do love singing, but music is better if you feel you doing it together: becoming more of a group and producing an increasingly beautiful result.
Some weeks I’d feel like going to the meditation room, and spending the time in silence, meditating by myself in a room with many others. This meditation time would begin with a few words from the meditation leader: help and advice for how to get more from my meditation. But otherwise it would be silent. There would be no need to meditate on anything, and nobody would feel the need to break the silence with their thoughts.
Many weeks I’d feel like going and hearing the sermon. These sermons wouldn’t be moralizing. They wouldn’t assume there are easy answers to be had, or even that the right questions could be asked. I imagine a kind of long-format TED, where one week the speaker talks passionately about Joyce’s Ulysses, another week we are treated to the wonders of gene signalling networks, and another we hear about a relief agency’s struggles to provide basic contraceptive and STD education to poor communities in the developing world.
There may be times I’d feel like joining some others in a ritual. Here I’m imagining a blend between a tea-ceremony, a communion meal and the mutual washing of hands: a structured dance of the physical and mental that focuses the mind, makes the profane into the profound, and draws from a well of symbolism with no claims of fixed or ultimate meaning.
During this time my 3 year old would join with his peers playing games, doing craft, and singing songs. When he’s older he’ll join the group of older children who’s personalities, goals and moral senses are being challenged to grow. Still older still he’ll join the group where he can hang out, express his social needs, and have his natural teenage activism nurtured.
And there’ll be weeks where what I really need is just a good chat. And I’ll stay in the cafe, drinking and talking. Until everyone files in once more from their activities. The dais would once again be occupied, with music or a song to naturally bring people’s attention in. Someone would introduce that week’s (or month’s or season’s) charity or development project, and members of the church would be encouraged to financially support that specific project over and above the day-to-day running of the church. (It would be a church who’s financial success is measured in how much it gives away, and the leanness with which it runs).
And, as it began, there would be a closing word, an exhortation to use any growth we’ve experienced for the good of all humanity, and to cherish the relationships we’ve formed and nurtured that day.
It would take a while to finish my last coffee of the morning, to file out to the car and go home with my wife and son. But that is the kind of church that I’d want to be a part of, and I’d look forward to going back to.
Would any of you join me?
The title is a reference to this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hcfxm8wM0A