St Mark’s Church, Kempshott. Photo from the air, church covered in snow.

What is church? A matter of perspective

Having had a massive dump of snow in Basingstoke we recently experienced seeing the world in a different light. My husband, Steve Coleman-Williams, took some beautiful photos of our church from the air with a drone (see feature images) and it got me thinking about how different people see the church (both the building and the people).

Picturesque church in sunlight“A pretty building for my wedding”

The Church of England owns some beautiful grade 1 listed buildings and for a fee they can provide a lovely back drop for the wedding photographs. Of course, the buildings costs a lot to upkeep, this falls to the regular worshipers and you’ll often see them holding fundraisers to ensure the buildings remain as stipulated by Historic England. Contrary to what some people think, the Church of England is not rich – we rely on donations to survive and it’s a huge responsibility to keep the buildings maintained.

“An institution for my funeral”

I recently heard an member of a congregation say they didn’t mind what happened to the church after they died, as long as it was around long enough for their funeral. I find this incredibly sad because if everyone thought like this the church will die. Fortunately, not many people think like this and statistics show that the church (the people, that is) is growing. For example see some stats for the Church of England here.

“Irrelevant”

“Perhaps people used to need the church but it’s old fashioned and hasn’t really moved with the times.” Unfortunately, this is the impression lots of people have about the church. They do not see how singing hymns and reciting prayers together has any relavence to their life. My experience of church is that is more than the habitual attendance; being a Christian is a way of life and attending church with my friends is part of what makes me me.

“Judgmental and holier than thou”

“Christians live by this rule book, they look down on people who don’t share their views”. Yes, we are guided by the Bible, it is full of messages from God about how we should live and ways we should behave. Many of the “rules” people talk about are taken out of context. When the Bible is read and understood, we see that God speaks to people within the context of the culture in which they live. Although we still use the Bible today, God speaks to us in other ways too. I have heard messages from God through other people and through the simple facts of certain doors opening and others closing.

Some people focus on controversial topics and say the Bible doesn’t stand up as a relavent today. Arch Bishop Justin Welby advises Christians to “read the Bible carefully…see how Jesus treated those who thought themselves holy and those who thought themselves sinners”. The Christians I know are well aware that they are sinners, we know we are to seek God’s forgiveness every day.

I think being judgmental is one of the ugliest characteristics a human being can express, I live in fear of being judged. No one can truly know what someone else has been through so how can we pass judgment on the way they behave, the way or how they talk, the things they do or the beliefs they hold? It simply is not my place.

People holding hands, praying together“A community where I can be myself”

To me, although I love the old, traditional buildings with the history, knowing that generations of people have worshipped the same God on the same spot for hundreds of year is important – what is more important is that the church is alive today, the church is the people, a community of people who care for one another like a family.

At work I have to be professional, in most social settings there are expectations to behave a certain way but when with church friends I am just me. Through times of illness, the habit of going to church on a Sunday stayed with me – I didn’t always talk to anyone, I just went, sat at the back and came away – this was what I needed, some stability. When I’ve wanted more support, the church family have been there for me every time. Whether it’s during/after a Sunday service, sitting with me while I cry my way through a cup-a-soup or visiting me in hospital – it’s a community like no other. I Don’t feel judged within the church, I feel accepted and loved.

“A place to nourish my spiritual health”

If doctors, nurses, physios, psychologists etc look after our physical and mental health, it’s the church that looks after my spiritual health. I am fortunately that although my mental and physical health have taken hits, although I’ve had doubts in my faith, my spiritual health has been the part of me that has remained relatively healthy. To people who do not value their spiritual health, perhaps this seem a bit untagible. It’s diffciult to put into words but I’ll give it a go! My spiritual health is my inner peace, my inner fire, my moral compass; having Jesus by my side means I am never alone – even if my mind distorts reality and my body malfunctions, there is something inside me I can call on to give me the confidence to keep going.

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