Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Where do bells fit in this church?

"Don't worry about the bells. If we were a different denomination they would be fine"

This was said in my church on Sunday to members of the baptismal party. It raised a laugh from the congregation, and I think I laughed the longest. I laughed initially as it was funny, and then my laughter carried on in disbelief!

Recently in church when the young people have been in, they have been handed those jingly bells on sticks. The first time this happened I asked my Dad who was going to have to take the flack for that the next week. This was very cynical of me (I know, not like me at all!), but I just knew there would be members of our congregation who would disapprove. However, it has continued to happen, so I can only assume either no one complained, or they did and they were politely told where to go.

So being an inclusive Church (let's not argue this point on any level please) when the bells got handed out, youngsters who were there because of the baptism got given bells too. I'm not sure if the parents of god parents apologised for anything, or made some kind of gesture about the bells, but as they stood to face the congregation they were told not to worry about the bells.

There were a number of reasons that I was shocked to hear that sentence. First of all, if we are an inclusive and welcoming church, as I alluded to earlier, is it appropriate to be using jargon such as 'denominational'? I don't know the background to guests of the infant being baptised, but I suspect some of our regulars don't know what denominations are, let alone an un\dechurched guest. I think we have enough jargon in the service itself, without adding even more.

Secondly, what kind of image does it give of the church that I call home? When I was growing up in that church we had a youth orchestra which had a heavy percussion section. The congregation loved that, so what is so different now?

I know I am called to be a Methodist, but if I'm being told that bells aren't part of Methodist worship, I might just start looking for somewhere that does think that bells can be a part of their worship. Worship can be so difficult. People have different expectations. People come from different places, and all converge in one place, hoping for something that will help them. But that isn't always possible. 

The reason I've kept worshipping at the church I've grown up in is because I've felt the Spirit moving there. And I'm waiting to see a flower burst from the bud that is there currently. And I had an insight into that on Sunday. The young people came back in at the end of the service to hand out flowers to ladies in the church for Mothering Sunday. In the final hymn, some of the younger ones were shaking their bells and just wondering about the church.

 2-5For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me. (Matthew 18 The Message)

These children wondering around church had no inhibitions about it. They walked through church whilst all the adults were singing like it was natural. And no one batted an eyelid. However, if I had started to walk around, I think I'd have got a few looks.

I think worship and preaching should make us feel uncomfortable. I think church should take us out of our comfort zone. For far to long I think we've conformed to what was expected. But we need to go against the grain. Challenge behaviour. Make people think. And to do this we can't be worried about what others will think.

So whether it is bells in worship, or walking about the church. What are we going to do to make people think? Methodism was born from doing things differently, so why have we been given a label?

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