Sunday, 28 January 2007


Well I decided to take Hannah to church today.

And they blew it. They had an opportunity to get her hooked and she didn't enjoy it at all, and doesn't want to go back.

It is a long time since I've been to church for anything other than a christening, wedding or funeral. Even as a teenager I went to church to ring the church bells (yes, amazingly - I used to be a campanologist) but used to leave, with my mum, before the service started.

So I didn't really know what to expect, especially as the cosy village parish church I grew up with had a grumpy vicar who hated children and a declining congregation. Often there were more bellringers than there were congregation.

Well the first thing that annoyed me was the message for the children.

This was 'Education Sunday' and the service was based around children and education. The first message was "All the children know that when they're in church they shouldn't talk, unless they're talking to God. There is an area in the church hall with toys for children who find that too difficult." That is tantamount to saying "Naughty children in the hall please."

This immediately puts parents under stress. I've been in places where there's an expectation that children are quiet and it's really difficult. Throughout the service I could see parents trying desperately to hush their children. I could see tempers being restrained, but the tight lips of the parents belied the frustration and irritation.

The second thing that wound me up was some kind of requesting forgiveness for sins. This was a Church of England service, not a Catholic service, and I didn't expect the assumption that I am inherently evil and in need of forgiveness.

The third thing that irritated me was the service layout. I know they try and make it easy for newcomers, but it wasn't explained in the service. The responses differed throughout the service and it wasn't clear what you were supposed to be saying or singing or praying at any particular time. The old hands at the church knew what they were doing when but the newbies just looked like newbies.

Then there was communion. I debated whether to sit this one out, but reasoned that Hannah will be taken to the church for services by the school, and if she is going to be blessed, then it's best she knows the routine.

There was a different process for those who've been confirmed and those that haven't. The first time I became aware of this difference was at the age of 10 in a Catholic church in France (more of this another time). Those wanting a blessing rather than full communion had to carry a green booklet with them so the vicar would know what to do. So all of the people 'outside' the church had to carry a very visible label. Nice and discriminatory I thought. Much simpler was the method I was used to, head bowed for blessing, hands cupped for communion. This is something that vicar sees, and not whole congregation.

And the service took an hour and a half. Hannah told me at one point she was hungry and at another she was thirsty. "Sorry but you can't eat and drink in church" I said. "Why not?" she asked. "Just because that's the way that church is."

Hannah's principle complaint was the amount of standing up and sitting down.

Anyway we've been there and done that. If Hannah wants to go again, I'll take her. But she doesn't at the moment.

I did get chatting to a very nice woman next to me who, among other things, said "I always expect a church service like this to turn into a Monty Python sketch."

I wish it had.

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