Did You Hear the One About…? 40 Days with Cartoon Church
Day 24 – Tuesday after 4th Sunday of Lent From the Scriptures:
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22 What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?
1 Corinthians 11.21-22
Recently, a Chancellor in one of the Dioceses in the Church of England, ruled against a parish’s application to have new wooden chairs with padded seats. He ruled that the same style of chair without the padding was permissible but to have the added padding was somehow not ‘seemly’. This led to much disbelief, comparisons with other churches (such as the Chapels Royal) which have padded chairs and much re-visiting of the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ of Monty Python and their threat of torture with soft cushions and (gasp!) the ‘Comfy Chair!
I have no idea if this little disagreement was resolved but it does suggest that ‘comfy church’ – or even ‘brilliant church’ – faces a few challenges. Some things can perhaps be taken too far and the Chancellor’s use of the word ‘seemly’ is interesting.
After all there is, to me nothing unseemly about a large church having at one end a café, a post office, and a kiddies soft play area complete with ball pit and spiral tube-slide descending from the rafters. A friend of mine is vicar of one such church and the parish is healthy and the light of the Gospel shines brightly there. However I do not think you can buy a book of stamps during the Sharing of the Peace, get change for the collection from the price of a cappuccino, or use the slide (much as I may be tempted!) on the way back from having received communion.
In my view to be ‘seemly’ in church means to do all that we can to help the bricks and mortar of our ecclesiastical buildings to somehow contain ‘The Church’. Slides and ball pits, comfy chairs and cappuccinos, do not detract from the work of ‘The Church’ so long as the whole church is included in one way or another.
I am not advocating some sort of liturgical mafia, in which the young must sit down and put up with the worship of their elders (presumably their ‘betters’ as well?) or some sort of ‘Lowest Common Denominator’ worship with easily understandable words at the price of depth and mystery.
When St Paul warns us of the danger of eating and drinking judgement against ourselves, when ‘we do not discern the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 11.29) he is not talking about Liturgy, or communion, or even comfy chairs: he is talking about becoming the Church, the Body of Christ.
It is an impossibility to have true communion with bread and wine if any are excluded from our fellowship. For this reason ‘Brilliant Church’ is not so much about slides and ball pits, comfy chairs and cappuccinos, but about discerning the Body of Christ. Good discernment takes time and patience. Time to see the beauty of devotion in the face of someone who has received communion at a Book of Common Prayer service for perhaps as many as sixty or seventy years. Time to see the hope and expectation in the face of a young mum bringing her little one to church, trying hard to teach them wonder in the midst of nappy changes and toddler tantrums during the sermon. Time to recognise that the building, to truly be The Church, is not for Sunday use only but for the whole community. After all the Body of Christ is more than just those who turn up at the right time and follow the right ritual one day a week.
The key to ‘Brilliant Church’ is to be a group of people who wait for each other and to share with each other. Refusing to ‘go ahead with our own supper’ we wait for those who need more time than they once did and for those who have not yet learnt to run. Choosing to share God’s generosity, we open our hands to give freely those who have little: sharing what we have so that no one goes hungry. Have we not yet learnt that when we feed the impoverished amongst us (be it with food or faith) we feed ourselves? For we are ALL part of the same Body of Christ.
Yes please, to dynamic preaching, monkey rings for children, snack bars and even (please do this one) comfy chairs in church. However let us use all the new ideas we have to make our buildings better so that this ‘Brilliant Church’, where all wait for each other and none go hungry, shines brightly.
Holy Spirit, give us faith,
Holy Spirit, give us hope,
Holy Spirit, give us love.
Revive your work in this land
beginning with me.
Diocese of Namirembe, Uganda
- Is your church a ‘comfy church’? Can something simple be done to make people coming into church want to stay a little longer? Ensuring that you have good lighting and comfortable seating may be a good place to start.
- Try to remember to ‘wait and share’ with others in your own worship. A helping had to the communion rail for a frail person or a beaming smile to a parent who has hands overfull with wriggling children are ways in which each of us can build the Body of Christ.
If you would like to see the full sketch about Monty Python and the Comfy Chair visit here:
All Cartoons are copyright © Dave Walker. Please visit http://www.cartoonchurch.com if you would like to laugh even more J
Prayers are from the collection ‘Praying with the World Church’ compiled by USPG.
Please support their work by visiting http://www.uspg.org.uk
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Did You Hear the One About…’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2017