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No sense of obligation now

24 May 2013


Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

Why do so few C of E bishops speak about the Christian obligation to attend church, Sunday by Sunday, whether or not we find it pleasurable, like our parish priest, or have other more exciting invitations? . . .

The short answer to the initial question is: "Because it would not make any difference."

A hospital chaplain, I meet countless people who are devout and sincere, pray, and know their scriptures, but do not go to church - many because they were made or obliged to as children. I am a baby-boomer, the first generation born of non-churchgoing parents who through their war experiences felt the Church to be irrelevant. I converted to the faith and went to church because I wanted to.

Generations born later in the 20th century, sadly, have no original connection with the Church, and hence no obligation to her. We live in a post-obligation age.

Within minutes of my moving into the vicarage at my last parish, the doorbell rang, and a father thrust under my nose a school "church attendance" form. I checked with the churchwardens, and they told me that the family attended church infrequently; perhaps I could go round and tell them that they should come more.

Similarly, I was told to tell the uniformed organisations that they should come to family or parade services in greater numbers.

My response to both challenges was to make church worth going to: carefully led liturgy and a good mixture of hymns, old and new. Sermons needed to be imaginative to stimulate the imagination, and family services had to engage the children. The more I engaged the wider community, the more I became aware that the Kingdom of God was about loving your neighbour, not wishing him or her into church.

In the end, I became convinced that the core activities of the Kingdom had to do with the local night shelter and visiting the sick. The church gathering, at best, is merely a refuelling break in service of the Kingdom. I don't think bishops should be reminding people about any obligation other than to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Sermon on the Mount is the blueprint of Christianity, not the sermon in the pulpit which anyone is duty-bound to listen to.

In my view, bishops should continue to enjoin us to defend the poor and the weak and draw alongside those in need of the love of God. Indeed, as Christians we are obliged to do this.

(The Revd) Tim Coleman

Your questions

What is the origin of the versicles and responses at matins and evensong? And why those particular requests every day?  M. P.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.


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