MY ALARM clock cracked as it hit the wall at high speed. Its
beeps morphed into strangled, robotic squeaks as it malfunctioned
and died on the bedroom carpet. I had propelled it across the room
when it awoke me, such was my lack of excitement about getting up
early on a Sunday.
Sunday mornings are like the sleep equivalent of the last
motorway service station for the next 50 miles. They convey the
disturbing realisation that the next working week looms, and there
is one final opportunity to hit the snooze button - or, in my case,
turn the alarm clock into a projectile.
The Church has a tricky PR job - persuading the faithful to
slough off the cocoon of a warm duvet, and make the trek to a
Sunday service. Often, I prefer the idea of sleeping in, making
gloriously tasty bacon sandwiches, and watching weekend TV. And yet
I prise myself off my mattress and make the journey to the pews as
regularly as I can.
WHY do I go? Sometimes, simply out of discipline and obedience -
both of which are unfashionable concepts these days. There are, in
fact, many aspects to churchgoing which seem unfashionable and
culturally irrelevant. Some argue that these are reasons to condemn
it as outdated, and destined to die off.
Conversely, I would suggest that some of the Church's greatest
strengths lie in its lack of cultural relevance: after all, that
has never been its primary calling. Sometimes, the required
antidote to societal pitfalls lies not in mirroring the latest
trends, but in radically counter-cultural practices.
Their apparent irrelevance makes them, bizarrely, highly
relevant. They are a big part of what keeps me coming back, week
after week, as I find them to be exactly what I need in this
So what are they? One is the renewal of our connection to
locality. Online technology makes our lives increasingly virtual:
shopping, talking, dating, work, and education increasingly happen
in cyberspace. Being online brings vast benefits, but also
diminishes our rootedness in a specific locale.
This digital gnosticism finds a helpful remedy in the concept of
parish, as it roots worshippers in their specific, physical square
mile of concrete or countryside.
SILENCE is another much-needed antidote that churchgoing offers.
In a world that has never been noisier, silence brings perspective,
and centres us. It is crucial for human well-being. Worship
services often contain elements of silence which are difficult to
find elsewhere. Other than a library, few other places give it
hallowed space: even beauty spas or meditation centres frequently
play musical soundtracks. People tend to find silence uncomfortable
today, owing to its unfamiliarity, but worship services provide a
rare and valuable chance to embrace its benefits.
Repetition is another of the hidden gems. Liturgy may seem
boring: the same prayers and creeds are used week after week, year
after year. Today, brevity and novelty are king. Yet repetitive
liturgy offers something refreshing in a world that is comprised of
140-character sound-bites. It is an important reminder that good
things often take time.
DOING life with extremely diverse people is another
counter-cultural antidote that is offered by many churches. Social
media can lead us to believe that we are surrounded by a
kaleidoscopic, radically varied crowd. In reality, we often just
follow a number of people similar to us.
Church, at its best, is a dramatically diverse melting-pot of
humanity, united by a common faith. "But some of the people there
are so annoying," one of my friends complained, as she described
why she wanted to give up attending. Yet the fact that we have to
learn to worship with people who arenot like us is incredibly
healthy. Online, we can retreat into our own silos, whereas local
church forces us to spend regular time with those outside our
I am not saying that we should resist modernising church in
healthy ways. I love carefully, prayerfully updated liturgical
language. I would also like to see mobile technology introduced at
points within services, to engage digital teens who find services
increasingly alien. But cultural relevance must never become an end
in itself. Nor, of course, should church become primarily about
what we "get out of it": its ultimate pur-pose is not getting, but
giving, as we offer up our worship. It is a two-way exchange,
however, and cangrow and develop us in surprising ways.
The reason why I climb out of my warm bed on a Sunday morning,
and head to church, is because I believe that many of its seemingly
irrelevant aspects are actually the potent antidotes needed to
survive, and thrive, in this digital age. And that beats a lie-in
and a bacon sandwich any day.
Vicky Beeching is a theologian, a writer, and a broadcaster,
who is researching the ethics of technology.