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What gets me out of bed on Sunday

31 January 2014

Despite, or maybe because of, the Church's cultural irrelevance, Vicky Beeching continues to sit in the pews

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 Some argue that these are reasons to condemn it as outdated, and destined to die off.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 digital age.

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 comfort zone.

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.

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