We were celebrating the church’s 125th anniversary and had an afternoon of activities for families organized for Saturday. Shame about the weather, but that’s another story.
Anyway, one young couple came along with two kids of their own, along with various nephews / nieces / aunties / uncles / cousins / (grand)parents (-in-law); I didn’t get the complete family tree but they certainly all belonged together. The young man looked a little nervous and eventually let on to me why. “I’m going down on bended knee in there”, he whispered to me.
“You know, getting down on one knee. I mean, we’ve got the house, and two kids.”
“What, you don’t mean…?”
“Yeah, gonna ask her to marry me.”
“Does she know?”
“Hasn’t got a clue!”
I couldn’t quite picture it. Not the most romantic of settings, perhaps, in a church hall amidst castle-bouncing infants, cream teas, a cartoon quiz, face painting and who knows what else. But I’ll give him full marks for originality at least.
And so, an hour or so later, his younger cousin came running up to me to let me know he was ready – I was to be impromptu official photographer of the act – and away he went. True to his promise, down on one knee, out came the ring box, and to her utter amazement he proceeded to pop the question. Cheers, applause and passionate embrace, so I guess she said yes. Stuff the movies are made of.
As I said, hardly what I was expecting on a church “family fun day”, but there we go. We can be pretty certain that two members of this particular family at least had fun…
It’s strange how “church” and “fun” don’t tend to go together in people’s minds. Or in their experience, for that matter. Somehow when we step over the threshold of church we expect things to be different to “outside”. Who says church has to be solemn and serious? Or reverent? (And why are quiet whispers more reverent than playful chatter and laughter anyway?) Why does church have to be boring?
We live in an entertainment culture. True, we are not to offer a concoction of sensual imagery and mind-numbing musical rhythms in an attempt to draw people into church. But at the same time, we are part and parcel of the society in which we find ourselves living and we must express our faith in ways that “fit” with the world around us, that ordinary people can relate to and identify with. Our calling is to Christ, and to live out his life in our time and place, fully part of the world into which he has placed us. There is nothing better or worse about our society today; like any other, it provides a people with an identity, a way of relating to the world – including church. Yes, there is plenty of scope for sin, but that’s hardly new. There is also plenty of scope for engaging with visual media, music and contemporary means of communication to help us all meet with God and grow in him. Making sure that church is enjoyable as well as meaningful is not in and of itself any guarantee of spiritual health. But it certainly is a step in the right direction.
One of the psalmists knew this too: “I was glad when they said to me: ‘Let’s go to the Lord’s house’.” This is not meant to be a dry theological statement. True, there’s a whole context that needs exploring, but at its simplest this expresses the heart of someone who expected to enjoy what he was going to. Stuffy formality is not synonymous with spirituality. Church can – should, dare I say – be fun.