I suppose I should clarify what I mean with that title. St Agnes’s Church in Reddish doesn’t have a red room of pain or some weird kind of ‘spank before you can enter’ initiation, so don’t worry. It’s just when I attended on Sunday I was introduced as writing stuff like EL James and her Fifty Shades of Grey. ( Thanks EL for giving us an easy in with people, everyone knows your book!)
It took an hour to get over to the church from my house. I took my daughter with me too. She’s not been to church since going to high school and I think she’d missed it. As a teen who loves screamo, heavy metal and rock type bands she’s searching out a place to belong too.
It was a good start, the ladies who welcomed us were smiley and kind. We found some seats and chatted to a few of the people around and then I spotted the vicar and he spotted me. Now you expect a vicar to come and say hello to someone new to the congregation. It’s quite another for him to recognise you when you’ve never met before. I felt rather famous when he greeted me with a “Don’t tell me, you’re Victoria Blisse!” and a huge hug.
What a welcome! And that wasn’t the last hug of the day. When the service started I was introduced as a writer of smut and everyone knew. Phew, what a relief. No need to hide it, no condemnation, no embarrassment what so ever. And the church service rolled along with the recognisable bits of a C of E service but it was unlike any other service I’ve attended, in a good way!
We were celebrating Evolution Sunday, one of 12 churches in the UK to do so. My science loving daughter loved that element especially and I loved the idea that we are part of evolution, that we should embrace it.
Prayers included everyone in the church saying a name/situation into a microphone and the lighting of the care candle.
The bible reading was in a modern version of some sort and as much as I’m attached to the NIV as it’s the version I read from childhood I appreciate the modern translations as they often highlight a new way of looking at an old passage. It was Matthew 5:13-18 (ish) and here it is in The Message Version (Copied from http://biblegateway.com:
3 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Completing God’s Law
17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
Unfolding and being our true selves, letting God shine through in everything we do was the theme pulled from the reading.
The Peace, when shared was hugs and kisses and the odd hand shake. Yes, it is a little weird being hugged by a stranger (Gosh, I’m British you know and it was church! Hugging in church of all places!) but we soon got the hang of it. In fact it reminded me of my days at Dehon (Catholic Youth retreat place I used to go to) where the peace was always hugged out too.
And then Communion was an experience too. I got to serve the wine. Yep, first day there and I was serving at communion. I loved that. I’ve enjoyed the Eucharist in many ways over the years, my favourite being a beaker of blackcurrant juice and a slice of white sliced loaf in a tent in the middle of a field in Wales. I’m not one for pomp and ceremony and the horrid wafer things many churches use are just not tasty. The big hunk of real, tasty bread was a delight to hold and consume and then smiling at the church members, offering them the cup of love and feeling part of things was very special indeed.
I know to some folks having such a responsibility given to them on their first day would be frightening but I enjoyed it. Also the atmosphere at St Agnes’s was very relaxed. People spoke up and ‘interrupted’ the sermon but it was more of an encouraged interaction. It’s a community, a family and everyone has the authority to speak up when they want to, everyone can join in, so it’s not scary to join in.
Case in point, my daughter, Boo as I call her here online, is twelve and well on her way to becoming an awkward teenager. She’s often shy in new situations, often painfully timid in fact. When She saw the microphone circulating in thbe prayers she automatically said she didn’t want to join in, I told her that was fine but if she wanted to join in she could, she only had to say a name, nothing more. When it came to it, she took the mic, spoke the names of her friends and passed it on.
She hugged folks in the peace, chatted to people in the queue for tea, and interacted. I’ve not seen her that relaxed in a gathering of new folks ever before. It was powerful for me, that because clearly I’m searching for the right church for me but part of that is finding a church right for her too. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to get Kev to come along one Sunday too. I think he’d like it.
We had fun after the service too. Got a delicious piece of cake and drinks and chatted to various folks. I spoke to a lady who’d been going to the church for 66 years (bless her) and her friend. And Somehow, between them and Clive the vicar, I’ve been roped in to speak to the ladies guild about my writing and associated stuff. How brill is that? I can’t wait! And of course, I’ll write about it here for you to read.
I also got to chat to the very lovely Colin Coward the fella behind Changing Attitude. It was him who pointed me in the direction of St Agnes’s in the first place and his Changing Attitude site that gave me hope when all I was seeing around me was prejudice and fear.
They’d had a fab event the day before called Unadulterated love, celebrating LBGTI people in the church. I wish I could have gone as it sounded fantastic. There’s another one planned for London on the 1st March, well worth checking out if you’re down that way!
It was another blessing that Colin was there this past Sunday, as he’s not local, and I felt very peaceful and full of joy when I left on Sunday. There’s no doubt in my mind that St Agnes’s is now my church. Yay!