Magazine article The Spectator

In Search of Disorganised Religion

Magazine article The Spectator

In Search of Disorganised Religion

Article excerpt

Theo Hobson attends Grace, an alternative Christian service in west London, and finds it arty, irreverent, postmodern - and full of people seeking a new way to worship

I went to church last weekend. Sort of.

It was a Saturday evening service run by a group of laypeople in an Anglican church in Ealing. It's a monthly event called Grace. What sort of people attend? Quite trendy ones. People who are a bit too trendy for normal church. The sort who know how to link a computer up to sound and visual equipment. No grannies, no kids.

Soft club music pulsed as I entered, and a big screen showed an art installation: furniture made of neon strips. In the middle of the pewless nave were a couple of sofas, a table and chairs, and a fridge; round the edges were some beanbags. I sat on one. This month's theme was Home.

A youngish man (an ageing youth? ) called Johnny welcomed us (there were 30 or 40 of us). He had a laid-back, unchurchy tone, like a bloke among his mates. He explained that the service was centred on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Then there was a brief chanted liturgy, during which a teenager rapped some prayers which I think he had written himself.

We then heard a recording of a moody religious song by an Irish singer whose name escaped me.

The distinctive thing about this sort of worship style is that it likes inventing mini-rituals.

Ritual is perhaps too strong a word. Some of us, prompted by the website, had brought along photographs that summed up 'home' to us. We stuck these on the fridge. Those who had forgotten photos wrote messages. Later on, there were four 'stations' to choose from, in each corner of the nave. On a table in one corner there was a bowl of water in which to wash your hands. In another there were sheets of paper printed with the message 'I've f***ed up so many times' (a line from the moody Irish song): we were invited to take one and put it in a shredding machine.

This sort of thing is easily mocked, and yes it's a bit hit-and-miss, but the truth is I actually quite enjoy it. As long as it's carefully organised and confidently presented, as this was, I am up for it. If I'm honest, I'd really rather do this than half-sing a dirgey hymn or sit frowning at a sermon, feeling all conflicted about organised religion and establishment and church schools.

Grace itself admits it's difficult to define. 'In some ways who we are and what we are about is best captured in telling our stories. Grace is shaped by the people in it at any given time and as such changes and moves on in response to an interplay between the ideas of the group, the Christian tradition, what we sense God is calling us to at that time, and the shifts in the culture around us.' OK it's waffley, but they're reaching for something interesting, something that makes worship part of normal life. 'We hope the changes to the life of grace will open up other possibilities for mission - evangelism locally, engaging in justice issues, in art and the media.'

Back to the service: Johnny read Luke's parable of teenage rebellion forgiven, and then we were invited to offer brief reflections on it, beginning with the phrase 'I wonder. . .'. For example: 'I wonder what the mother thought.'

It worked well: a way of staying with the story for a bit, without being preached at. …

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