Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Expectations

8 March 2021

Lockdown has been something of a catastrophe for many church communities. Twelve months or so ago, we could look forward to a Sunday morning or evening with pleasure and anticipation of a church service which would (hopefully) leave us feeling refreshed, encouraged and perhaps even thoughtful. Yet, even as I'm writing, that little 'perhaps' seems out of place somehow, unnecessary even, because surely we go to church expecting to hear something that will stir our brain cells or our emotions, or even both. But often, it seems, our expectations are not met.

So what do we expect from a Sunday service? I can't help remembering an incident in my teens, on a cold and frosty Sunday morning when only the hardy had made it to church. The vicar decided there weren't sufficient people in the choir, so he suggested they join the rest of us in the nave. There were in the choir two redoubtable spinster friends whose sole mission was to sing louder than the other; one would beat time with her foot, loud enough for everyone to hear, and the other would try to beat her rival to the top notes. On this particular day, when the vicar suggested they sit with the rest of us, Miss F announced, quite publicly, "Well, if we can't sing in the choir, we'll go home", and they did.

Their expectations were clearly rather different than ours. So, the question again: what do we expect from a Sunday service? And part of the answer is to recognise the difference between tradition and habit. All churches have their own ways of doing things. Communities and groups develop over time their own peculiarities, which newcomers sometimes find very difficult to identify. But these peculiarities form part of the expectation. They are comfortable habits which help to settle the participant into a satisfying experience. The problem arises when these habits are challenged, when the comfortable becomes comfortless, and war is declared.

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