Rediscovering the purpose of church

Over the weekend I went to a Christingle service.  Quite a traditional thing to do at this time of year.  But I went to a different church from those I normally frequent.  I was there to see what they were doing about warm spaces, food pantry etc.

So, we got to the part of the service when we actually made the Christingle.  Like so many I have made in the past I listened to the explanation about the orange as the world and wrapping the world in love and the four cocktail sticks and sweets etc.  Well, I say ‘listened’, but when you have heard it so many times I honestly was only half listening.

I duly wrapped my orange in red insulating tape and stuck Haribos on my four cocktail sticks and stuck them in the orange.  Then I looked round and saw that everyone else had their 4 cocktail sticks sticking up differently.  My first thought was ‘That’s not the way to do it’.  Then I decided to get over myself and remember that there are no Christingles in the Bible, the word in unknown for most of Christian history and honestly does it matter where we put cocktail sticks?  Four seasons, four corners of the Earth etc, what theology is important here?  Or is this simply about God loves everyone, everywhere all the time?

As I was shown around afterwards, I was seeing the church hall spaces being repurposed to provide a warm lounge space for people who couldn’t afford heating.  I saw the massive wheelie bins full of food, treats and gifts that were collected for local charities and organisations so that those in need would have something over Christmas.  I saw the piles of food being collected so those who come to the warm lounge can have hot drinks and something to eat.  I saw where they distributed hot meals at the weekend.  And much more.

I also saw a church being Christ to their communities. Feeding the hungry, healing those in need, finding warm clothing for anyone in need, offering space and advice, being a friend to the lonely. 

I saw a church that isn’t spending their time thinking about synodical processes, or having discussions with their congregations about Canon Law or the 39 articles.  I saw clergy in Christmas jumpers helping and meeting need.  I saw a Church focused on being Christ-like to all people.  ‘Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself’, being lived in action.

As the Established church in a country that is no longer majority Christian, we need to take a fresh look at our purpose.  It will mean that we need to give up some of our traditions and stop putting legalisms from hundreds of years ago above serving the people of our communities.  It will also mean giving up some or even a lot of our power and privilege. 

In doing that we may become less distinctly Anglican.  But we will become more distinctly followers of Christ.  And more distinctly Christian.