Tuesday, August 08, 2006

New Church Dumps Religion

From The Daily Telegraph (UK):
For those who are curious about Christianity but disillusioned by the institutional Church, there is a novel solution - drop the religion.

The Rev Ian Gregory, a cleric well known to readers of The Daily Telegraph for launching the Campaign for Courtesy in an attempt to improve manners, has embarked on a new project which he calls "Christianity without religion".

Out goes the "archaic mumbo-jumbo" of church services and the "silly arguments about things that don't and shouldn't matter"; in come chats about anything that makes you feel good and the world's first dedicated "laughter room" because "laughter is as important as prayer".

If it feels good, do it!

Mr Gregory, a congregational minister who retired last year after 20 years, is launching the radical experiment in an unused chapel in Cheadle, Staffs.

He said that he had recently realised that much of his ministry had missed the point.

"I look back on the past 20 years and think, what the Dickens was I doing? I now advise people who are bored with church not to go," he said.

I can’t help wondering what the heck you were doing as well.

"People are fed up with religion. The bar-room talk is that it causes too much trouble in the world. But people are intrigued by spirituality and by figures such as Jesus and Buddha."

Of course, Jesus and Buddha are pretty much the same. Especially Buddha.

The traditional Sunday morning service will be replaced by "coffee and laughter" - videos of classic comedy films during which people will be able to come and go or read the Sunday papers over tea and toast.

Why bother? Don’t they have cable TV in England?

Mr Gregory, a colourful figure who prefers bright ties and a trilby to clerical garb, will then be available to people for "one to one personal consultations" and "healing prayers".

He will also launch a course devoted to people's self-image and confidence, with sessions entitled "Have you a right to be happy?" and "The art of conversation."

In a concession to more traditional religion, he will hold Christian worship on some Sunday afternoons, which will consist of a mixture of hymns, prayers, readings and discussions.

There! See! We are inclusive!

Mr Gregory said that religion-free Christianity was first promoted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945 for his part in a plot to kill Hitler.

"He saw the way people were disillusioned with church, but attracted to Jesus Christ," said Mr Gregory. "I'm convinced that Jesus Christ had profound and important things to say to people, but they have got lost in squabbles and worries about church buildings.

Bonhoeffer must be spinning in his grave.

"The politics has taken over and the message has been obscured."

The Church of England has been experimenting with new ways to attract people back to the pews, but none so extreme that they dispose of institutional religion altogether.

If it’s too extreme for the COE, you know it’s gotta be pretty far over the edge.

The Rev Mark Ireland, the Church of England Missioner for the Diocese of Litchfield, wondered whether Mr Gregory's church was proclaiming the "good news of Jesus Christ" in what he was doing.

"People are very interested in the good news but not so interested in church," he said. "We have to accommodate that. But church is an indispensible part of the package. Being part of a worshipping missionary community is how we encounter God."

At last, someone shows the courage of their convictions. The Reverend Mr. Gregory has taken the logical step and unapologetically formed the “Church of Me” as opposed to the Church of God. If the Eucharist is a recapitulation of and participation in the One Sacrifice of Christ, then Mr. Gregory’s services could be seen as the recapitulation of and participation in the original sin of Adam and Eve – the elevation of oneself and one’s desires to the status of God. “Self-image and confidence” – that’s what we need. Not some “archaic mumbo-jumbo” about sin and salvation. I guess I need a coach instead of a Redeemer. One suspects that the Church as the spotless Bride of Christ doesn’t get much play in this theology.

It is unfortunate that Catholic dissidents and the leaders of liberal Protestantism can’t be as clear and open about their beliefs and intentions. After all, their theology is about the same – just wrapped up in scripture quotes and “Christianese” to provide deniability when they are confronted. Mr. Gregory’s church will probably suffer the same fate as, say, the Episcopal Church in the USA. It may find some popularity and notoriety to start with, but it will likely soon fade into obscurity. A “Church of Me” is ultimately about as satisfying as a Thanksgiving tofurkey. It may have the right shape, smell, and color, but sooner or later you want some real meat.

The saddest sentence in the original article? Mr. Gregory “is launching the radical experiment in an unused chapel in Cheadle, Staffs.” What can be sadder than an unused chapel.