Or am I "getting old"?
For those who don't know, the group of churches we're connected to has regular 'celebrations' where everyone from across Oxfordshire gets together for communal worship and teaching. They're a slightly mixed blessing, in that it's a major effort to get into Oxford (though less so now than when we all met in the cinema in George st.) since it would mean using the park & ride because of council restrictions about vehicular access. When all the churches across the area came together there could be more than a thousand bodies squeezed into the auditorium.
That was back in the mid-late noughties.
Cue 6 year break due to our time at Heyford park - what has been a large, thriving, excited charismatic congregation seemed to have shrunk to be mostly middle aged or retired with a few exceptions and suddenly as a guitar player* I've gone from being a bit 'surplus to requirements' to often being in the band for these things - it's nice, but also feels like one is only wanted when there's no-one better available. A part of the reason for the change is that different groups of churches now meet together at different times instead of all at once, but it seems to reflect the fragmentation of the Salt & Light organisation in a wider sense - see previous posts here and here. Thinking back, I can see when the change started happening in the mid 2000s, several years before we got involved in Heyford Park, but the vague feeling of disquiet that I had then didn't mean anything.
I wonder, if we'd never left & returned, would it have been like the theory of frogs and heated water, so we'd never have noticed the difference?
The way we do church locally now doesn't feel like church either, and I'm finding it difficult to take seriously. Everything feels random, haphazard, a bit meaningless . Perhaps I've become fossilised and can't adapt to the changes and lack of pattern or systematic organisation?
Some of it is certainly me, and I definitely don't see faith, the bible or the people leading these things in the way I used to. Having seen the other side of church leadership, so many things that are done may happen from the best of intentions, but often they also seem pragmatic or simply someone's good ideas (and not always so good). A common problem for leaders seems to be seeing something done elsewhere and the leader thinking to themselves "THAT looks really good - let's try it at home" and of course it's at best a bit mediocre, because it may be good, but it was never intended for the new recipients. The 'hearing God' part of the process is often a little tricky because who hears an audible voice, sees angels or messages in 10ft high letters of fire that cannot be mistaken? I can see that I was guilty of doing that at Heyford Park, with a teaching series on Ephesians 5 ministries, but of course *to me* it looked really good & seemed right, while causing a certain amount of puzzlement & confusion. At least it wasn't outright damaging, like some of the things we've seen imported, driving away people who were otherwise committed and trying to work out how to live as part of a community.
So where does this leave me?
Still going through the motions (cue jokes about swimming and Southend pier) trying to be useful, make a positive contribution, not pull people down, serving a bit as ability allows. Someone I know who was looking for a church went along to a few meetings at an associated group, but didn't see the point: bible studies were just a series of questions with no teaching and little apparent guidance, meetings were disorganised. I keep doing this because the alternative seems less good, rather than because I'm convinced it brings life and builds faith. It's tempting to find another church, where I've no expectation or investment, one which is a bit more teachy and a bit less fluid. But I won't (for now).
* I realised that on Sunday I was the oldest person on stage by 17 years, and when I started doing that I was one of the young, dynamic guys - the drummer hadn't even been born when I first played in a celebration meeting.