I don't know if you exist but within my personal mission you are without doubt the highest authority and therefore the perfect induction point to all your advocates ,who I hope to enlist for support and expertise on my agnostic pilgrimage.
My mission is to visit a different church in East London every Sunday for a year, visiting various churches, Christian denominations and faith groups within the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The intention is to meet organised Christian communities within East London and document the similarities and differences in how each group conducts their Sunday service. Subsequently increasing my understanding of what it means to live in a modern day Christian community in this so called fragmented, individualistic, multicultural society.
I personally feel that British cultural perception of Christianity seems to have been appropriated by a faceless slew of media commentators who like to promote a narrow polemic in our newspapers regarding the clichéd intolerant, sectarian conservative preachers in opposition to latest innovations in modern society. A classic example is the catalogue of news stories featuring the academic atheist elite led by Richard Dawkins caught in a pointless argument over the scientific proof of the existence of a spiritual being (that's you). Popular culture seems to disregard as merely religion as a platform for reactionary egotists seeking controversy. Ironically within the plethora of religious commentators my blog could easily be disregarded as a piece of yuppie spiritual voyeurism but I hope that my first instalment will convince you of my honourable intentions.
The core reason that drives my expedition is to dispel the common myths and clichés that inhabit the mainstream consciousness within our society by merely documenting the wide range of Christian communities that practice the holy sacrament every Sunday in the most multicultural area within the United Kingdom.
Christians don't need my help. Faith in its simplest form is a sense of self sufficiency through spirituality that negates any help from a non believer. Instead of preaching to the choir I hope fellow agnostics and atheists will benefit from understanding our Christian neighbours.
Academics may regard a bottom up analysis of religious worship as perverse but to quote yourself via the scriptures
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
Quoting the Holy Bible does scare me and I will refrain in future instalments to quote a text I do not fully believe, yet appreciate. My apprehension to use the Bible is linked to a central worry that I will accidentally offend someone through my ignorant ramblings.
Religion is one of most sensitive subjects in the world and its not my desire to create any further divide or obtain any personal gain through a cheap laugh at the expense of your followers.
Besides my armchair analysis, beard stroking provocations and self important theoretical justifications another central motivation is I am fascinated by churches.
I find churches architecturally sacred, they hold a mythic, timeless and peaceful quality, especially in the context of the ever-changing redevelopments of East London (currently going through hyper gentrification due to the 2012 Olympics). Despite my non spiritual passion for churches my frequent visits seem to be unconsciously planned to avoid the church service .
Recently I began to realise that to a get a true understanding of a building its important to see the building in its primary use. So rather than appreciate the calming silence of an empty church I should actually experience the atmosphere with a full congregation.
I cannot wait to see the majestic Saint Botolph without Bishopsgate come alive with singing; look inside the soul of corrugated iron shell that impressively marks the exterior of The Sight of Eternal Life Church on Shrubland road; meet the many personalities who inhabit the schizophrenic architecture of Saint George of The East ; learn the similarities and differences between the row of recent office sized churches that congregate across Dalston Lane; visit the minority Christian population of Saint John on Bethnal Green in the heart of one of Britain's largest Muslim population; experience the Sunday worship in the serene surroundings of Saint Peters of Bethnal Green which appears like a lost village church just off the hectic traffic of Hackney road; and be treated to a service in the literature inspiring Christ Church in Spitalfields. My other hopes are to track down the rumours of churches held in back alleys, warehouses, shopping centres and cinemas across East End.
Starting on Christmas Eve I will attend Saint John at Hackney (my local) for midnight mass which will be my first church service (in Britain) that's not a funeral of a friend or relative, such has been my morbid relationship with church services in the past.
So God I am looking forward to spending time with your followers in the new year with the hope that they will view my personal crusade as sincere or maybe successfully convert me to see the error of my ways.
It would seem disrespectful to venture on a religious expedition without setting out some key rules to obey. Below are my very own 5 commandments (half hearted I know)
- First commandment: One must attend church every Sunday (for the entire calender year). If unable to attend one's penance will be to visit an evening service that week.
- Second Commandment: One can only visit the areas in which one has been a resident (within the incredibly large boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, far too many churches to visit in a year)
- Third Commandment: One will always be honest about his or her reasons for attending the church service.
- Fourth Commandment: One will only print the names of the members of the church with his or her permission
- Fifth Commandment: One will remain tolerant and civil throughout all church services regardless of how he or she may disagree with the content.
The above rules are primarily for myself but I hope your advocates will read them and realise how seriously I take their faith.
My other piece of key preparation is to read The New Testament from King James Version, but I am already behind (only finished the Book of Matthew). Depending on my experience at church I mat attempt to read The Old Testament.
Understandably various Christian churches, denominations, faith groups are formed because of their differing interpretations of the Bible or how your word should be celebrated., therefore I will always be at loss to the nuances of each Sunday. However I hope reading the King James Version I would at least have a grounding in the services and show my respect.
So God I will write to you again in a year when I approach the end of my journey or sooner if the spirit takes me. No need for me to tell you to read my blog as you are omnipotent after all
(Meaning Jehovah as God)
For those reading this who are not God and have any suggestions of interesting churches to visit or invitations to attend a Sunday service please email firstname.lastname@example.org