Sunday, 4 September 2011

Lost Pilgrimage, 28.08.11-02.08.11,

Last week I said I wanted the journey without the destination but after only one week I already regret those words. This week has been one long journey with no destination in sight. I did not even find a church that would be open to be a suitable destination instead I was met by metaphorically and physically closed doors on several attempts. Reduced to spiritually scavenging I have been desperate to find an occasion to embellish and canonize, but this week's events have been too worthy of such exaggerated platitudes or too obscure to document. So how did I get so lost….
On Sunday I set out on my weekly quest to discover another unique East End Sunday Service, this morning I was particularly excited to have a sneak inside the German Roman Catholic Church in Whitechapel. Ever since my first visit to Whitechapel road I had been caught in the shadow of the large bell tower that hovers over the road’s only park. The tower carves a uniquely sharp shape into the skyline. Its narrow design houses three large bells, stacked above one another in single file. The modern blocked bricks and long escalation always reminded me of a large factory chimney converted into a belfry, a post-industrial church. When I discovered the church was German it confirmed the tower's efficient elegance. The tower has a striking starkness but up-close the texture of the building is really intriguing. The blocked bricks have a computer cubed design with coloured stone tinting that adds some decorative character to an abrupt, firm, modern building. The large wooden carved entrance has an unnecessarily blocked cross pattern which  hangs above the door creating an impression of unknown historical era; an age that combines futuristic and medieval design. The church entrance seems old and new at once, like a past age's concept of the future but not a future that belonges to the present. A more romantic future! Romantic because this concept of the future is so far away it lives in the past.

As you can tell by my wild waffling, I was very excited to look inside the German Roman Catholic Church and see what other old futuristic adornments I might discover inside the church’s nave. I had been so careful not to miss the service that I had translated the lone sign outside the church with the help of (the atheist's God) Google. The sign clearly stipulates that the service is held at 11 AM on Sunday of the 2nd, 4th and 5th week of the month (and it was the 4th). So when I discovered the doors to be shut I panicked because my agnostic pilgrimage was not my only commitment on that day. Later in the early afternoon I had to commit the sin of going to work on the Sabbath, so with two hours  before the start of my shift I had very little time to rectify the situation. Sweating and cycling while wearing a suit I made a dash to the nearest churches in a hope of a short but spiritually uplifting Sunday service. My first would be destination was St Peters, a sweet village style church nestled in the centre of a ringroad of small towerblockes but when I arrived the congregation were taking communion, ironically the only part of the Eucharist I don’t partake in. Back on my bike I rode to St John on Bethnal Green but had to circle the scaffolding only to arrive at the hidden side entrance and see parishioners sit down for tea and biscuits. Theatrically renouncing my godly commitments I accepted defeat but romantically returned to the German Roman Catholic church in hope of some answers. My answers came in the form of a sweetly smiling, meticulously dressed German family of four who reassured me I had correctly translated the sign. I was too angry to call the telephone number provided as I felt my agnostic woes had already been predetermined and I would have to consolidate myself with a weekly evening prayer meeting. Like the sweetly smilng, meticulously dressed German family I had been victim of my own casual commitment to church.
Church does a great job of loading you with blame even when you don’t go. Yet some of my friends who are Christians don’t go to church but clearly feel akin to church more than I. The answer is, as it is every week, faith. My friends with faith don’t go to church as they don’t seem to care about missing the ritual of the service, because they already have an instilled notion of belief within them. As for me I don't have it so easy. I am just letting myself down, my friends could be letting down the Almighty but naturally He would forgive them, yet I will not forgive myself. The agnostic church goer can’t help but see a Sunday Service as a duty and I am sure I am not the first church goer to feel this. Church is another commitment, along with work, blogging and any other activity you pursue to make your life more interesting than it is or hopefully was. I need my Sunday Service far more than non-church going believers, maybe that’s why everyone goes to church because they don’t feel Christian without going. In comparison to me who does not feel like an agnostic until I do go to church.
On Sunday night I was no longer worried as I had several spiritual ventures floating around my head. The first suggestion struck me when I was cycling down a grotty alley and saw a poster so unique to my interests it was like it had been delivered by God. The cheap religious imagery and the text was divine material for the blog. The text starts with large letter heading “Singles Prayer Seminar.” The smaller text is listed below in snippets was full of the most intriguing dilemmas facing Christians love

Have you been single for too long?
Is your marriage failing?
Have you been separated from your spouse or partner?
Do you experience disappoints in your relationships?
Do strange beings appear in your bed to have sex with you?
Then you need this programme without fail.
The poster is like any other dating agency advert with the exception that it has more of a focus on the negative aspects of realtionships and sells itself not as an enterprise but as a counselling service. Despite not having a girlfriend I thought this was a step too far in my secular exploration of Christian lifestyles. Cowardly I reassured myself that it would be misleading to any Christian I met male or female at “Singles Prayer Seminar,” not because I was not single but they might think I have a rescue complex. Not that the event was too Christian or too secular to warrant a blog entry but it was out of keeping with my interests. Instead of looking at the benefits of a Christian dating agency I looked to the more famous Christian enterprise, the soup kitchen.
The Whitechapel Mission Church is not simply a soup kitchen but was established in 1876, overseen by Methodist preacher Thomas Jackson , its aim was to clothe orphan and destitute lads but has developed over time into a outreach community project. Whitechapel Mission provides breakfast, showers, post office for the homeless, benefit advice and counselling, the organisation is an archetype for Christian charity. Observing the breakfast it felt intrusive unless I was to take part and volunteer, which again I could not do due to my work commitments. After a brief chat with a volunteer I felt despite the name of charity being Christian it was not a church. I had just glimpsed into a world which actually practiced the words of Jesus but did not overtly preach them. The subjects were not all Christians and it was not fair to write and comment on a non-devout congregation, instead I was watching a cast of unknowns act out  the morality of the new testament. I feel guilt when I go to church but nothing in comparison to the guilt I felt leaving Whitechapel Mission Church, as I made my exit I was so ashamed I said goodbye to no one. 
So I decided to console myself with a morning mass at St Annes and was not as frustrated as I had been five days earlier when I was greeted by closed doors. Arriving at another unwilling destination it seemed clear that no matter how expansive my study of Christian life may grow it was ultimately limited by me. Not due to a lack of faith just due to a lack of time. No one has the time to fully explore the diversity of what it means to be Christian in the modern world. Nor is it adequate to reduce Christianity to merely going to church. Church is a comfort, an environment in which you can feel closer to God and reassurance to me that you I don’t need him.

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