Sunday, 23 October 2011

St Peters of Bethnal Green, St Peters Avenue, 16.10.11,

This week I have not had the time for God or God’s not had the time for me, therefore I decided to attend a short but sweet Anglican service at St Peters of Bethnal Green. The Anglican Church specialises in keeping God alive in the lives of people who would normally not have much time for him. Forever modernising to keep their traditions current, the Anglican Church contains some of the most progressive thinkers but also the most dwindling number of followers.  In contrast to the more recently formed American Pentecostal church who specialise in conservative rhetoric and raising the Holy Spirit, the Anglican Church offer liberal contemplation with a modern makeover. A key facet of being a modern liberal Christian is seeing God in everything you believe to be good. God does not simply exist in the scriptures but also in all of life itself; it takes effort to justify this perspective, an effort I just don’t have the time for. Christians take God from The Bible and relate him to their lives and in doing so they contribute to his creation and development, this is not blasphemous because The Bible and the Anglican Church wants them to do this. 
Reverend Adam Atkinson constantly switched from appearing sincere to smarmy so that you expected he was a politician in a previous life. An Average looking, white, short, male with glasses he was so physically unassuming you were shocked at his lucid and easy going public speaking manner, he was the quintessential priest next door, the good neighbour. Eager to promote a God that can be the be all and end all for his entire congregation, his sermon took the first Bible reading from the book of Isaiah chapter 45.  This verse has liberal emphasise on God existing in all things, being the creator of good and bad instead of separating morality into two distinctions of the devil and God himself.
7 I form the light and create darkness,
   I bring prosperity and create disaster;
   I, the LORD, do all these things.
Book of Isaiah, Chapter 45, Verse 7.

The congregation of St Peters appeared to have found god in all things and achieved Atkinson’s mission to contemporise Christianity. The service begun with a few Christian pop hymns led by a young resident singer song writer, had an interval which consisted of a Facebook montage celebrating a year of Atkinson’s leadership set to a ska soundtrack and concluded with a Bible reading from the stylish all black cover of the New International Version Bible. The covers only text was a black letter acronym “N.I.V” that looked more at home in the Death Metal section of HMV than in the house of God. Disregarding all the fads and fashions that were incorporated into the Sunday worship, the most impressive monument to God was the building itself.

Nestled on St Peter’s Avenue, the church is surrounded by small flats and a school placed in the centre of the square. Its modest flint exterior is powerful for its unusual location and is an understated but confident structure. Unlike Hawksmoor’s baroque churches that demand your attention or the post WW2 churches that look to a new egalitarian Christian building, St Peters was built in the 1800s but defies its origins. St Peter’s would be more fittingly placed on the rural broads of East Anglia than in the centre of multicultural East London. The building has had many renovations but no restoration, like the congregation the building attempts to combine the old traditions with a modern slant. The triangular peak to the spire is so basic but executed so well it does not need the architectural complications of other churches. I cannot see god in the trendy bible covers, Christian pop hymns or Facebook montages but I can appreciate the longevity of God’s people in the unique architecture of St Peters.

Reverend Atkinson was not merely interested in appropriating Facebook, pop songs, and trendy book covers or even celebrating the church’s architectural history, his reading of the Book of Isaiah was asking for the congregation to find God in other areas of their own lives. An important facet of Christianity is it offers individuals the opportunities to personalise God to their own interests thus taking part in his creation and here lies my problem.

  I am currently in the middle of the London Film Festival working as a Box Office manager working for 10 to 13 hours a day, thirteen days straight. Most of my job is dealing with the mass selling of tickets but the few upset individuals who are unhappy with my service will be the people I remember. I do not want to find God in my work, amongst ticket requests, full inboxes, pointless meetings, customer complaints, technical difficulties, disgruntled colleagues, unnecessary stress and general monotony. I like my job but it’s not a religion and I do it for the money not the love of cinema (which I have always had).  I am resigned that I will never find God in church but Atkinson did make me realise that I can find my God in what I do. I can find a spiritual sense of self and integrity by exploring my own interests and through these interest I can feel closer to life, predictably for an agnostic these moments are fleeting and therefore more resonant.

So this is my week’s montage of flickers of godliness: Unfinished sentences that make sense in my head but I cannot read from the page, cycling through the park on a cold crisp sunny October day, singing along to a brass band cover version of Sexual Healing while still in my dressing gown, watching old regulars at work fall asleep on the foyer’s sofas as life continues around them, only awake for cinema but  asleep during real life, the hundreds of epiphanies I have between my head touching the pillow and falling asleep (not that I can remember them), a nice cup of tea, dancing in the shower to Funky Good Time, laughing and not being able recall the joke.

God is created by people and that is why he is powerful but I will not be limited by the belief in one God. The book of Isaiah wants you to think of all the infinite possibilities God has created but ironically one of those possibilities is a world without Bible, the Church and even him. 

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