Sunday, 1 January 2012
St Marks with St Bartholomew, Colvestone Crescent, 25.12.11
After all my romantic planning I still failed to attend church on time and had to embarrassingly strut down the aisle half an hour late in front of the regular, loyal and dedicated congregation. My plan was that I would begin my blog with midnight mass and after a year of Sundays I would go to my final church service on Christmas Day. I felt that this plan had a natural symmetry that I had not created but adopted; like God had divinely designed the calendar for my own personal journey.
For full circular narrative closure my final service would again be attended by my Dad. Dad joined me last Christmas Eve and like the year before he was my driving chaperone for Christmas Day. The Family were not best pleased with my religious commitment infringing on our secular celebrations. So turning up late filled me with a double edged pang of guilt. Religious guilt for rudely turning up late for church on the Holiest of Holy days mixed with family guilt for dragging my Dad to London only to insult him by not attending a full service. Very rarely do I manage to offend theist and atheist from one visit. My circle was complete and I had not only managed not to learn anything but had forgotten basic courtesy in the process. The journey had been less a circle and more a four year old’s scribbled attempt to a draw a square. A well intentioned attempt to write something balanced that became inevitably lop-sided due to my naïve and excited personality.
Strolling into the nave late we were met by fewer stares than the average service. Our rudeness was a taboo that the Anglican Church had learned to tolerate during the Christmas period. The casual Christmas Christian was a scenario I should find comfortable but after the last year of pretending to be a devoted regular Christian it felt odd. I did not want to be tolerated but converted or at least be in the position to politely decline the congregation’s spiritual advances. Ironically, a more personal understanding of the church is lost at Christmas. The ritualised formality reaches a climactic saturation point on Christmas day. So much so that despite arriving late into the sermon it was unbelievably predictable and could be recalled in most priests’ sleep. One of Christianity’s biggest legacies to the atheist world is instilling a sense of duty at Christmas. For example my non believer Dad had driven to London to take his son home because no family should be apart at Christmas. Christmas may no longer be shared in church but a ritualised sense of duty and bonding is essential to the celebration.
The church’s first Vicar, Joseph Pilkington, described St Marks as brutally ugly and in his 25 years he added most of the interior adornments: the font, lectern, organ, intricate oak screen and mosaics, pulpit, tower, eight bells, barometer and a chiming clock, as well as stained glass windows. Of all the architectural embellishments my favourites were the gloriously decorated organ, the angel windows in the church roof and behind the altar the mosaic, with approximately 27,000 pieces depicting the last supper. Entering the nave we were ambushed by these permanent decorations, almost intoxicated by all-encompassing tributes to Christ. During the sharing of the peace I deliberately shook every congregational members hand with the ulterior motive of basking in the church’s design as I circled the entire nave. The church was the perfect tinsel to the occasion but at the top of the tree was my Dad.
Dad had been my unintentional motivator. The turbulent relationship he had with the church and his Reverend father had inspired me to dedicate myself to religious exploration. Church was not a part of my childhood and I can never remember my parents endorsing the positives of religion. My parents, far too liberal to prescribe to any dogma, especially any one linked to spirituality did not tolerate my religious exploits but accepted them and supported them despite lacking any religious belief themselves. Religion had become my rock and roll, a conservative opposition to my post rebellion generation. Yet my Mum and Dad’s hippy/punk parenting already had indoctrinated me with questioning all authority but accepting all individuals. Rebellion was pointless but revisiting my family’s cultural past (particularly that of my Granddad) created a connection formed through ritual. Anyone who has read any of my posts will know that I am a non-believer but hopefully will respect my commitment born out of a sense of ritual and duty in replicating a church going existence.