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The shape of hymns to come

PUBLISHED: 09:00 26 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:43 03 March 2010

CINEMA settings, livelier readings and entertaining worship. This is the suggested shape of churches to come. But are we ready for it.

Debbie Watson reports on the tried and tested British approach to church service, and on the emerging belief that a dramatic facelift is now required.

CINEMA settings, livelier readings and entertaining worship. This is the suggested shape of churches to come. But are we ready for it.

Debbie Watson reports on the tried and tested British approach to church service, and on the emerging belief that a dramatic facelift is now required.

FOR centuries their format has remained unchanged.

Regular morning services, held in ageing village churches with bible readings and traditional hymns.

This is the British church format – but is it bound for a radical overhaul?

Around the UK several modernised worship venues have already started popping up and have seemingly been very successful in attracting a 21st century church-goer.

Here in Suffolk, we've also seen the modernised thought of religious leaders with pub-based services.

Though such methods are still relatively few and far between, it is increasingly being felt that they have a very real place in the heart of our communities.

And now John Buckeridge, editor of the Christianity and Renewal magazine, has called for churches to be made more welcoming and less intimidating.

"Damp or musty church buildings — an odour which speaks of neglect and decay — are hardly conducive to worshipping God," he writes in the October issue of the magazine.

"Imagine how alien such places feel to someone not used to attending church, even more so for a young person.'

He added: "To most it would seem as about as friendly as being in the dock of a crown court."

Buckeridge believes that church services are ideal for former cinemas, where the surroundings are far more hospitable – particularly to church first-timers.

He advocates the likes of Bath City Church, a former cinema which now houses services in which the congregation has the space to express themselves through music and dance – as well as the traditional hymn-singing.

Suffolk's Reverend Nigel Hartley admits to being in favour of this modern approach.

As the man who married James Bond and Marilyn Monroe this summer, it is hardly surprising that he takes a proactive and contemporary view to religious ceremonies.

"In my opinion gospel is relevant in every generation, but it's important that people express it in a way that is relevant to their era," he said.

"There's no doubt that there are more innovative ways emerging of how to express the Christian gospel and I am all in favour of that. We're now seeing services involving dance and drama and that's a great way of getting people of all ages involved."

Drawing on a recent experience of theatre, Mr Hartley added: "I saw a Medieval play in Cornwall which might so easily have been lost on a modern audience.

"It had been modernised and well thought out in a way that made everyone thoroughly enjoy its message.

"That's how we should approach church services. However old something is, it can still make sense and be enjoyed."

Mr Hartley insists that church attendance is certainly not falling in the dramatic manner that modern non-church-goers might perceive.

Specifically referring to Suffolk, he claims that numbers may dwindle in some parishes but are recovered elsewhere in the county.

"It is my belief that if you put together all the people that go to church in Suffolk on a Sunday, you would still have more than the number of people who turn out at Portman Road for a match on Saturday," he said.

The test for those who lead gospel services is not just in attracting new church-goers, but also in continuing to provide for the regular worshippers who have been attending weekly prayer for decades.

"We have to cater for one and all," said Mr Hartley. "In my view the most important thing is not just the venue, the style of the service, or who takes it – but it's down to the congregation themselves to be both modern and welcoming.

"You can do everything possible to make a church service more modern, but first-timers will still not want to come if their reception is not warm and hospitable.

"That's why a lot of the responsibility falls within the individual congregation for them to be accommodating – and essentially, open to the new ideas which will help to take us forward."

services – be they in pubs, cinemas…..or even parish churches.

Weblink:

www.suffolkchurches.co.uk

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