Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Lent 4: 10:45am, Zion Independent Congregational Church

I'm slow to comment on the Congregational church because I still don't really know what to make of it. This is what wikipedia says,

"Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practising Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.
Many Congregational churches claim their descent from a family of Protestant denominations formed on a theory of union published by the theologian Robert Browne in 1592. These arose from the Nonconformist religious movement during the Puritan reformation of the Church of England. In Great Britain, the early congregationalists were called separatists or independents to distinguish them from the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians. Some congregationalists in Britain still call themselves Independent."
"In 1972, about three quarters of English Congregational churches merged with the Presbyterian Church of England to form the United Reformed Church (URC). However, about 600 Congregational churches have continued in their historic independent tradition." 

After my visit two weeks ago I am still not much wiser than that. Zion Independent Congregational Church, built in in 1816, is located about 5 minutes walk from our house in Upper Settle. There were 13 in church, and I was youngest by perhaps 3 decades (I'm 45). They have a service once a month, and I'm not sure what they do on the other weeks. I think that that Congregationalist means that the congregation do it all themselves without a big unwieldy church hierarchy. So I was surprised to see a great big pulpit in the church, which really suggests a fairly major hierarchy, at least between leader and congregation. This wee congregation is presently without a pastor. I have no idea where an independent church get a pastors from anyway. I suspect the congregation has swung from pillar to post throughout it's existence, as exemplified by this very entertaining early history of the church that I found online. But it is certainly a curious establishment.

So, without a pastor, one of the congregation did indeed introduce the service, with some jolly good and heartfelt prayers and then some rather quiet hymns. The majority of the time, was, however taken up by a powerpoint presentation from someone from Open Doors. I wasn't impressed as the speaker repeatedly used the word "Islamist" when they actually meant not Islam at all, but actually the flavour of radical extremist looney-tune-ism who, this decade, associate themselves with Islam. It is actually not the first time in a church in Settle that I've heard this and it makes me so furious that I am even moved to agree with the comments made a couple of days ago by the Home Secretary Teresa May, who expressly pointed out that this distinction should always be made. After 12 years of Buddhist and Shinto influence in Japan, it is obvious that Judaism, Islam and Christianity have far more in common than they have not in common. And yet it feels like, in the UK there's a lot of churches capitalising on the unfortunate current situation to promote Christianity in a kind of "we're right and they're wrong" kind of a way. Like no one has ever committed mass murder in the name of Christianity! When I got home and looked up Open Doors, they didn't seem quite so bad - they basically give Bibles and other things to churches who can't get them because they cannot worship openly. It all started in the 1950s with someone smuggling Bibles into the USSR. 

For Lent 5 I visited the Methodist church (post soon!), which, of the churches in Settle, is probably the closest in style to the Congregationalist. I met there someone who had previously been in the URC (United Reformed Church - see info in Wiki article above). He also had no idea where Zion would get pastors from. So I remain ignorant. But I do think someone needs to write a history of this incredibly independent church it before it completely disappears... 

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