Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Grand Finale!(?): Pentecost Together in Settle

As I've been going around the churches, most people have assumed I've been looking for the one I like best, with a view to chosing one and sticking with it. But that wasn't my intention. Instead I was interested in looking at the variety and understanding quite why there are so many churches in such a small town (2000 people). I also wanted to find out if any of the churches had any people in them. 

The answer to the first part is probably history. In the Victorian era there was a lot of growth, a lot of places opened. While the Anglican church grew, a lot also left the Anglican church for other churches. Instead of returning to the Anglicans when shrinkage occurred, they have instead stayed in their own churches which have become smaller and smaller. The exception to this is probably Settle Christian Fellowship which opened within living memory, after buying up an old Methodist chapel. 

The winner in terms of numbers is by a long way was the Roman Catholics. It was full, although they have by far the largest catchment area of any of the churches, of order 15 miles in each direction, compared to about 5 miles or less for the others. Somewhere behind them in terms of numbers were the Methodists, then the Friends and the others. 

I found just one that I wouldn't really want to go to again, which was Zion Congregational. It seems to be on its last legs - someone at Settle Chirstian Fellowship (SCF) told me they thought it was to be officially closed next year, and the building sold off. 

My overall impression is of each church having its own special gifts. The Friends have the gift of silence, contemplation and charity; the Anglicans have the liturgy, the structure, and an inspiring building; the Methodists have variety and forward thinking, and good preaching; and the SCF have prayer, community and outreach. If the gifts were all put together there would be a wonderful church! 

Which brings us neatly to: Churches Together in Settle and District. On Sunday I attended my first "ctisad" event, which was Pentecost Together, a gathering in the wind (but not rain) on the garden outside Booths at 3:30pm. There were about 15 there, and I recognised all except one of the adults by face if not name - So I know there were people from Methodist, Anglican and SCF, at least. The service involved music, plus readings from the Bible. The music was lead by the guitar playing female pastor from SCF, and the readings were done by a woman who attends the Methodist church in a neighbouring village as well as Chrstian Fellowship and the Informal Worship at the Anglican church, and she also came to the Women's day in Harrogate. It was an excellent service, with an lovely variety of hymns well sung (best music of anywhere I've been). Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic for about an hour. When I asked the woman I sat next to which church she attended she said, sometimes Anglican, sometimes Methodist and sometimes SCF. She also saw no reason to choose. But like me she is also relatively new. Maybe in time people all develop a habit for one place. Anyway, I hope the ctisad will go from strength to strength and that no one will make us choose. At least not until there is just one church, one church hall and one church car park in Settle.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Easter +N: 3 May 2015, Settle Christian Fellowship

After Scotland we were in Vienna running the marathon, flying the next Sunday, travelling again the Sunday afterwards, so it wasn't until 3 May that I got to the sixth and final church in Settle, Settle Christian Fellowship

 There were about 10 in church, and it was the only church of all of them that was too hot. Not with the fire of the Holy Spirit, but with overhead electric heaters. The service was not amazing, but the people and the establishment are more so. Having never found out how the Zion Independent Congregational Church works in practice, I had lots of questions for SCF, and they were kind enough to spend a while explaining how it works. The church has a bunch of trustees which probably comprises the small core of regular attendees. It owns a building, and the congregation members "tithe", which, I assume means basically that they give a not insignificant fraction of their earnings to the church.  They are affiliated to International Gospel Outreach - I am not quite sure what assistance IGO specifically supply them with. Their pastor is pretty much chosen from within (maybe IGO help them advertise), and is largely voluntary, in the sense that they get only expenses and (I think) no living costs. So the pastors are not ordained, and there is none of the massive pyramid of priests and bishops and who-knows-what as in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. It seems a fairly healthy way of doing things. Without the structure to lean on, I got the impression that the trustees lean a lot more on God and each other when making decisions; they pray a lot together and struggle until they come to consensus decisions, guided by their mission statements. They are involved in some charitable work in Tanzania, although I'm not sure quite how that is organised. 

As for the service, the pastors are a husband and wife team. The prayers were good, the music was pleasant, lead by a the female pastor on guitar, although the songs themselves were rather inane. The male pastor was about the worst Bible reader I have encountered; somehow managing to make a straightforward reading unintelligible. The sermon wasn't great - something about God always being God. However, I may be being too critical, because the sermon did not make me angry as so often happens in the Anglican church!

All in all, it was very interesting to see a church being conducted on such a different model, through it's community rather than through a governing infrastructure, and apparently surviving and contributing well to the wider community, even if not particularly full of people.