Those of you who are regular listeners to Justin Brierley’s Saturday afternoon radio show, Unbelievable, will have listened recently to an experiment which two friends took part in as part of a “faith swap”. An atheist tried to live as a christian for a month and a christian tried to live as an atheist. It was quite interesting to listen to and worth having a read about. But it gave me an idea.
Instead of swapping religions (or the lack thereof), I had the idea of swapping traditions within christianity. I make no bones about the fact that I am non-conformist. I have started a long project on stating my beliefs, based around the Q&A format of the Heidelberg catechism, so you may get some idea of what I mean by non-conformism there, or you may wish to look at a series I wrote a while back entitled ‘A nonconformist point of view’ where I wrote about saints, priests and church structure. Please note that there are two different, but common, uses of the term ‘nonconformist’ – when I use it I mean christian but not part of one of the major institutional denominations. Others would use it to mean christian but not anglican. So some would regard those belonging to the methodist church or united reformed to be nonconformist – I don’t, so would be happy to potentially swap with someone from one of those churches.
I would be looking to swap for a more conservative expression of christianity for a period of time. My idea is to do this for the 40+ days of lent (having learnt last year that Sundays don’t count – which may itself give you a clue about my mindset). For that period, I would take hints and tips from the swappee about what it is a conformist should do. For example, I don’t have a copy of a lectionary, so don’t know what scriptures I’m supposed to read on what day, what colours one is supposed to wear (or be prohibited from wearing!) on any given day. Equally, I would be willing to help the swappee with any queries they have about a more liberal expression of the christian faith.
I’m not suggesting that we abandon our churches for the duration of the experiment. If the swappee is in London (my church meets in the borough of Lewisham) then I would want for me to be able to visit their church one Sunday and for them to visit to mine one Sunday.
Who is this for?
It’s for someone who wants to understand a bit more about different expressions of faith. If anything, that’s the key point. While there may be some difference in the finer points of theology between different churches, I’m not asking someone to change their beliefs, just to experience a different expression. I think of it as trying to persuade a vegetarian who loves fruit, to try some fruit they are unfamiliar with, not to ask them to eat meat.
I’d also like a blogger, so we can at least share what we each learn, what we find challenging and any other relevant thoughts to the swap.
Who is this not for?
First of all, there should be a reasonable difference between our regular expressions of christianity. So I would not be looking to swap with anyone who describes themself as charismatic, pentecostal, baptist, nonconformist, evangelical or use other such “low church” adjectives.
Secondly, I am not looking to try to change anyone’s tradition or destroy their faith. As such, anyone who is so engrained in one tradition and has no experience of churches or denominations other their own that they might their faith shaken is someone who shouldn’t take such a big leap out of their comfort zone at one time.
If you have particular duties in your church such that this would clash or majorly distract you from those, then it’s best not to. This almost certainly rules all the vicars who read this blog.
A final thought
I guess the idea has been mulling around in my head for a couple of years now, even before the faith swap featured on Unbelievable. The quote I have in mind is this, taken from a Veritas forum:
“Take Jack here and Jill there. Jack has come from a traditional anglo-catholic family where he knows exactly how to swing incense and precisely what each bit of the liturgy means. Then he meets somebody in college who talks about praying as though you can actually chat to God in your own words. He just didn’t know you could do that. It completely blows him away; he’s so excited that he goes away and joins in with people doing it. It’s just amazing.Meanwhile Jill who has come from a charismatic church and has been raising her arms in the air and singing happy choruses since she was “this” high [holds hand about waist level], is really completely freaked out by that stuff. And then one day drifts in and sits at the back for a traditional Anglican liturgy: a eucharist or something. She just senses the space and the power and the proportions and the deeper meaning of that. And I used to watch Jack and Jill (metaphorically) and I would say ‘I hope they at least wave at each other as they go by.’”
So as we pass by for a short season, let’s shake hands, have a cup of coffee and chat for a bit.
You up for it?