Faith in a controlled environment

Paul Handley, Editor of the Church Times and an Easter 'blue-domer', sets out to answer the question of an 11-year-old: 'If God is everywhere, why do we go to church?'

In one of her letters, Rose Macaulay, novelist and High Church dame of the mid-20th century, admits to being a "blue-domer". It is a self-conscious, falsely apologetic phrase to describe somebody who skives off matins or evensong and worships, instead, under the blue dome of heaven. Apologies to any New Agers, but respectable Anglican ladies were out there first.

I have traced the phrase as far back as Shelley, who wrote:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,

And the nursling of the sky . . .

. . . the winds and sunbeams with their

complex gleams

Build up the blue dome of air.

Easter Sunday morning is the one occasion of the year when my family and I become blue-domers, getting up before dawn to watch the sun slip above the horizon on the east coast of England. This time, of course, we had to make do with being grey-domers, since nothing was going to penetrate the mist and cloud. We drew a sun in the sand, played hide-and-seek among the beach huts, and walked back home to eat Easter eggs.

Further up the beach, a "sunrise service" was just beginning, with a couple of songs, a reading and a sermonette. It was a typical case of Anglicans seeking compromise when no compromise is possible: you can't let people stay in bed till 7 o'clock and then have a sunrise service. The unruly sun rose at 6.25 and that was that.

Christian services, with only a very few, half-baked, exceptions, are held indoors. This is a serious point. The entire evangelistic effort of the Church is devoted to luring new people into its buildings. Out of doors, worshippers feel puny and exposed. Palm Sunday processions, the weekend before Easter, always generate great anxiety: "What if we're seen?"

It is an odd fear for Christians to have, given that they follow a religion born under the blue dome of the Palestinian sky. Although Jesus attended the temple, religiously one presumes, most of the Gospel accounts place him outside, in the hills, in the wilderness, by the beach. He takes a multitude of his followers so far away from shops and houses that they have to be fed by miraculous loaves and fishes. He climbs on a boat when the crowd on the beach becomes too large. When he goes into a house, followers break open the roof in order to lower a sick man down on a stretcher.

The Church, for some reason, takes as its starting-point the scene in the upper room, where Jesus gathered his disciples in private, just before he went to his death. An upper-room sort of faith celebrates the sacred mysteries in semi-secret, drawing the faithful together by emphasising the hostility of the world and the people outside the walls. The only elements allowed to be present are the consecrated ones of bread and wine.

It is a controlled environment, and this is the key. A flock which is hemmed in, surrounded by walls and covered by a roof, is bound to be more attentive to its shepherd. A crowd outside always has people on its edge, distracted by the birds in a hedge, the curl of the waves, a passing car.

More troublesome than that, a crowd outside doesn't often want to be a crowd. Things are fine if there is a charismatic speaker holding the gathering together: in general, though, people just drift apart. The outdoors is not a place for standing about, it is a place for doing things.

This was presumably what was in the mind of my 11-year-old son when he said a few days ago,"Well, if God is everywhere, why do we go to church?" This, as other parents will recognise, is argument number 12 in the Child's Manual for Avoiding Church. (There are hundreds more.) He just wanted to go and play football on the common. I, in my turn, employed parent's response number one (there is only one): "Because I say so."

I suppose the thing about blue-doming is that it is a bit of a skive. You don't contemplate nature - the fotherington-tomas "hullo clouds hullo sky" school of spirituality - with any degree of concentration. The vastness of God is not something you can hold in your mind for long. It really is a case of a short scrawl in the sand and then on with the hide-and- seek. The object is simply to recall that the earth is the Lord's and all that therein is.

The other object is to enjoy yourself. You see why the churches are so uncomfortable with the idea.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones