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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam