I enter Clayfield Uniting Church and the minister regards me with slight suspicion. A flutter of nervousness crosses his face.
You see the minister of this church is my father, Chris Holden.
I had slept in (reoccurring theme for me on Sundays) and I hadn’t made it to the 9:30 am service I was planning to attend at another church. So at the last minute I tracked down Dad – “I’m coming to your service this morning – hope that’s ok!”
I can imagine his thought process at that moment – mentally reviewing his choice of music and order of service. He seemed to give himself a mental nod of approval and a “no worries” to me.
Of course Dad loves it when I attend his service, but I think when your daughter starts a blog reviewing church services then you can’t help but view the visit in a slightly different light.
A Small, Authentic Group
Clayfield Uniting has one service in the mornings at 10 am (perfect for me) and since it starts later it never runs for too long, often around one hour or just over.
It’s a small congregation comprised mostly of over 50s. Today there are around 25 people present including two young families with small children.
As usual, the service offers a mix of ‘modern’ Christian songs (think post 1960s) and traditional hymns. The first is a classic: “Today I Awake” (Iona Community).
An organist and pianist provide the music and mostly complement one another. Though I get the sense that a small battle for tempo occurs each Sunday.
I realise that I’m in my early 30s and I’m supposed to like the music designed for young people – you know, the Hillsong stuff. But honestly, I have a very big soft spot for the traditional hymns.
I do have the music for “How Great Thou Art” tattooed on my back, after all.
You may have noticed from my review of Nexus Church, that the showmanship and nightclub style interiors of many Pentecostal churches are not exactly my thing. Although I don’t mind most modern church music.
And I’m not the only millennial confusing church leaders with what I want.
A recent survey conducted by research group Barna, in the United States, found that when millennials were asked to choose between the words ‘classic’ or ‘trendy’ to describe their ideal church, 67% chose classic.
When choosing between ‘quiet’ and ‘loud’, 67% chose quiet. And between ‘sanctuary’ and ‘auditorium’, a resounding 77% chose sanctuary.
Though confusingly they preferred the word ‘modern’ over ‘traditional’. We are a perplexing group of people, but ultimately we want authenticity. And you’ll certainly get it at Clayfield Uniting.
The sermon is centred on the Old Testament reading: Genesis 28 10-19a. It’s an interesting story outlining an experience Jacob has while on a journey.
He sleeps overnight in the wilderness on a stone pillow and has a dream in which he sees a stairway from earth to heaven with angels moving up and down. Then God tells Jacob He will grant him lots of descendants and the land he’s standing on.
And God says “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”.
Jacob wakes up with the realisation that God had been present in the place he had slept.
Dad explains that we will be following the story of Jacob for the next few weeks and the next song ties in with this story, “Nearer, My God, To Thee”.
Did I mention Dad was an opera singer in a past life? If anyone in the congregation wasn’t aware of that fact before this song started, I think they had a pretty good idea by the end. It’s a sight worth seeing (and hearing).
Throughout the sermon Dad encourages us to find God in the every day. He says:
That’s the other part of our calling. Not just to confess faith so that others might come to believe, but also to teach others to see God in their daily lives.
And later in the sermon he quotes Martin Luther King Jnr.:
All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. – Martin Luther King Jnr.
King said this during a speech at a Michigan university explaining why justice for an individual is not enough. Social justice was the way forward.
I may have drifted off at some point and missed how it links in with the Jacob story, but it’s still a powerful thought to consider.
Dad reaches the conclusion that God is involved and intervenes in our lives and we must become spiritually more aware to recognise his presence in our lives.
He encourages us to share a thought with our neighbour (be prepared for this if you visit). It’s slightly awkward at first, but as time passes people seem to open up to one another a little. The teacher in me is impressed at his ability to embrace silence and allow people time to formulate an opinion.
Personally I’m still pondering the idea that God intervenes. Dad doesn’t explicitly define what that intervention looks or feels like. It’s something I will need to consider myself.
Since I’ve invaded the service with my iPad and camera and I do feel a little more at home here, I stick around for morning tea and a chat.
I soak up the sun and a cup of tea before heading off to enjoy another stunning Sunday in Brisbane.
More Information about this Church:
Name Clayfield Uniting Church | Denomination Uniting Church | Location Clayfield, Brisbane, QLD | Minister Rev. Chris Holden | Service Day & Time Sunday 10:00 am | Date 23/07/17
Clayfield Uniting Church Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011624948324
The Uniting Church Australia: http://uca.org.au/about/