True religion

Assistant Rector's House, June 1999

Lord keep thy Church... continually in thy true religion
Book of Common Prayer

One can see the whole of Nottingham life passing by from our new office building. This has been said before. But what we have just realised as the weather gets warmer, is that with the windows wide open one can also hear all the noises of Nottingham - bagpipe players, string-quartets, the little man with his xylophone, traffic, pneumatic drills, shouting and crying - and the street preachers.

A few days ago I sat at my desk all morning with the constant refrain of one of these preachers pounding in my ears ‘Religion doesn’t change anyone’s life - religion doesn’t change anyone’s life - religion doesn’t change anyone’s life - you must turn to Jesus.’ I felt profoundly ‘got at’ because from the rest of his spiel it was clear that the speaker identified ‘religion’ with churchgoing and ritual, and his words seemed to be rather pointedly aimed at St.Peter’s a few feet away from him.

‘Religion’ is defined in the dictionary as a system of faith and worship. Words my Thesaurus associates with ‘religious’ are - churchgoing, pious, sectarian, rigorous, rigid. These sort of concepts appeared to be the preacher’s target. But his criticism misses the point. Organised Christian religion is never intended to exist for its own sake. It exists to enable its followers to see life anew through the eyes of God, and to live in a new way, the way of Jesus. Religion is totally in the business of changing lives; that is its raison d’Ítre. It confronts huge questions - ‘who are we?’, ‘where have we come from?’, ‘where are we going?’ - and the answers are not self-evidently set out in creeds and formulae, they come through the experience of searching and praying and being together in a community.

At the end of this month on St.Peter’s Day, some of our children will receive Communion for the first time. At their Baptism we welcomed them into the family of the Church. On St.Peter’s Day we will welcome them to share in the family meal. As they continue on their spiritual journey we want them to experience religion as enhancing life, not restricting it. Other associated words in the dictionary are faithfulness and holiness. One writer has written:

Religion is not proficiency in the fine art of spiritual knowledge, but just the love of God and our neighbour.

We hope our children will recognise that this love, holiness and faithfulness are of the essence of the Christian religion. We hope they will see too that these things are not separate from life, but an integral part of living. We hope they will see that God is to be found in the intimacy and immediacy of the Eucharist. We also hope they will find God in the beauty of nature and music and the awe of silence, in the excitement of exploring new ideas, in the fun of holidays and parties, and within their friendships and their family relationships. And we hope they will recognise that this way of seeing is very much the perspective of Jesus.

Pray God that the children never see religion as a boring and pointless ‘system’, but experience it as life lived in its fullness, knowing that the truth about what matters is to be found in Jesus. Pray for the grace for all of us to welcome and encourage them, able to show that our faith is real and living and ‘makes a difference’.

Eileen McLean
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th May 1999