Sunday, 27 January 2019
The theory of crowd dynamics has always been an interesting one. Freud examined it, as have countless anthropologists and psychologists, and you can witness its effects in everything from muddy-field festivals to looting rioters. I first consciously experienced it on the North Bank at Arsenal when, in an outpouring I would never have dared to exhibit on my own, I found myself arms in the air proclaiming my love for Lee Dixon.
When like-minded people are doing it, and the mood of the moment encourages it, it seems even the most sedentary of souls can be roused to wondrous displays of rapture.
A snow-threatening grey morning in Leamington is just as unlikely a place as any to be caught up in the wave of euphoria, but the collective joy and emotion coming out of this Sunday service is astounding.
Leamington Life Community Church is small and full. Its single room is as plain as a church could be while still remaining a church; there’s no altar, no icons, no vestments, not even (from my seat at least) any cross. But there ARE people. All walks of life and all backgrounds. And they are all ready to give it up for the music, the moment, each other and the Lord.
There’s not just a welcome for me, there’s a welcome pack complete with water and tissues - energy and tears aplenty were in evidence although, perhaps fortunately, not mine.
The service starts with half an hour of pulsating rock-driven songs of praise from five very talented and very committed musicians. The words are on the wall and all around me the arms are going in the air. This is just like the anthemic portion of a full-scale stadium gig, and - not wishing to look like a junior Tory minister on a Commonwealth fact-finding mission - I join in. I’m not quite as overcome with abandonment as those around me - even the power of the Lord would struggle to wipe away fifty-seven years of English self-consciousness. My arms stay downish and I settle into the sort of rhythmic swaying beloved of backing singers at Pink Floyd shows. The music is hugely uplifting and the lyrics very simple, very affirming. All the best crowd songs are like this. Don’t bother teaching the crowd anything complex; keep the message brief, simple and repeat it over and over again. I can still hear them now as I write.
The service itself is positive in the extreme. The Life CC comes from the Pentecostal region of the religious spectrum. The emphasis is not so much on simply praising God (although that’s still a big element) as on experiencing God right here, right now. The lengthy preaching by a visiting Pastor from Somerset (surely God’s country if any existed) eventually works its way round to the central point that it’s God’s presence in this church on this morning that lifts the whole moment above it just being a cracking good gig and a chance to feel vaguely supportive. If God IS in the room today he’s got his work cut out to stay focussed such are the number of hugs, outbursts, prayers and the like aimed in his direction.
The Holy Spirit being metaphorically present in a bottle of oil, the whole congregation comes to the front to be anointed. After that there’s opportunity for anyone sick or troubled (or there on behalf of someone else who is) to come to the stage and feel the touch of God. Only a few of the older, more staid-looking onlookers decline and the scenes of openly emotional hugs and prayers are such that the welcome pack tissues suddenly make sense.
It would be easy to either become lost in this torrent or to be absolutely sidelined by it and resort to satire but one moment during the proceedings stands out for me, providing a perfectly earthy, practical reason for this church being so full. Pastor Dave urges those currently going through a tough time in their life to raise their hand. He then invites the rest of us to place a hand on the troubled soul nearest us while everybody prays or says what they wish by way of support. It’s not unlike the fairly limp handshake and ‘Peace be with you’ in standard communion, only this has real power both as a gesture and a feeling. Looking round the room it’s as if we’ve all formed into a human web with nobody left on their own. It’s impossible not to be moved by such a clear evocation of the wider family all churches profess to represent and it is equally clearly welcomed and valued by those receiving the support.
The sermon spoke of the need for the church to constantly rediscover its purpose. In making those at a low ebb believe there is something, someone manifestly there for them in this world AND from whatever heaven they believe will come, that purpose it about as evident as you could get.