I've chosen to come here partly as a consequence of browsing church websites - something of a regular time-filler for me these days. Very handy for checking service times and trying to get a feel for a place you've never been before. Most churches seem to have them and you can tell a lot about how a church wants to be viewed by the pictures displayed and the language used.
The website for this church reads more like the prospectus of a thrusting new business than a square towered church in the quiet countryside. Here's a taster of the church's message and its style of communication: "Our mission is: to raise a church of prayerful, passionate, missionary disciples of Jesus, empowered to serve God’s plan to renew the whole of creation. Our patterns of corporate worship are shaped to seek and glorify God and encourage, equip and empower us in his mission. The gathered church is the “powerhouse” that resources us in mission and is the place of inspiration and refreshment. This means we seek to ensure the following emphases are present through the ministry of Word and Spirit when we come together to worship as a gathered community."
Powerful stuff indeed. The theme of this morning's informal worship though is more homely and domestic than commercial and businesslike: We're to focus on the family - our own family, the church family and God's chosen family.
As seems to be the case in many churches these days there's a big projector screen. Some of the time this is displaying the words to a series of simple but catchy songs which are clearly popular with a very wide-ranging congregation.
But the big screen also plays a part when this morning's talk commences. Having sat through a few meetings in my time, I never really warmed to the Power Point presentation. A few key words under a fairly arbitrary heading usually serve to distract rather than focus, in my opinion. There is a danger it can all become a bit 'team-building', a bit 'on-message'. There is also a danger that presenting in this meeting-like fashion can lead to overstatement and repetition. At more than an hour and a half and with three people effectively covering the same ground, there's certainly scope for that this morning.
We look at the bible passage in which Jesus, when told his mother and family are outside, tells the assembled that anyone who follows him is in essence his mother or brother and therefore of equal importance. To say a perfect stranger can have equal standing in your eyes as your own mother or brother is taken to be quite shocking. But I've never really felt that. Not these days anyway.
Outside Eastenders and The Sopranos it's a moot point as to whether unswerving family loyalty still carries the weight it once did. We live in an age of complex, almost accidental non-nuclear families. You have only to look at the hierarchy of loyalty in any inner city gang, ambitious start-up business or - dare I say it - religious group. The notion of the husband, wife and two children 'perfect' modular family is, I would say, so outdated to be positively redundant so Jesus' words have arguably lost any real power to shock.
There are many different loyalties within our modern families - whether actual or metaphorical - and we seem to cope with that without too much trouble. Heaven knows what the unstoppable tide of social media and online friendship have done to make our relationships with those a round us even more complex and nuanced: Even less archetypal. Families have confusing structures made up of very varied characters. All families have people whose views we respect and some whose presence and utterances we tolerate while secretly wishing they'd keep quiet. If it proves anything, then this lengthy family chat certainly proves that.
If all this sounds a bit negative then it isn't supposed to be. We just happen to live in the societal structure that we do taking the rough with the smooth. The group whose members all agree absolutely with each other on every point simply doesn't exist. We don't all have to like the same things. We couldn't. Yet we get along, bestowing loyalty, respect and harmony for the good of doing just that. Families are like that.