Football should kick off at 3.00 on a Saturday afternoon. Shops should shut at 5.30 six days a week. Pubs should stop serving at 11.00. And the correct time to go to church is 10.30 on a Sunday morning.
The pressures of commerce and television have scuppered the first three of those and it’s been one of the lessons of this pilgrimage that the last one doesn’t apply and never really has.
From Friday Prayers to Thursday afternoon spiritualism, the notion of ‘church on Sunday’ is completely redundant - and always has been in the eyes of the Seventh Day Adventists. Placing their beliefs firmly in the literal teachings of the scripture, it’s a Saturday (Sabbath) for them.
The Mission is a smallish chapel-like building which has been many things during its time. I remember coming here to watch a cracking blues gig back in the early 1980s and I recall the Royal Antediluvian Order of the Buffaloes having the place for a while. It’s now home - as it has been for some time - to a congregation of Seventh Day Adventists, who meet here on Saturdays for Bible study and worship.
Worship at The Mission starts with music from the band with the words on the big screen and moves through communal prayer to a full recounting of the Joseph saga to an audience of one rather bewildered child, before more music and a talk from a guest preacher.
I’m getting slightly more used to these big screens. Not having to balance hymn books, service sheets and books of common prayer on a tiny shelf is a clear bonus, but looking up during the offertory prayers to find the church’s sort code and account number in foot-high writing is arguably still a step too far.
The music is uplifting in theory but I do find these anthemic concoctions can so easily become bland, simplistic and repetitive. Perhaps it’s the noticeable lack of numbers today, or the pre-storm humid weather, but the place is hardly buzzing.
Today’s talk stems from the story of Gideon. After years of living under oppression, injustice and cruelty he appeals to God for help. Visited by the Angel of the Lord and instructed to take some decisive action himself to improve conditions for him and his people he answer with a few polite points. He wants to know why he should be expected to lead the way when he’s not the obvious choice, he wants to know why God has let this situation develop in the first place and he wants some sort of sign as proof that it won’t all go horribly wrong.
Over the course of a not altogether inspiring 40 minute talk we’re invited to agree that Gideon was just throwing up excuses and that he should just have had more faith. We all of us, the speaker repeats at length, just need to trust more and have more faith.
I find this one of the most troubling aspects of religions which rely almost entirely on the literal text of the Bible. Faith, in this expression, seem to mean trusting absolutely and at the same time abrogating any right to ask questions. We are, as humans, a naturally inquisitive species. Our development down the ages has been almost entirely as a result of that constant search for answers. Out greatest achievements, conquests, discoveries and so on have been made because we wanted to challenge our own ignorance. It’s true that some of our worst actions have come from the same desire, but with absolute faith and nothing else, where on earth would we be?
So we’re left with a rather unsatisfactory answer. Whatever awful things happen in your life, don’t waste your time trying to work out any notion of causality or reason, just believe a bit harder. In a way it’s faintly redolent of being told not to be a doomster or gloomster but that Brexit heaven can be achieved just by believing in it enough. I find it as impossible to give any credence to that view and its proponent as I do to any kind of blind religious faith.
To imagine a life without questioning is almost impossible for me, without conjuring up visions of some dystopian, submissive half-existence - and that doesn’t seem to be the case for the people here today. So perhaps they all secretly DO question things but find the answers acceptable. Or perhaps there is something about unquestioning faith which I’m not yet able to grasp. Either way it’s another question for which I think is worth reasoning out an answer, but I don’t truly believe the answer is to be found here.