Have you ever read Dracula? It’s a story everyone’s familiar with. We all know about the vampire’s bite, the Transylvanian castle, the flowing cloak, the stake through the heart and so on - we’ve seen it in countless films and lampooned in comedy sketches and TV adverts. But have you actually read it?
I only ask because I have, and it’s a brilliant book. Twice as scary as any film and full of bits most filmmakers opt to leave out. Sometimes, it seems, we’re happy just to know the gist of the story without feeling the need to dig any deeper or consult the original.
These thoughts are in my head because I’m visiting Coventry’s Christadelphians this morning and when it comes to reading the Bible, they have an essential connection with the original far more diligent than many. The Bible contains the word of God and, for this congregation, offers everything you need to live and to understand what’s important. Read it, read it again, study it and then study it again, appears to be the way to go.
The Christadelphian Hall in Grosvenor Road is another church which falls into the over-stuffed category of ‘places I’ve walked past a thousand times but never gone inside’. It’s a modern hall, clean and light inside and there’s a very healthy gathering for this ‘breaking of bread’ service. The welcome is essentially warm - as it remains throughout - but my arrival is met by quite a few suspicious questions.
But there are handshakes too and a bit of welcome help when it comes to finding passages in the bible - listening to the readings is,it becomes apparent, not the full picture. You have to read the words and see for yourself every reference. It’s a very studious, slightly introspective approach but, I should note, that the congregation also produce the best hymn singing I’ve heard for a long while so it’s not all kept inside.
Today’s parables include the story of the prodigal son. It’s one I think I’m familiar with but a complete, deliberate reading acquaints me with details I didn’t know. Whether ‘going back to the original words’ allows me to understand more in this case is a moot point. It is a parable after all and its meaning is to some extent metaphorical rather than relying on exact literal details. Once you’ve grasped the meaning and the underlying thrust of a parable, you may, I suspect, have taken all you can. But this morning is a clear example of how the strong Bible-based church works.
In keeping with this almost library like, forensic approach to the Bible’s historic text, there is a studious feel to the whole morning. There are lengthy silences throughout the service, and a quiet way of going about things.
The breaking of bread part of the service is not available to those not baptised in the Christadelphian church - how different from last week at Ashow when I was invited to join in regardless of faith and previous commitment. But that’s just the way things are and this church is very serious when it comes to looking after its own members. Perhaps that’s why my standard enquiry about taking pictures after the service was politely but firmly turned down.
The Christadelphians are a tight brotherhood and perhaps a little inward-looking. All the prayers offered this morning are for members of the church and the exhortation given is a call to everyone to reaffirm their commitment to the church and its beliefs and practices. There’s very little, if any, by way of urging worshippers to go out and help in the local community.
Knowing a book thoroughly is rewarding and there is value in consistently going back to it to see if any more can be gleaned. But there’s also value in occasionally looking up from that book and seeing what’s going on outside your study window.