A space for all those who believe in God and want to follow Jesus' teachings but who, for whatever reason, struggle with church. I am not dismissing or diminishing the valuable work that churches do, but rather seeking a means to connect and engage in other ways. Here I will share the things that inspire, provoke and challenge my faith, wherever I find them, and I hope that you will join in the conversation...
Nicky started this blog because, despite growing up in a Christian family and currently working as a pioneer minister for the Church of England, she doesn't go to church regularly - and yet her faith in God and commitment to following Jesus continue to grow and strengthen via other means - podcasts, documentaries, books, conversations, dog walks, etc...!
Nicky is 39 and lives in Portsmouth, England with her husband, two children, two cats, one dog and two hamsters!
How the Blog Began...
I woke up at the end of January 2018 with a sudden realisation – an ‘epiphany’ to use churchy language (!) that maybe I could start a blog to share some of my struggles, hopes, observations and experiences in my everyday life as a Christian who doesn’t attend church on a regular basis. My hope is that there may be others out there (I’ve already met quite a few) who find themselves in the same place – who believe in God, who want to follow Jesus’ teachings but who, for a variety of reasons, do not wish to belong to any kind of church denomination – and to start a conversation about what being a Christian might look like in today’s ever-changing world for those who, like me, “don’t do church”…
But first, let me tell you a bit more about me. I’m 39, married and have two children, aged 11 and 9 and live in Portsmouth on the South Coast of England. I grew up in a Christian family and up until my early 20s, went to church regularly – if not every week, then certainly at least once a month or more. And the strange thing is, nothing significant happened in my early 20s that led me to stop attending church regularly - I just gradually began to feel at odds with the whole experience of going ‘to church’. It wasn’t anything to do with how friendly the people were, what the worship or liturgy was like, how formal or informal the service was, how comfy the chairs were, how nice the coffee was, or how inspiring – or not – the sermon was. It didn’t matter. I tried dozens of types of churches in and around the Portsmouth area – and there are a lot – and none of them felt like they ‘fit’.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I know there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect church’ and I understand that a sense of belonging can take a long time to develop. It wasn’t about that. It was something deeper. It was a gradual realisation that I didn’t find that I connected with God during a church service, whether it took place in a church building or not. I found I had a much stronger sense of God’s presence when I went for a walk along the beach or in the countryside or, indeed, if I was in a church building or cathedral outside of the service times. It was as if something about the process of creating a ‘service’ of whatever kind – contemporary or traditional - somehow lost the very connection that it was trying to achieve - with the divine, with the soul, with a sense of mystery, with our creator, with something eternal - and became, for me, an empty, superficial, soulless and dare I say, God-less experience.
It sounds terrible to put it into words, and I am quite anxious about how some people might react to hearing those words, but that’s how it has been for me. Over the years since then I’ve dipped in and out of Christian events and services – some have been better than others – but all have left me feeling the same: flat, empty, frustrated, disconnected. As a family, we tried to re-engage with church when our children were young and did for a while attend Messy Church every month until our children reached junior school age and didn’t want to go along anymore because most of the children there were younger than them. We tried everything and even asked them if they’d like to run an activity but they just weren’t interested – and so we stopped going. A little while later, we started going to a local Café Church but after a few months the vicar left and it came to an end, so we found ourselves without anything we could connect with together as a family.
So here we are, some years on, and still not attending church on a regular basis. And here’s the really strange thing. I don’t miss it. I don’t feel distant from God. I don’t feel a lack of Christian community in my life. I have found that I ‘do Christianity’ differently and that it works. And what’s more, my faith has grown so much more as a result – I now feel closer to God than I ever have and I wonder whether that’s because I’ve had to take responsibility for my own faith journey and for exploring and discovering what it means to live as a Christian without a connection to church.
Now, let me just make it clear right now that I’m not saying we should “throw the baby out with the bath water” and get rid of all our churches! I’m not saying churches are bad or have nothing to offer in today’s society – far from it. I know that many churches do a lot of good work in the community and for many people, church plays a central role in their Christian walk and faith – and that’s great and should be celebrated.
What I am saying though is that for many others, like me, church doesn’t offer that and church doesn’t engage with who we are or how we connect with God. And I would love for this new kind of ‘church-free Christianity’ to be recognised and accepted as an equally valid expression of Christian faith as ‘church-going Christianity’ – not as a lesser or weaker or watered-down version of Christianity. Interestingly, my experience as a pioneer minister, nearly two years into the role, is that there are so many people out there in the same situation. I’ve been surprised in our so-called ‘secular society’ at how many people believe in God but who, for many different reasons, do not engage with church.
So what might this new form of Christianity look like? For us, it’s a whole mixture of different things. We listen to podcasts about faith and philosophy. We watch documentaries about issues of injustice in our world and discuss our views. We go for walks in the countryside and marvel at creation. We read books and blogs about theology and social responsibility and being human. We attend lectures and debates about science and religion. We meet up with other non-churchgoing friends and discuss life, the universe and everything. We go to Greenbelt and experience a wonderful, creative, inclusive, challenging and inspiring Christian faith. We do all sorts and it’s great!
Do you do similar things? Would it help to meet with others going through similar experiences? Let me know what you think – I’d love to hear your views!!