Spirituality

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Introduction

I've been thinking about 'spirituality' and new age a lot recently. There seems to be quite a lot of new age interest in our village. There's the 'David Andrew Sanctuary', which meets every Sunday evening in the village hall. I'm not really sure what they do but it seems to include some clairvoyance, mediumship and other stuff. Then there are the weekly classes in clairvoyance, readings, et al at one of the chalet parks here and there are also occasional clairvoyance evenings as, for instance, a fundraiser for the playgroup.
You could see all this as an evil perversion (and in some ways I must admit that I do) but Paul's approach in Athens seems more authentic and missional ("I see you are in every way very religious" he said after being shocked at the number of idols) . So I prefer to think of new age stuff as an attempt to walk the same journey as I am walking; as a sign of a longing for meaning and an apprehension of the divine.
The really sad thing is that they do not see the church as having a role to play in their journey. In part it's because we do not speak their language (and I don't just mean words; we don't use their symbols or rituals). In part it's because we don't listen or try to get alongside.

An experiment

My thoughts about needing to do something to start making contact with those who are seeking but not looking at church came to an action point when, on the Wednesday before the 2004 village fete a woman phoned asking to have a stall for her tarot readings.
 This suddenly triggered a passion in me: we, the church, must have a presence too. Remarkably, I had three clear days ahead of me with little other work to do; the opportunity seemed heaven-sent. I decided to have a "St Andrew's Chill Out Tent", not as an evangelistic opportunity but simply as a marker; an attempt to say that we know something about spirituality, too.
I managed to get hold of a tent, about 18' by 12', and designed four areas or 'stations' to go in it:
The tent was decorated with a series of bible texts on suitable images and music played in the background - Arvo Part, Gregorian Chant, and so on.

Resources

Around the tent I put up a number of quotations from the Bible.
The tent was laid out as per this plan.
I also put together a checklist of the things I needed.

Outcome

I wish I could say it was a huge success but it poured with rain all afternoon and very few people went to the fete. But it had some effect - a few visitors entered and lingered and at least one church member was put off because she thought it was a new age thing! One man hovered outside the tent for about two or three minutes before deciding not to enter and a couple of women spent some time at the prayer and meditation stations.

Reflections

Two things were against it: firstly, it was put together in a hurry and more importantly, it poured with rain for the whole afternoon while the fete was happening.
This latter fact meant that a lot of church people used the tent as a shelter and for a time it became a sort of base for the fete organisers (mainly because my wife, Shirleyanne, was one of the key organisers). Other church members wandered in for a chat. This had the effect of making the tent a place of busyness rather than peace. Largely this was because I had no time to tell church people about the tent or its aims, so they came in.
In fact, I’m not sure that there should have been anyone in the tent at all. I had this notion that I would sit quietly in the tent, meditating, and that this would model an atmosphere for any visitors. Perhaps one or two might want to talk; if so, I would engage with them. If not, I’d just sit still. But maybe my presence was both an attractor to church people to come and chat and an inhibitor to non-church people.
I was also concerned that the tent was too large but this led me to prepare four ‘stations’ and the end effect was that it was actually a little too cluttered. I don’t know if this mattered but I was aware that the forgiveness station (inviting you to put a stone into a bowl of water if you wished to put away something that you regretted) was rather exposed if there was anyone else in the tent. In addition I had to put two stations (prayer & meditation) on the same table which was not ideal.
Finally, a practicality. Because it poured with rain non-stop and the wind got up from time to time some of my cards got wet and the ink ran. A laminator (which I’ve now ordered) would have been a great help.
And—was it worth doing? Yes, it was. If nothing else I learned a lot. But I do believe that it was some kind of a marker; unashamedly Christian but in a manner which many would not associate with the church. It was a start, a small one perhaps, but a start nonetheless.