So many church services in our Reformed tradition can be wordy, busy, one sided (in that the worship leader gets all the stuff to do and most of the congregation remain as passive receptors) and packed with information that the preacher feels is urgent to impart. No matter how worthy that information might be, I have long been of the view that, just as education is about bringing things out of people as much as it is putting things into them, so it should be the same with worship. I love preaching and I love words, but I have come to discover the value of silence too.
Sacred spaces, art, music, stillness, quiet companionship that might not involve any words at all can all help to bring things out of us. We might discover with some surprise the meaning of these words of the Lord first uttered through Jeremiah, “I have put my law in their inward parts and written it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31: 33) The interior journey and the discovery of just what complex and magnificent beings people made in the image of God are is as significant an insight as anything a preacher or evangelist might say in a well-crafted sermon or liturgy.
One of my brothers once asked my why there was no place in the church for people like himself, what he called “sympathetic non-adherents”. He was expressing a view that he was on a spiritual search and that for him the habits, language and assumptions of the believing community were leaving him behind. The vast majority of our population now do not attend church on a Sunday but a majority of those same people would still profess a spirituality.
Nitekirk honours the traditions of the church’s worship and the atmosphere of our sacred spaces, but it also breaks a mould giving people the opportunity to go at their own pace, to explore and participate or not as the mood, or indeed the spirit, takes them. There is time to talk or to keep silence, time to move or be still, time to wait, knowing that God’s meaning so often comes to us in the waiting rather than in frantic activism.
Having worked as a minister for many years with people who inhabit the margins of society and the fringes of the church, I have come to understand that the church exists for those outside it as much as for the people at the centre. I have also discovered again and again that Christ comes to us as a stranger or outsider (just think of the story of the Road to Emmaus – St Luke 24: 13 – 35) and that sometimes we meet Christ risen when we anticipate gifts and blessings from unlikely places and people. So, for me, Nitekirk, is a beautiful expression of the idea that we do not take Christ with us, rather we meet him when we discover the truth that he is already ahead of us, waiting to meet us and welcome us when we have an open heart. Indeed, he is in us. Where sometimes the church at worship, with all its noble habits and language can alienate some people who for all sorts of reasons cannot quite connect, Nitekirk creates a hospitable space where people can take a step on the journey back into the heart of God.