Saturday, 14 May 2011

Pubs, church and music

I suspect it's a little known fact among non-believers, but there are some churches in this country - and have been probably for the last 30 years or so - who don't have their own buildings and instead hold their meetings in pubs.

I suspect this sounds like a strange idea to many non-religious and also perhaps to many over-religious people, but to me it sounds like the perfect combination. Pubs are where people go to hang out and a good pub takes advantage of and helps to foster a sense of community. For many people in today's much less religious society, I think the pub has perhaps replaced the church as the community focal point - but I see no reason why the two can't work together.

Many people seem to feel however, that alcohol and church shouldn't really mix - as if the one is somehow disrespectful to the other (or perhaps vice versa!). While alcohol is certainly frowned on by some more conservative Christian groups, this is usually because such movements have their historical roots in periods of social excess, often involving widespread alcoholism. The Christian faith itself is not intrinsically anti-alcohol - there is even a Psalm in the Bible praising God for "wine that gladdens human hearts"! (Psalm 104:16) - although the Bible is quite strongly against drunkenness (e.g. Proverbs 23:29-35Ephesians 5:18). Personally, I'm a lover of good beer, but I do try to drink in moderation.  At a recent beer festival, I met a guy wearing a T-shirt which said, "Love God, Love people, Love beer", which I thought was a pretty good summary! (although perhaps open to some misinterpretation!)

Last night I went to a gig at the Brudenell Social Club, just around the corner from where I live. Not strictly a pub perhaps, but certainly very similar. It has a bar in any case, and the atmosphere was very similar to other pub gigs I've been to - although the venue was perhaps a little larger.

I was struck on this occasion - as I often have been on similar occasions in the past - by how spiritual music is and how intensely spiritual an experience a good gig can sometimes be. For me, on a spiritual level, it's the only thing that comes close to a good session spent worshipping God with other believers! As I sometimes have been in the past however, I felt a little flummoxed by this. These people aren't worshipping anything and yet somehow the music is capturing and giving expression to something of their humanity - something of their spirituality - which is enabling those present to be caught up in the shared experience. I wasn't sure where this experience was going but it felt like a corporate reaching out to something - someone? - as yet perhaps unknown or poorly understood by those present. This is another aspect of modern culture - the gig (pub or otherwise) - which seems to me to have replaced the church in many people's lives.

This gig wasn't quite like my normal experience of worship though. In worship there is a similar sense of reaching out, but also - usually, for me at least - a very real sense of connection with the one we're reaching out to. The gig felt more like a very poignant sense of connection with one another, and a deep expression of our shared experience, but for me there was also what felt like a deep sense of melancholy that there was ultimately nowhere else for it to go.

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