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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

15 April 2011: Peter Belton St. Mary Magdalen Church, Sheet

Church Services

We are so used to the word "service," in relation to "going to church" for one and I felt it might be good just to wonder what it meant. So what are church services?
"Church" is a word which we use to describe a particular building in which Christians meet. It is also a word which is used to describe a group of Christians. Groups can be small, and informal, meeting in buildings other than a "church". It can be a number of groups, meeting in different sorts of buildings, from homes to cathedrals, or out of doors. It can be the description of all Christians world-wide.

What do we mean by "service"? I think this may be a word we lose sight of too easily. A service is usually associated with a beneficial act undertaken by someone for someone else. It can be paid for in some way, or be altruistic, done driven just out of love. Usually the response is one of gratitude or appreciation and commonly draws out an expression of thankfulness or joy from the receiver. You know, when you catch someone's eye and smile, they usually smile back.

In the context of our search, we need to explore the roles and relationships of the main parties involved; in the servant providing the service to the person wanting and waiting for it.

What is a waiter? Someone who facilitates and provides for the needs of a customer. Often the waiter anticipates the needs. He takes the order and brings the food and drink. There is communication between them. There is a communion between them.

So, a church service is more than just a meeting: there is some action going on. As Christians we are the servants of God. We want to express our love for Him, our worship of Him, our trust in Him and our need of Him in our lives. He wants to love us and appreciates our love of Him. As well as the master servant role there is a bond of affection. Our dearest Father longs for us to respond to Him. Don't you just long to catch God's eye! Or if I were God, wouldn't I just long to catch everyone's eye!
The Good Book says that the wages (payment) for our sin is death. (being apart from God's life and blessing)

So, God's response to our love for Him is abundant life, for ever and ever.... (very big words)

God has, of course, solved the problem of our imperfection and separated from Him by it, in the work of Jesus. So, when we go off the rails, we cannot pay for them, but we can rely on what He has already done. Unlike the pawnbroker, He has already paid for (redeemed) our life, even before we have gone adrift.

So, a church service is not to be dull, irrelevant, banal, mundane and life-less. It is to be full of God's life: a place where He is in action, (with even us): where we can expect to see Him, to hear Him and our inner selves be transformed by Him. It is possible to conceive of a place where He loves to be, and takes joy at being with us.
Yes, we will walk again, in the Garden in the cool of the evening, hand in hand with God.

Webmaster's note: This is a slightly longer version of the article scheduled to be published in the Petersfield Herald on Friday 15 April

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