Sunday, 16 June 2013

Central: Jesus at the Heart

Morning gathering, 10.30am, Sunday 15 June 2013
Led by: Kirsty (with no apparent surname)
Preacher: Kay Cathcart

What you’re about to read isn’t positive, so I’ll start with a caveat. I was in an irritable mood today, what with the traffic and the road closures and the slow service in the coffee shop and the looming deadlines and trying to juggle too many commissions at once … but hey, what harm could it do to throw one more task into the mix? I’d managed to stick to my plan almost every Sunday this year, and it would only be for an hour, right?

Wrong, because the whole bally show went on for an hour and three-quarters. Strike 1. Then there was the awful modern praise music, my thoughts on which I’ve expounded before. Strike 2, although the lead singer did have a cracking voice, but why she wastes it on this banal drivel is beyond me. Oh yes, and she said Hayellula, instead of Hallelujah, but let’s call that a slip of the tongue.

I found myself playing a little game of "spot the liturgical and/or scriptural source or inspiration" to get me through the worst of the music. Some of it’s easy … There is no one like our God, and the new-to-me Noah built the most enormous boat (with actions), but some of it less easy to pin down, such as Waiting here for you, a dirge I also encountered at the Elim church and which contains the bizarre lyric, “we’re desperate for your presence”. Why be desperate for the presence of an omnipresent deity?

Apart from that, I wrote a shopping list and wondered whether to patronise Waitrose or Morrison's (Morrison's won), and I amused myself by admiring the stained glass windows and wondering what the organ must have sounded like when the place still belonged to the Methodists and they still played it. Easily the biggest of the unplayed organs seen so far this year, now its majestic pipes are a mere backdrop for Miss Hayellula and the Sound Systems.

Okay, so that was strike 2. Were the boisterous kids strike 3? Not quite, because they left after a little while to go to their “kids and youth programmes”, held variously in rooms called Lewis, Skye, Islay, Jura, Harris and Room 10. Could they really not think of another Hebridean island?

No, strike 3 was the sermon, given by a woman with the most grating voice I’ve ever heard. It’s something about the accent, the misplacement of certain vowels on the resonator scale … I was already irritable, but I found myself gritting my teeth every time she said “peepul”, which was often, because she spoke for an unconscionably long time. Yes, that was strike 3.

What was she on about? Well, she said she would be “digging around in 2 Corinthians 10”, and so she waffled on about St Paul being gentle with “peepul” but strong against the enemy, and about how we should be consistent … with a little detour around social networking and how she didn’t like the look of the bulldog-type sheep (Beltex is my guess, and they were splendid specimens too) we’d seen in a video about the Happy Hens farm mission project supported by the church.

But at long last the sermon was all over, and all that remained was for her to pray, inviting those who felt they needed particular categories of prayer to stand up at the appropriate times (it’s all right, “peepul” will have their eyes closed). In particular she prayed for those who feel a critical spirit rising up in them, that their hearts may be softened … and for those who cling to the negative, remembering little irritating things and forgetting to see the big picture. Guilty … and guilty. But I didn’t stand up.

I haven’t been so glad to get out of a church since the deeply unpleasant Tridentine mass at St Margaret's and St Leonard's. What was it that irked me so? Could it really have been just the music, or just Mrs Cathcart’s voice? At any rate, I’ve had a bellyful of that kind of worship format, so I’ll be consciously avoiding any churches that go in for it from now on.

Ah! No, wait. Is there such a thing as strike 4? Because I’ve just remembered possibly the most irritating thing of all. The description of God, on father’s day, as “the dad of all dads”. Yeuch! Why does that set my teeth on edge? After all, there’s no one like our God, no one like our father, etc, etc. And yet … and yet … I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. As I said, I was in an especially irritable mood today. 


  1. This sounds a bit like the whole "father heart of God" thing thatis big in baptist churches at the moment. See

    It comes under the "spiritual intimacy" category of creepiness. I know someone who is really into it and keeps talking about "daddy" - which always reminds me of Matty in House of Cards.

  2. I hadn't been aware of this aspect of contemporary evangelism until now, so thanks for enlightening me. Creepiness is right! The ickle-wickle baby Jesus is one level of cloying sweetness, but a Divine Daddy who wants you to sit on his knee just boggles the mind. But I'll give them credit for the comprehensive range of languages in which they provide the "Father's Love Letter" including Gaelic (Suas leatha!), which I note is provided by a minister and fine writer of my acquaintance. Gosh, Scotland just gets smaller at every turn.

  3. When they talk about "heart" its not the organ that pumps blood round the body. They really mean "mind" - when they talk about helaing from past events. My own experience of this with family members has been that they do a sort of auditing process trying to uncover traumas and getting them "dealt with" as they are a blockage to the persons spiritual development.

    When i came across this it was also linked closely to "accountability" which was a little bit like catholic confession and quite power based.

    In all it added up to something akin to Dianetic auditing, but without the meter:

  4. That's really quite sinister.

  5. The Father Heart of God thing has a fairly broad appeal just now and has a following not just in numerous Baptist churches, but in Anglican and Pentecostal circles, and in all probability, the odd Church of Scotland too. Like just about anything else, chances are the theme is being championed by the good, the bad and the ugly.

    Years ago when I first heard this message by a visiting preacher, the Scots in me squirmed, and I wasn't impressed. "A North American fad, exported to the gullible" probably summed up my dismissive response. Since then things have turned completely on their head for me. God's love has changed me - of that I'm sure.

    I don't think the idea that God is able to immensely change us when we encounter some kind of personal, revealed understanding of his love is a new phenomenon either - who can sing William Rees' wonderful "Here is Love vast as the ocean" and not ponder what brought him to the point of writing the moving words which he did a century or more ago.

  6. Hi Soul Searcher! My name's Thomas, I work at Central and plan all the Sunday stuff we do here. It was really interesting to read your comments. One point you made is something I've been thinking about a lot
    'Why be desperate for the presence of an omnipresent deity?' - we could definitely be clearer about this.
    I did think you were quite mean about the speaker, you didn't constructively critique what she said very effectively, just commented on her voice, that's a bit too easy for me...

    Anyway, glad you came along and glad some of the themes of who we are (focused on different things outside of the church walls, believing that we are loved by our Heavenly Father) featured prominently. We know that our worship style isn't for everyone, and that's ok. If you ever want to meet up and chat about all your experiences I'd be fascinated. Thanks.

  7. Hi, Thomas, and thanks for your comment. Yes, I was a bit mean, I'll admit, but then again, I don't promise to summarise or critique every preacher on the same criteria, and if Ms Cathcart ever feels the need to take a pop at me for my silly voice or poor oratory, I'm big and ugly enough to take it.

    The blog posts are always as much about about my impressions of the service, the building, the music, the funny hats, etc. as about the sermon, and if something distracts me, such as the guy at Bellevue constantly licking his lips or Ms Cathcart's vocal peculiarities, it can be difficult to ignore. And if it's distracting me, it must be distracting others too. Whatever it is, it gets in the way of delivering the message.

    Re desperation for an omnipresent deity, I do understand the sentiment, but it's a lyric that jumps out at you because of the contradiction. To say "we're desperate for some sign that confirms your presence" wouldn't scan, of course, but presumably that's what we're supposed to be waiting for. And maybe it reveals something else ... that even the most faithful can't "feel" God's presence.

    I might take you up on the chat offer too.

  8. Alan, re your comment above (and sorry for not replying before), I know what you mean about the Scottish cringe in the face of gushing sentiment. Even with the benefit of a little hindsight since visiting Central, my own reaction to the God/Daddy thing, apart from the sugar-coated yeuch factor, is that it just doesn't seem respectful enough ... like a primary pupil calling the headteacher by his/her first name. There's something to be said for deference in certain relationships.

    1. Thanks SS. I'm cautious about replacing 'Father' with 'Daddy'. It has probably come from an interpretation of 'Abba' which was used several times in the NT, but I don't feel qualified to know whether the use of 'Abba' was to be thought of as 'Daddy' by later readers. I suspect the hearer at the time wouldn't have heard it that way, but then again, I can't say that with any authority. Maybe I should do a bit of research on that.

      In saying that, I have come to a place of accepting my relationship with Father God in terms that are far closer - perhaps even more tender - than I might have previously considered possible. It makes perfect sense to me now. I do feel like a grown up, thankful for knowing God's Father-ness in a way that I didn't actually understand before - and with a certain trust and security that I suppose a child might feel if they've got brilliant a mum and dad.

      Here's a thought - the person that came with the original sermon that I squirmed at said (as I recall it) that 'the idea of the Fatherheart of God isn't another book on the shelf - it's the shelf itself that all the other books sit on.'