2015: Advent Religion: Coffee and Fellowship

by on December 4, 2015

There is a ritual.

At the end of the service (which may or may not include Communion just before the end), there will be one last song, one last prayer, and some closing remarks. You may be expected to recite “the Grace”, but that is steering dangerously close to High Church behaviour so you’ll only get it if the pastor is in a tolerant, experimental sort of mood.

You will be invited to join us for tea and coffee in the church hall. If you don’t, you will never be more than a visitor, even if you’ve come every week for a year. You are not part of the church unless you participate in the ritual of fellowship.

It works like this.

Some of the older ladies will have quietly slipped out of the service ten minutes before the end. They will have made several large pots of tea. They may have made jugs of instant coffee, or they may have doled coffee granules out into mugs. They will have made several jugs of squash for the children.

In the church hall, which if properly set up will have a serving hatch through to the church kitchen, and otherwise will have a couple of folding tables, these old ladies will serve tea, coffee, and one biscuit each to the congregation immediately after the service. There may be a few chairs against the walls intended for the elderly members, but for the most part, you will stand around in little huddles, making small talk.

There are not many acceptable topics of conversation. It is not customary to discuss the sermon or theological matters, nor to use this time to organise any practical or compassionate work. The weather, of course, is always permissible, as are polite enquiries into a person’s health, satisfaction at work, and the wellbeing of their family. All these enquiries shall be answered with polite assurances of all being well.

It is, as you will readily perceive, not easy to actually get acquainted with anyone during this fellowship time. There is an active avoidance of meeting each other as people. It is a ritual characterised by crippling politeness.

Here is where a great deal of the posturing over status happens, because this is the only time you’ll ever talk to most of the people in the church. Excellent topics for discussion include:

  • your recent promotion
  • the flourishing trade of your company
  • the heavy responsibility of your position
  • the high academic prospects of your children
  • the high employment prospects of your children
  • the excellent marital prospects of your children
  • your grandchildren, who are all clever and sweet and so like their parents
  • the new house you are considering buying
  • your plans for retiring in style

If you are one of the children, your part in this display is as an accessory. You don’t have any status yourself. It derives solely from your parents. Your accomplishments, even in adulthood, elevate your parents. Your role is to smile, look attentive, answer when spoken to, and possess no discernable opinions.

So why do all this? What is the purpose of all the politeness and posturing? Surely status games are not the intended function of the Fellowship ritual?

Of course not. There’s a whole edifice of theory about what a community is hiding amongst the coffee cups. I’ll talk about it tomorrow.

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