Johnmas is a feast day in the Catholic Tradition – among others. The forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist was a miraculous birth, according to Luke, and one to be celebrated. It is celebrated on the 24th June – half a year away from Christmas Eve – the furthest possible point from Christmas Day. I drove up to London today to go to mass in Bethnal Green.
Those great big dark churches you get in London, with the pillars at the front where the homeless people sleep. I’ve done Factory shows in so many of them now that they all blend into one. “Don’t go up on the balcony!” Was I murdered in this church once by being pulled off my tricycle? Did somebody do a famous speech from the lectern?
The Church of St John in Bethnal Green is suitably odd. The crypt is full of weird art. The church itself is doing the thing that urban churches do – giving a degree of spiritual comfort to the ever dwindling faithful of Bethnal Green.
It’s so easy and so lazy to slag off the institution of the church. They believe in something unprovable. They were incredibly powerful for centuries and own huge swathes of land. But in my experience, the church is individuals trying to raise the vibrations of their communities, and I think it’s ok… The people at this building seem to be earnestly trying to provide a happy place psychologically and literally for the people in their area. I think it would be for our benefit for the institution of the church to have power over the state again – anything to bring Bojo and his cronies down a peg or two. We need the person that drops a dead bird in Boris’s path, or dances outside parliament with a golden sickle and a goose, or refuses to give communion to Michael Gove or tells Bojo he can’t get divorced or what have you. Religion is about symbols and symbols can be incredibly galvanising in the right context. We are getting more and more complacent. It needs shaking. “Beware the Ides of March!”
Anyway, I was at church to celebrate 20 years of my old schoolfriend being a man of the cloth. 20 years he’s been dressing up in silly clothes and very seriously doing silly things in front of an audience. We both have. He’s been doing it more predictably but he usually has had to deliver the same lines and the audience aren’t paying. He’s definitely learnt his lines by now. It was lovely to watch him work.
I might have gone the same way, and taken the cloth. There was a time when I closely considered it. My faith still exists but it is shattered into a million faiths now. Still, it’s a calling I understand – to make a ritual, to share it with anybody, to bring in as many senses as possible, to honour communication, to connect with the ancients, to bring strangers together.
We weren’t allowed to sing in the congregation. One brilliant unfortunate woman sang all the tunes for us at the front as the pianist tried to get it banged out and the drummer hit stuff. We couldn’t bellow along and listen to nobody but ourselves. We just stood there and watched and listened and very occasionally clapped in rhythm – (this ain’t high church). Group songs are not solo performance pieces and these more recent worship songs are exposed when sung solo. She did well but she must’ve felt exhausted. It was vulnerable work singing like that for ages. I had a great time though – I was singing along in my head. I ate my flesh-wafer – and was sad to miss the wine, but it’s the same on Camino – you have to watch the guy neck it for fear of contagion.
I’m absolved of all my sin now apart from what I’ve done since the wafer and it’s only been a few hours. That being the case, why is my bed full of spiders?