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  1148: One With Grace, Wilmington, Dartford, Kent, England

Read this report | Other comments

18 January 2006

I have attended One With Grace (OWG), Dartford, with my family for some five months on a regular if somewhat sporadic basis. I am also a great fan of Ship of Fools, and particularly the Mystery Worshipper section. I hope you are as courageous in your receipt of a critique as you are to give it out.

OWG is a relatively new church with a relatively new leadership. Having been to a church for 20 years with an established leadership I am now able to reflect on the pros and cons of both models, and they are many and varied.

Your review made me laugh out loud. Some things were spot on – your observation about the word "awesome" is one of them. I tear my hair out at the overuse and misuse of the word, which is not limited to OWG, of course. The notion that we at OWG are not "religious", unlike other churches (something that is often quoted), is of course a fatuous one, and your thoughts on controlling behaviour are perhaps worthy of reflection.

You are also correct in your observation that national or international issues are for the most part "off the radar for OWG". The church also falls into the trap in my judgment of thinking that "because I enjoy and like it, people who don't must be mad or bad". There is a sense that the brand is paramount, rather than celebrating the genuine diversity of humanity and Christendom.

You were also wrong on many things.

OWG is committed to local issues in as strong a way as it is weak on the more global issues. A house converted for young women in need of care, love and pampering, may over time need to define its goals more effectively, but demonstrates a practical commitment to the locality. The same is true of 2,000 Christmas packs for local people, plus 200 turkeys. I am convinced that this is done from a genuine basis of care, as opposed to a "way to win", as it were.

I am sorry the Mystery Worshipper couldn't get to the car for the abundance of teenagers. We quite like that, particularly as most of the church is suffering from a lingering slow death due to a lack of young people. Most of our young people do not originate from church families, but rather are linked to the excellent theatre and arts group run by the church. Oh, that's another thing that I like at OWG. Quality is not seen as a dirty word. We like to do things properly. That is a refreshing change from the poverty of imagination and aspiration found in much of Christendom.

You may hate noisy worship. Some people love it, me included. There is a Wednesday meeting with more time for reflection and suchlke, so it does happen, but I have a feeling that the Mystery Worshipper is demonstrating their middle-class value system, rather than any spiritual maturity. Incidentally, my 10 year-old loves noisy music, we love it together. It is a cultural difference rather than a spiritual one. Some people find it a bit odd to go to a church where the male leaders wear gold and red dresses, and speak in 19th century English in the accent of the queen; others don't like loud music and "Jesus is my girlfriend" songs. That's diversity for you.

One of the clinchers for me when thinking where to attend was the following. I don't suppose the leaders would ever say this, but the fact that they put all of their worldly possessions, including their house, on the line to launch the church challenged me greatly. You see I am a liberal-ish, lefty Christian who can talk about all the issues in a way I suspect your Mystery Worshipper would love. However, I have yet to sell all my possessions and give them to the poor, as was once suggested by a friend of mine. Richard and Wendy have. That gives them some credibility in my view.

In summary, this is a new church with its own wrinkles, absurdities, idiosycrasies, joys, pains, rubbish, success and failures. I don't agree with all its theological positions, but it is not in major error. The leaders and congregation are passionate about their faith, and as we journey together, I expect we will mature and develop.

Dave Ball
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