When someone suggested to me that church could be compared to processed food, it was a bit of a jolt – but it also struck a chord.
It struck a chord because all through my childhood and into my teenage, “Church” mostly meant going to a rather cold stone building for a church service, finding one’s seat in a pew, waiting in hushed silence for the service to begin, and only whispering if talking was needed.
And when the service itself started, it followed the same prepared pattern of hymns, prayers, Bible readings, the choir singing a song or two perhaps, and a brief homily or sermon by the resident vicar. Our only involvement in the proceedings was to follow along.
Which is where the comparison with processed food came in. Because in pre-packaged processed food all the work has been done already too. It’s all been prepared ahead of time and put in a container, and all you have to do – as your part in the process – is follow the instructions on the package.
So, yes, I suppose church can be compared to processed food, when it’s a pre-packaged denominational set of beliefs you just go along with, and you sit in a service with a pre-packaged format each week, and you’re accepting the pre-packaged rituals, traditions and interpretations of Scripture handed down from the fourth century, or the Reformation, or from whoever leads or founded one’s church.
But I never questioned it, because it was comforting. If I faithfully followed the routine and requirements of my church, I felt I was on firm ground. A tad boring some of it could be but I’d done my church bit, so I didn’t need to do anything else, like think for myself, or worry if something didn’t make sense. Just “do the package” and all would be well.
I’ve realized since, however, that church, like science, evolves. It discards the out-of-date, the meaningless and irrelevant, and invites critical thinking, as in Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, as a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15.
In other words, do some thinking for ourselves too. Pre-packaged processed food has its good side, like having something tucked away to fall back on when too tired to prepare a meal from scratch. But doesn’t the joy of cooking come from putting something really good and healthy together from what you’ve studied and learnt about food yourself?