It started when I got high from going to a singing class. It made me realise why churches encourage people to sing. It’s because singing, really belting out with other people, makes you high and gives you a feeling of connectedness: perfect if you want people to believe in a higher spirit.
I still don’t believe in a higher spirit, but it made me think about what else churches were good at, things like providing a sense of community, raising money for charity, welcoming all in a show of equality and giving everyone a safe, sacred, peaceful place to reflect. I don’t think I should be denied these things just because I don’t believe in god.
The best thing about churches is that they’re open to all and I think we should all use them, religious or not. So I gave myself a challenge of having a ‘godless pray’, not praying to a god but just using a special building for focussed thought, to slow down and ponder life a little.
To make it into a proper challenge I decided to do a pilgrimage of sorts. I worked out a circular walk route starting from my house and visiting three local churches where I would say a prayer, or at least, my style of prayer. I thought it sounded like a fable: ‘A simple man visited three holy sites. At the first he was turned away by a well-meaning priest. At the second…” etc
The first church was beautiful. St Peter & St Paul Church in Runnington. It appeared to be in someone’s back garden, tucked away down a driveway behind some country houses. Although the church was perfectly quiet and peaceful – something I hadn’t experienced in a while living with a three-year old – I felt awkward and couldn’t concentrate on any kind of prayer.
After another half an hour’s walk I came to church number two: St Peter’s Church in Langford Budville. I still had a feeling that I was trespassing and couldn’t close my eyes for very long without fidgetting. Also I think I’d trodden some shit into the church because a pungent smell was rising from the direction of my boots as I bowed my head slightly while sitting in the pew. I thought I would save myself for church number 3.
Church number 3 was closed. In the interest of naming and shaming it was St Margaret’s in Thorne St Margaret.
The idea behind my godless pray was to spend some time in a quiet, sacred place to think about my life and my family’s lives, to ponder existence maybe or at the very least to make some half-baked judgement about the world in general. But I went out feeling impatient, I impatiently closed my eyes and impatiently stomped round the countryside. A lesson to be learnt I suppose.
To be honest I had more existential thoughts while I was walking through the lovely rolling Somerset hills in between churches. Still: mission accomplished.