Their original building dates from 1968 but the congregation have outgrown it. A new church is being built but is not quite ready for occupancy yet, so we met in the old church. Inside, it is mauve concrete with mauve upholstered chairs, a painting of the crucifixion above the altar, and seven candlesticks.
The Christian Community dates back to the 1920s, and the first congregation in London was founded in 1929. They are closely associated with anthroposophy, a movement founded by the 19th century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner that postulates the existence of an intellectually discoverable spiritual world parallel to the physical world. Schools based on Steiner’s beliefs, known as Waldorf schools, flourish in several places. The Steiner community is very active in Stroud, with St Luke's Therapy Centre next door to the church, Ruskin College close by, Hawkwood bio-dynamic farm, numerous Camphill Villages in the country round that minister to those with special needs, and a café. The Christian Community claims to be the only church whose priests embrace the concepts of anthroposophy. They believe that the seven sacraments and the gospels are the basis for modern Christian theology. They do not, however, adhere to creeds or behavioural codes, but rather encourage members to form independent judgements. Their worship service is called ‘Act of Consecration of Man’ and they appear to follow the standard church calendar, celebrating all the traditional holidays. The Stroud congregation carries on a number of activities including an earth group, finance group, and cultural affairs group, to name only three.
Stroud, in Gloucestershire, is at the western edge of the highly scenic Cotswold Hills. An important textile centre during the Industrial Revolution, Stroud is known today as a community with strong artistic proclivities. The town was one of the birthplaces of the organic food movement and was home to Britain's first fully organic café. There are numerous historic buildings and places of interest. The old mill district has been redeveloped as housing. The River Frome runs through town, and there are plans to restore the canal.
There were three in the altar party: one man and two women. The central one (female) was the priest. I am calling the other two acolytes for want of a more accurate description.
What was the name of the service?The Act of Consecration of Man.
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes – with a silent gesture. The service starts with silence.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – padded chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Let us worthily fulfill the act of consecration of man.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. There was a sheet of photocopied hand-written music.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I am a stranger to this service, so I don't know what would count as a distraction.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a solemn ritual: candles, incense, much putting on and taking off of garments, etc. Anyone familiar with solemn high mass would feel right at home. There was repetition of a threefold blessing: ‘The Father God be in us; the Son God create in us; the Spirit God enlighten us.’ The congregation went through a veritable litany of hand gestures. We stood for the gospel reading; otherwise we sat throughout. The priest in the middle (female) turned often to face the congregation with the words 'Christ in you,' to which the male acolyte replied, ‘And may he fill your spirit.’ There was a short sermon and incidental piano music.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — The preacher was clear and sincere.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Her text was the gospel reading: Matthew 7:1-5 (the parable of the mote and the beam). The Christian message should be radical – astounding, like spring. Does spring still astound you? If it doesn't, try taking the splinter out of your eye.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The ritual, the incense, the exhortation ‘Christ in you.’
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The building was depressing, though I greatly enjoyed climbing down a scaffold to get there. I fear there will be a new landscape to go with the new building.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing much. Everyone was busy – not unfriendly, but anthroposophists have their own world, which I make little effort to penetrate.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
In a word – horrible!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — I want to see the new building.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The question didn't arise.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?