|219: Cyberfeminist Eucharist, Greenbelt Festival, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Space Cat.
The church: Cyberfeminist Eucharist, Greenbelt Festival, England.
Denomination: Alternative worship.
The building: We met in a small, darkened room allocated for experimental worship, as part of the annual Greenbelt Christian arts festival, 2000.
The neighbourhood: The room was in one of a number of white concrete buildings that surround Cheltenham Race Course the venue for this year's festival. Outside was a room full of mockups of winning colours listed by the names of their winning horses.
The cast: Alex Gowing-Cumber, who is a chaplain to Goths and alternative music venues, apparently.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 50 people in the room, which was about right and left room for stretching your legs out.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A steward handed me the service sheet and I was recognised by some people in the room, who invited me to sit with them.
Was your pew comfortable?
We were sitting on the floor, mostly, although those who needed or wanted them had chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly buzzing. People were there because they were curious and there was discussion of what a cyberfeminist eucharist might be anyway. The background music was ambient.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Evening and thank you for coming." This was followed by an explanation that it was OK to just sit back and think rather than join in if we weren't comfortable with what the service did or said. We were also given permission to get angry at the end if we wanted to.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed service sheet with the liturgy on it.
What musical instruments were played?
There were no live instruments. The music was from CDs, mostly electronic music and a fantastic sample from Bad Girl by DJ Rap: "Don't you know bad girls go to hell?"
Did anything distract you?
The centre of the room was filled with objects representing both nature and technology and things worthy of celebration from both. There was a half-naked PC (with its motherboard and drives visible), apples, razors, massage oil, cans of Red Bull and many other things. We were invited to go and look at the pile of objects and reflect on them. As we went up I thought, "there had better be tampons or I'll be disappointed" and there were, so I was happy. The distracting bit? Watching a bloke pick up a tampon, realize what it was and put it down hurriedly. In the middle of that service was not the time to recall that men find the workings of my body disturbing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was angry. The confessions included: "The body is free... yet frequently imprisoned, the body screams silently... yet finds itself aborted." It was reconciliatory, attempting a healing with God in words which would mean most to a cyberfeminist. We acknowledged that "nature is broken, the Word was broken, the body is broken," and looked for hope.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes. But it wasn't a sermon the service began with an explanation of what led the male chaplain who led worship to produce a cyberfeminist eucharist.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 the score reflects the fact this wasn't a sermon so much as a setting into context and assuaging of fears about the service.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Cyberfeminists (who feel that technology and the androgony of the Internet will bring the next big gender change) are often disenfranchised from Church by the patriachy it embodies. This service is a way to reconciliation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to the male service leader say, "I want to apologise, to confess the sins of the patriachy... to seek God's forgiveness."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Gospel: which wasn't actually the Gospel, but a cyberfeminist reworking of the Christ story into a sci-fi allegory. A few moments of it were thought-provoking, but mostly it left me cold.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It didn't happen. When the service had ended we were invited to discuss in groups what we liked and hated about the service. Impassioned discussion followed of whether it was right that a man could lead a cyberfeminist service and whether the image of the androgynous cyborg was one of hope or oppression (of disabled women). There was also discussion of whether the cyborg created a theological problem in creating a perfect, integrated body, without watiing for God's resurrection body.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee. I was tempted to down the rest of the can of Red Bull (must... have... caffeine) but resisted.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 this wasn't a service that had every-week possibilities. In fact, I'm not sure where you would go with a group after you had begun with this. But I would use the service again (with adaptations) if it was appropriate.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. It made me glad to be a woman and expanded my mind, but the Christian aspect was downplayed somewhat. Some poeople might not recognise what we did there as Christian at all.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bloke who was scared by the tampon. I hope it didn't scar him for life.