Reality London- a comparative visit

Why so many random Californians all in the same hidden place at the same time in London? This was one of my thoughts once I had ventured across the city and attended and observed an afternoon service. Welcome to Reality London, a church plant of the Reality network of (modern/ non-denominational) Christian churches in California. The Reality network of churches started in Carpenteria, CA and branched out from there, now having five church plants all over the state and now in London. From one of their webpages they describe, “Reality is called to birth healthy churches in order to effectively explain and expose Jesus to as many people as possible.” That’s what they’re simply all about- bringing glory to God and sharing Jesus with others. The Reality London webpage, which you can check out here, further expresses:

We are an ordinary group of people who have been rescued by Jesus, united by Jesus, defined by Jesus, and sustained by Jesus. It’s all about Jesus for us. This may sound strange to you, but when you think about it every community is defined by its chief attraction, whether it be music, sport, business, art, etc. We desire to seek Jesus as our chief attraction, and believe that only Jesus can bring true depth, meaning, value, and purpose to all of life and culture.

From this, one can see that they are a pretty simple congregation of Christians with a simple mission. From my experience, they are a very welcoming community and down-to-earth, laid-back group. The atmosphere was friendly and inviting.

I made a point to go because I was recommended by one of my older brothers who attends services at the Reality LA church plant (after being very involved in the Reality Santa Barbara church plant for several years), and really enjoys being a part of the Reality community. I thought I would find comfort in attending a similar service as I was used to back home, although I’ve never been to a Reality service. I noted the worship, sermon and prayer time were all structured just like services I attend back home. They also had a time for communion during worship and prayer but that was fairly different from anything I’ve participated in.

“For those of you wanting to participate, we have communion set up over here and we are going to spend some time in worship and then getting into the word.” This was the notice that kicked off the service, after a quick intro welcome and some announcements. My experience with communion at Christian services has been primarily back in my hometown at Word of Life Assemblies of God in Burney, but also at several other churches across California. In these times of communion there are separate mini cups and separate little pieces of bread. Once we all get our own and make our way back to our seats, we all are led by the pastor and say a prayer together. “We do this together in remembrance of the Lord.” What I though was very interesting and different about this service at Reality London was how communion was specifically individualized and everyone who wanted to partake went up on their own time during worship.

It was also just one communal cup and one small loaf of bread. There was also no group-led prayer over it. I found this interesting to see and it made me appreciate the community aspect of communion. Communion, by definition, is about fellowship and an interchange or sharing with a group all together. So this way of partaking in communion was a new way I had never seen. Also, it seemed as if Reality London has communion available on a weekly basis. At other services I’ve attended, it is usually a once a month activity.

So what does this mean for the rest of London? Well, Reality is a very small, almost unheard of Christian community available to all residents and visitors of the city.  With a congregation of around 40 or less people (smaller than my tiny hometown church!), and an underground location (Reality London currently meets in the crpyt of St. James Church), they do not have the resources for reaching lots of people at this time. The purpose of Reality London is mostly for other Californians or Americans to have a home base church plant to attend and be a part of, so that they can continue having a Christian network while over in England studying or working. Although they do have outreach activities, it is still a rather select group of people who already know about Reality. Me for example, a temporary resident studying abroad, wouldn’t have found Reality London when just browsing through a Google search for Christian churches in London, since it is so small. It’s about connections and the fact that my brother informed me of the church plant here that I sought it out on my own.

Commitment, Community and Contributions- where are yours?

It’s that time of the week again. You call your pals and get dressed decently nice before picking them up. There’s a special this week, you can’t wait to get there. As you all pile out of the car and enter, you hear chatter of the townspeople and all your friends. Most of the neighborhood is there- your dentist, a few neighbors- you love seeing so many familiar faces. It’s a great time- you always get something out of it when you come here weekly. You leave a little cash on your way out. What an awesome environment, it’s nice to catch up with everyone.

……..Where are you? Was that a Sunday service at your local church or a weeknight at your favorite pub down the street? Was the cash you left a tip for your server or your weekly donation into tithes & offerings?

As we can see, there are multiple similarities between attending a church service and regularly eating and drinking at a pub you enjoy, and both usually involve loyalty. I present the point that these can both be considered religious practices.

In British culture, faithfulness to a particular pub is common- they find themselves committed to (one or a few) that they fancy. C. Mitchell, a college student in London puts it, “We are very loyal to a group of pubs in our town. My favorite is a pub called the Last Post. We are loyal there because it is cheap and has a really nice feel. I also love spending time with my mates.”

MercyMe performing live at Rock & Worship Roadshow, March 2012

What if a few of those words were changed; if “a group of pubs” was switched for “a local church?” They are both about commitment and finding the right one that “has a really nice feel,” as he put it. (Of course when speaking of churches, it wouldn’t be plural. For the most part, when people commit to a specific church, they choose ONE and this would be singular). And consistency is key; this is what builds on the attendee’s positive perspective of the facility. Consistency provides the attendee with routine, trust, and tradition. These are all important in a religious practice, whether that is at a church (or other religious building) or pub. Then a personal connection can start being formed- when one finds themselves comfortable, welcomed, and can see themselves coming regularly. This is one’s personal initiative to take action and become a part of something.

But how does one experience these positive feelings and make a decision? That’s where community comes in- it’s all about the people. Networking is how one’s personal initiative branches out and becomes a group commitment. They start relying on each other to keep up with their “weekly tradition” and can form accountability partners. When it comes to community, either pub culture or church attendances are reinforced by communication and relationships with the others that partake. Coworkers might email each other to go out for their weekly Thursday night drinks, just as a parallel of college students texting each other for rides to church on Sunday morning. Community takes the forms of carpooling, plans, inside jokes, support, and probably a lively and diverse environment.

Lastly, both of these depend on contributions. Contributions come from the commitment of the community and how they have decided to use a facility for a certain purpose and practice. Pub culture and church services need contributions of not only money but also time. Staying at home and just sending money to either your favorite pub or church would not do them any good. They need PEOPLE. They need users of their services. Just as only spending time there and never pitching in any money would also not do them any good. They need FUNDS. They need donors and sponsors. Contributions of time and money don’t only come in one form, it could be servicing the facility through service, volunteering or purchasing something at an event. There are many ways to further advance either of these religious practices through contributions, whether it be personal or a group effort in community.

One could also argue that both pub culture (going out for food and drinks) and religious services (seeking prayer, worship and usually a message) are both nourishing and “feed you.” Whether that is physically, literally being fed or spiritually being fed, they contribute to a better well-being and peacefulness of the body & mind.

I think the pub culture of the Brits can be considered religious because it shares the same fundamental building blocks as does a religious practice or attending services with one’s religion. Both “religious activities” thrive on commitment, community and contributions.