How to be bored in church
I hated church, I hated church with every atom of my being – but still my parents sent me. We’re talking about St Nicholas’ Blundellsands in the 1950’s where all Sunday school children would sit right through Prayer Book sung matins, beginning to miserable end, before we went out for our classes. Utter and complete boredom. And it was the same every week. Once we got into the Venite I knew I was into unrelenting misery. The pits had to be the Te Deum, which even as I child I could see the word tedium. The chant just went on and on, an unrelenting dirge exhausting any sign of hope. And all I had to hand was the prayer book: no joy there. Once I had exhausted the tables to find Easter and the list at the back of the book showing who I could not marry, it could offer no distraction. Here I could have been one of the contemporaries of the prophet Malachi speaking of temple worship: “I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.” (Malachi 1:12, Message translation, obviously) Just to stay alive, I had to devise various mechanisms to keep my brain functioning. As we ground our way through the Te Deum, noticing how far we had come and how many verses we have left. Incidentally, I use a similar technique to stay focussed when I race Victor in the ParkRun 5k. Maybe those five long years of being penned in the pews on the working class side of St Nicks were not wasted. I recall Melvyn Bragg, who by the sounds of it had a similar boyhood experience, commenting how being bored in church is important for our intellectual and emotional development You learn to cope and those mechanisms stay with you for the rest of your life. I write all this having come across an excellent article on Boredom in this morning’s BBC Bitesize: “How to help your child embrace boredom.” Home schooling, judging from my own daughters’ experience, is a huge challenge. How often do parents hear the phrase, especially from their adolescents: “I’m bored.” However, the article argues that boredom actually serves a purpose: it can be a driver for exploring, for pushing out the boundaries. “Boredom can be good.” This is the view of Sandi Mann, who lectures in psychology just down in the road in Preston: “You’d think that people brought up on the internet wouldn’t know what boredom is anymore, but research shows that kids are more bored than ever and where the generation above have learnt to cope with lower levels of stimulation, they haven’t.” There is a risk of children relentlessly being transported from one activity to another, so that they never have any downtime. As Mann explains, “they need time to be bored where they have to un-bore themselves.” No doubt she would have applauded my parents pushing me out every Sunday, all weathers. “I think that we are very much afraid that if our kids are bored, we’re failing as parents, but actually I think it’s the other way around and we’re failing as parents if we don’t let them get bored. She’s backed up by another academic. Teresa Belton is quoted: “But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them." The article explores how boredom is forcing children to construct their own resources which they might not normally have the patience or time to do. At the moment I’m writing a short article for the Bible Reading Fellowship on the opening chapter of Revelation, the final book in the Bible – a remarkable work of apocalyptic vision, very carefully constructed, to encourage the seven churches (i.e. every church) to stay faithful during testing times. We know very little about the author apart from his name: he is probably not the John who wrote the gospel or the three letters. What we do know is that he has been exiled for his faith on the small island of Patmos. Alone and apart, no distraction. He could have been bored out of his mind but in fact, he is now highly receptive to God’s voice. Even on the Lord’s Day, John is given the opportunity to see through heaven’s open door. Such an experience would have been unlikely in the buzz of the city and the unrelenting demands of the marketplace. And not just John. We don’t know how long the apostle Paul languished in various Roman prisons, sometimes chained. Clearly he was lacking in visual and aural stimulation. However, this highly active apostle had learned the discipline of abounding in every situation, not least that God can use any so-called downtime to build up his Kingdom. Clearly he used his imprisonment to pray for his churches facing various challenges: “we have not ceased praying for you.” (Colossians 1:9) Moreover, he had the time to think in depth, to mull. This was to lead to the various letters he wrote to churches in crisis. Our New Testament today might have been four letters shorter had Paul never been locked up. So next time you are bored, this is God’s opportunity.