Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Visitant in the Room, or, the impossibility of subtly visiting tiny churches

This week, having done a bit of research, I got around to going to church. It's a bit different, considering there's little institutional history of Christianity here* nor much in the way of a modern Christian population, unlike many cities in China, say. There are about eight churches in Fukuoka, from what I can tell. One of these is Seventh-Day Adventist, one Roman Catholic, and two appear to be not churches as such, but purpose-built venues for Western-style weddings. The rest seem to be one room apiece with space for thirty-odd people. Normally I'd seek out a sizeable place that I can be a bit anonymous in until I feel settled, but that clearly wasn't an option.

Of course, my options were still vastly better than the choice of Shinto or Buddhist shrines available in Liverpool, which as far as I can tell number zero, so let's not complain.

Unlike the UK, where I can generally gauge what a church will be like from its name and a little bit of digging, I really had no idea how to parse things in Japanese. Was Japan Good News Lutheran church more or less happy-clappy than Japan Christian Organisation Fukuoka church? How liturgical was Fukuoka Glory Christianity church? Which of them might most closely resemble the tea-and-cake-based Noncomformist churches I'm comfortable with, and which would be more like an American televangelist show, or consist of three hours of tearful testimony, or worse, having to wave my arms about?

Girding my loins, I went along to Fukuoka Bible Church, and after a slightly nerve-wracking 40-minute walk I was beginning to think I'd got lost and wishing I'd remembered my map - despite the route being along two major roads - when I finally arrived. Working out how to get in took a little longer so it was the middle of the first hymn when I arrived, allowing me to slip in quietly, although there's only so subtle you can be when you are simultaneously 1/30th of the occupants of a room, 1/4 of the foreigners in the room, and the only new person in a roomful of people who know each other, and said room is the size of a double garage.

It was relatively painless as these things go. They did get me to fill in a form during the service, which I felt was a bit previous; somewhat to my dismay this was then passed up to the pastor and I was forced to stand up and introduce myself, but at least nobody ordered me to the front. I also correctly deduced that I would be asked to stay for lunch, but made my excuses and slipped away this time as the fact of first encounter had been more than enough for an antisocialite like me. Everyone seemed very friendly though, and although the service seemed a tad long, I understood slightly more than I'd expected, even being able to work out that the lesson was the Prodigal Son! The songs were pretty good too, both catchy and fairly easy to sing along to thanks to furigana.

I'll probably go back there next week, or at least in the future if something comes up next week. Presumably I should stay for lunch then. I'm not much of a one for communal lunching to be honest, or at least, only in the company of intimate friends, but this is a time of adventure and boundary-pushing, so I should probably try to open a crack or two in the rigid armour of privacy I normally surround myself with. It's nice that everyone seemed friendly, and they were relatively unpushy in the scheme of things, although personally speaking I find less is always more where that's concerned. I recovered from the experience by grabbing a few kids' books from a second-hand bookshop on the way home, trying to ignore the stares of confused Japanese children in the process.

* which is to say, the place isn't riddled with churches built within a spire's sight of each other.

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