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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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55 Responses to 725

  1. Matthew says:

    According to Google Maps, it’s 6.3 miles for me. Dang. We have pretty messed up ideas of “local”, for sure. I hope I’m not alone in saying I have a hard time wrapping my mind around (read: getting up the guts to do something about) that.

  2. fergie says:


    So, I live in the Big Country South of the Bigger Country in the North American Continent.

    WHile we have many urban areas there still are cases where the “local church” is a few miles down the pike from the farm.

  3. dennis says:

    You have a point there Jon only I lost my faith in the church a long time ago. Just to take the focus off me I know someone who will gladly travel 56 miles every week to get their preferred fill.

  4. Hits nail on Head. Still assessing the impact on my thinking of Bill Bishop’s *The Big Sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.*

  5. Kim says:

    Groan. This is so hard. But there are genuine reasons why sometimes we need to be in a particular church or place that isn’t our nearest, perhaps for equipping or developing, perhaps to offer service in a specific way.
    Its not just being consumerist, sometimes its following the wind of the spirit.

    If thats not the case, then I agree its good to get involved at where is nearest.

    What about denominational availability though? Is it valid to travel to your nearest, say, Anglican church if you have a Methodist or Baptist or whatever nearer? Do we believe in the need for denominational difference?

  6. Rockingrev says:

    For many folk three miles away is local especially in the Highlands. I guess it just depends on your frame of reference.

  7. AnneDroid says:

    Sorry to state the obvious, but there’s lots of people in other countries would be thrilled to bits if they had a church anything like so close, and of course Rockingrev is quite right about the Highlands too

    But perhaps this isn’t just about how far away the church is and I’m missing something. I’m not awake yet.

  8. Robb says:

    In the olden days God used to put all of the evangelicals in one parish and all of the anglo catholics into another parish by birth. Now we have consumerism and cars we can choose for ourselves.

  9. Graham says:

    Beautiful polemic again- like good art- makes you gasp and think- why am I doing what I’m doing.

    ‘The search for a good church’ is such a unquestioned phrase isn’t it?

  10. marcus says:

    doesn’t this fall into the trap of a church being a community who meet in a certain place instead of a community who are dispersed over a certain area…local or otherwise?

  11. beatthedrum says:

    The church I go to is 2.1 miles away from my house and is closer by .8 of a mile closer than it was previously.

    It is now in my ‘suburb’ although Durham is a small town really and not a city where before it was in the city centre.

    Most sunday’s I walk it though rather than use the car especially if I am drumming that morning as I get a chance to listen to some worship music and pray before the meeting. Also the exercise makes me more alert in the meetings.

    I guess I do pass two churches on the way to the one I go to, but I would not be welcome in either due to my views on ‘peripheral’ issues such as gifts of the spririt and priesthood.

    “The search for a good church” is a phrase that needs questioning, however I do believe that we should be part of the local fellowship where we can give and where our gifts can most be used.

    I would drive most methodists, salvation army and indeed anglican churches to distraction!


  12. Graham says:

    beatthedrum- I am a methodist minister (although sadly 40 miles from Durham- I would welcome being driven to distraction by someone passionate to make some noise!
    (But then I seem to drive some people to distraction as well!)

  13. Robb says:

    beatthedrum – do you go to Kings by any chance?

  14. Rockingrev says:

    Graham, I think most of us ministers would just like someone who is passionate! Up in the North-East just a flicker of enthusiasm would be a breath of fresh air, never mind someone passionate about the Gospel.

  15. Graham says:

    passionate and iconoclastic!

    Although I’m in the farthest reaches of North Yorks and in a rich village- so we stress ‘North Yorkshire’.

    Having spent Monday night in the packed village pub watching Middlesbrough v Newcastle though- there was little passion there…we are doomed (Middlesbrough, not the church…I hope).

  16. linus says:

    i live about a mile away from our church’s place, and work about three miles away. The small group i am part of meets in homes that are respectively a mile from my house, about two miles from both home and work, and 500 yards from work (handy as i can go straight there, or get lifts from there to where we are meeting). A couple of my friends are part of a small group based out at the coast, which is something like 6 miles away. They have just bought a house 250 yards away from the home of some of their closest friends in our church community (who they regularly babysit for). Its great that they are so close to good friends. Many of us can be found in the local cafe after the sunday morning service. Its about 100 yards from the church building. Our church is involved in a city centre (3 miles from our building) outreach project. We also help run a project providing practical assistance to vulnerable people in the whole east end of the city (i think up to about three or four miles from the building in some cases). Is it bad that the hopefully positive influence of our community is spread over a relatively large geographical area?

  17. Robb says:

    Graham – I had an Iconoclasm yesterday. I packed the trinity into a box ready for moving house tomorrow.

    I managed to spend the night in a West Yorkshire pub watching the same match. We are screwed!

    I grew up in the North East although I originally hail from West Yorkshire and have returned.

    I grew up near Boro hense [as you noticed on my blog] I got on a train and went to the Man U match. We’re screwed :D

    I started supporting when we were in div 3. I’m not worried. I’ll still be there. My dad’ll still be a season ticket holder. He’ll still be a Scot – it’s a bit far to travel to see Hibs :D

  18. Amy Watson says:

    ouch…. felt that this didn’t include me til google maps announced it was 2.6 miles.

  19. Rockingrev says:

    I’ll pray for your Dad Robb – I’m a committed Jambo!

  20. Miriworm says:

    Is there a danger (especially #16)that when everything in your life revolves around the local church that your no longer reaching out to anyone outside the church?

  21. matybigfro says:

    It makes me laugh that 8 months after leaving stockton and have just about got over missing the north east. to here people grieving about middleborough here of all places remeinds me of home. (what really makes me laught is actually live once again where i was raise yet call tees side home)

  22. Gill Poole says:

    Have loved living among people who go to church with me less than a mile away … but not sure if that’ll be possible in my new location when I move to the Isle of Man next week.

  23. JF says:

    Ah – I studied in Boro… Happy memories of Ayresome Park and a glorious afternoon with Bristol Rovers coming from 1-0 down to win 2-1….! Must have been 91/92 season.

    Hoping (against the odds) that Boro stay up though.

  24. jonbirch says:

    sad for southgate. i like him. very good manager with only half a team left. shame. i too want them to stay up… unlikely, but still possible.

  25. Andy M says:

    @Miriworm, yes, but that can happen in any church. The thing I’ve noticed is that there are all kinds of people that just get missed, even though they are very close in proximity. Sometimes I think we as christians are trying to look through binoculars to find people, when they are standing right next to us. And that is assuming that we are looking at all.

  26. Caroline Too says:

    I used to be pretty hot on attending ‘local’ church…not so sure anymore…

    I like the Lindisfarne monastic notion, where the guys would be located in a monastery but then sent out

    in today’s language, that would seem to involve being part of a church family that feeds you, and which you feel a part, and where you have the space to attend to God speaking and then

    going out to the world in mission,

    trouble is that going to church appears to be the be all and end all of church life for most/many…

    I don’t mind like minded people grouping together, yes its sad and restrictive but possibly it reduces unnecessary conflict

  27. David T. says:

    When I lived in Virginia Beach, VA, I used to attend a church that was literally around the block. It was great for saving gas, but it didn’t draw me any closer to the community. Many of the people in that church themselves drove a ways to attend. And besides, keeping church local only helps if the church has a solid community outreach to begin with.

  28. Mike says:

    Nothing like commuter Christianity. There was a couple in my old church that traveled 70 miles( each way) to services.

  29. Robb says:

    With regards to the concept of “passionate”. I suspect that we have a different definition to God.

    Just been talking with a Bishop about nurturing people’s gifts. He noted that “there are two types of people. There are gushers and tricklers”.

    We value the gushers highly. They are the people who are out there and in your face and letting it all hang out.

    We say things like “on fire for The Lord” [have I transgressed into cartoon 721?] and “sharing the gospel”.

    We totally forget the tricklers. The faithful quiet ones who have solid faith and unshakable prayer life.

    Gushers like me tend to burn out or tie ourselves in knots. Fortunately we have the dependable tricklers who “hold us before the Lord” [sorry, the jargonaut cartoon has made me like this. I used to use plain English!!]. We are all part of the body of Christ and it is the body that is a gift rather than a specific part of it.

    All gifts come from God. Just breathing in and out whilst listening to Alice Cooper typing away on a blog is a wonderful gift from God – whilst I await the removal firms arival in the morning. To paraphrase Mike Yaconelli’s words – “we often forget the people who exercise the gift of cleaning the toilets”. These unsung heroes who God gifts with the passion for clean places to park our botties! Lets hear it for the person who cleans the tea towels and replaces them as if by magic – who never gets seen and no one knows who it is but none the less – there they are week in week out! [see Dave Walkers cartoon in the Church Times this week]

    We value the gifts of prophesy and [hang about, doesn’t Paul say all of this when he’s talking about Glosalia/speaking in tongues?]…. it is human nature.

    The last word goes to the Bish. “God gives us gifts to suit our tasks not tasks to suit our gifts”.

  30. Rockingrev says:

    Wise words from the Bis, Robb. However from a church leader’s standpoint we need to develop ministries that suit the gifts of our members. It is no use looking at what another church is doing and saying we need to do that too, if we do not have the gifts within the church to carry out the ministry. I try ot take my members through a programme to help them discern their spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality and experience and then help them find a ministry in which they can put those to use.

  31. Pat says:

    Robb @ 29 – I’m rather wary of this sort of reductive dichotomy, to be honest. However, I really like

    We are all part of the body of Christ and it is the body that is a gift rather than a specific part of it.

    (my emphasis)

    Hope the move goes well.

  32. Lewis says:

    Thing to moan at about Church number 241.3: The distance from your house.
    Why can’t Church just be effortless?

  33. mdb says:

    Do we need to again try and define what ‘church’ is supposed to be? Surely my ‘local’ church are the people who are my neighbours or I work with?

  34. Hazel says:

    I love this, it’s something I feel strongly about, because I see people drive in from miles around (more than 3) to a certain church then drive out again – having no relevance to the local community whatsoever! That to me is like “church being in a bubble” (which was cartoon 683!) Not that all churches who have far flung congregations will be like that and not be taking part in local things… Of course there is the issue nowadays of how local is “local” and some areas have more a sense of community than others. Kim at 5 – the only thing wrong with my lovely local C of S is that it’s not a Baptist church HA HA. There is of course the really important issue that I can be home so much earlier (including having had coffee and chocolate biscuit) if I go to the local one whereas the other one will just be getting into its extended worship after the 45 minute sermon (yawn) there again, I am so unspiritual apparently!

  35. Carole says:

    Mine is about three minutes walk away…still don’t manage to get there a lot of the time. :oops: Mind, at least when I do go there I don’t drive.

  36. Pat says:

    mdb@33 – I agree. Maybe we should attempt some one sentence or haiku definitions and see where that takes us?

  37. subo says:

    i find going to church a whole town away, preserves my annonimity

  38. chad m says:

    i believe a “local church” is more than just proximity, but i agree proximity is an issue. i wonder how many church-goers give a rip about the physical community in which their church sits. how invested in that particular community are they, or do they simply go and consume what they want as if it were a shopping mall? my wife and i are very invested in the town/community in which our church sits. we teach and coach at the local high school. sometimes i get crap [as the youth pastor] from people about not spending more time focusing on the other schools in our county. but i’m focused on making the town/community in which i live and in which the church i worship/work at resides.

    i have to say small towns are fun because you can really invest in the life of the community if you choose do so…

    and by the way, we live 1 mile from our church. it’s an easy walk and even easier bike ride!
    chad m

  39. Robb says:

    Pat – what do you mean?

  40. Pat says:

    Robb – I mean how would we answer the question ‘what is church?’ if we were only allowed 1 short sentence, or the 47 syllables of a haiku, or the 140 charachters of a ‘tweet’?

    I’ve found that sometimes being restricted to such a miniture format forces you to go to the heart of what you think/believe about something and distil its essence…what’s the gospel if you have only 3 lines of 15/17/15 syllables to say it? [A slight aside – there was a group on facebook a few years back, not sure if it still exists, where people were doing the books of the bible and other great works of literature as limmericks – with some really interesting results]

    Of course, one can’t necessarily give an ideal answer – because how we would answer at any one moment might be subject to all sorts of variables but…if we had to be economical and were stripped of the possibility of giving explanations and disclaimers etc, what would our answer to the question ‘what is church’ be?

  41. This is a big issue here. We have a church in the village that is trying to move forward and welcomes people of every denomination, but many drive into the nearby city to attend a megachurch. Once while I was there I looked at the cars in the (huge) car park and many came from 50km away, and at the same time many people were just being parking attendants.
    I know sometimes you have to travel to church, but when you’re passing several, how can we say we are loving the creator when we damage his creation to get to a church that suits us?

  42. Kim says:

    subo at 37 – I also think thats great sometimes, and a necessity now and again, but you can’t go on being anonymous with people who are your family for long I guess? If we stay anonymous it means we aren’t really involved/committed to them, or them to us.

  43. beckyG says:

    Oh man does this hit home – I cannot attend the Episcopal church around the corner because it’s obvious they don’t support women in ministry – there are five Episcopal Churches within a short subway ride that speak to my heart and where I know enough people that I feel at home. Hence, I kind of rotate around. Also in my job writing about religion, I’m often checking out different churches.

  44. raginggenius says:

    Wow, comment #20 totally hammers home what I believe has been going on often. We invite people to church, but we don’t invite them to Jesus. We talk about our church, but we don’t talk about Jesus. Often we have things that eclipse our walk with the Lord and unfortunately, it can be our church that gets in the way.

  45. Ros says:

    My church is only round the corner. Handy for those occasions when I wake up at ten on a Sunday!

  46. Eric says:

    I used to go to church 7km from where I lived and I worked 13km away. For a long time I thought of moving (both home and church). Particularly since where I work is on a poor side of town where churches are struggling.

    I wrote down a lot of my thoughts at the time on where we should live/work/church. Click my link to read “where then shall we live”.

    I’d decided I’d move house when suitable accommodation came up, and join whatever church was nearby that I felt I could fit in. God worked it out amazingly – I can see the ch building from my driveway, and I can also walk to work. I am the only 20s-aged person (lots of seniors) but I think youth needs to be shared around a bit.

    In nearly any suburban area in Australia there are churches within a few km. Being a programmer I’ve made this webapp that shows most of the churches in my city: (doesn’t work in IE)
    You can see that nowhere is entirely unchurched, though people of particular persuasions may have to travel a bit further.

  47. Eric says:

    I didn’t get a link this time – try http://geomiss.wordpress.com for all my crazy thoughts on church & geography.

  48. beatthedrum says:

    Sorry not been on line for a while.

    Robb no I am not at Kings church, although I hear it is very good and have a number of friends who attend there.

    I didnt know Boro were in the North East I have always viewed them as a Yorkshire team!

    Having said that it was great to be in a corporate hospitality box at the test match on Saturday with a bunch of Mags, when Fulham won! I just hope we get a result tonight over Portsmouth!

    To tell you the truth Graham I would cause more grief than would be good for the church, as you all know I am an opinionated loud mouth!

    Rocking Rev I see lots of passion in christians in the North East, in my church and many others in durham, plus many in newcastle, sunderland and teesside (also known as North Yorkshire!)


  49. Robb says:

    Pat – there are old and new testament books of limericks. I think they may be out of print now. I got the local book shop to find them for me.

    It is an interesting exercise. I was asked to come up with ‘what do you want your church sign to say in 8 words or less’? I had to point out that they couldn’t even ask the question in 8 words or less!

    Beatthedrum – the pastor at kings used to teach us anglican ordinands New Testament.

    If Boro are a ‘yorkshire team’ it is a good job that Tyne Tees TV doesn’t exist anymore. I better get my dad to tune his TV in to yorkshire – although it doesn’t have any relevant news and weather for Teesside. Better also tell the newspaper/tv/fans that it isn’t a ‘north east derby’ when we play newcastle/sunderland.

    When I moved to teesside it was called ‘cleveland’.

  50. beatthedrum says:

    I know Mark, but not well, if that is who you are talking about. He is a great guy.

  51. Robb says:

    Yeah – he didn’t lecture me much because I did loads of NT as an undergrad.

  52. beatthedrum says:

    I am thinking of asking him to come and speak at a mens event I am organising on “How to Study the Bible”

  53. jutta says:

    I agree with some comments that 3 miles is relative. It all depends on how many “more local” churches you pass on the way.

  54. Claire says:

    I feel conflicted about this. I live about 1.6 miles from my church (just checked it on Google Maps) but I pass a number of others on the way there, and I go to a church where there are lots of people who travel 10 miles or more each way. The thing is, I love my church. The worship there and the people I meet there give me energy and passion for doing other things (although I mainly mean more broadly than the community – I’m studying to be part of a caring profession). We could expel all the people who travel more than five miles to get to the church and insist that they go to a church that is closer to them (it would be about half the congregation) – but if this happened to me, even if I developed a commitment to my local church, I think I would spend all my energy trying to bring about the kind of transformation in that church that we have already experienced where I currently am. Would this be a good use of resources (particularly since it isn’t really my gift)? Perhaps this is cynical of me, but where I am, most churches are full of old folk who think the way to Christ is to turn things back into the 1950s, and putting any amount of energy into this approach is not going to bear fruit. I don’t really subscribe to the “regional churches” model but I would rather be part of a church that gives me energy and nourishes my faith, than become dispirited and give up on the church that happens to be closest to me!

    [I have failed to address the core of this cartoon, I guess, which is the ability of a church to link with a local community. But I do feel that my church is at least trying to reach out to A community, whether or not it’s the one where most of the congregants live, and making a difference that wouldn’t happen otherwise.]

  55. John Ferguson says:

    I’m a country lad, so I’m lucky that my church is only 1 mile away (though I still drive because of weather and/or guitar). I prefer people to go to their local church if appropriate, but I know sometimes it’s the fellowship that counts and I recognize that many in my own church should probably go to a different one if it was strictly down to distance.

    However, in some towns and villages near me there are several churches very close together and in one case their buildings practically share a wall, with another across the street and all three share a municipal car park. The town needs the seating capacity, if not the denominations, but to me it does seem strange they are so close.

    There was a church in the centre of that town that moved out to bigger premises on the edge. While it was a shame they moved out of the town, it is a fact there had been a huge amount of houses built in the area with no churches particularly close by

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