Christian history is incredibly radical. New Zealand Christian history none more so. A couple of years ago I wrote in this space of a fascinating and intrepid bit of Christian history that had tongues wagging for months and the more spirited young men putting their overdrive in gear visiting churches far afield 'looking'!
I called it church fishing and it is time, now that I'm serving Jesus in LA, or to the less spiritual holidaying, that I raise this again. In that piece it was referred to as the longest standing examples of church praxis, that is, going beyond denominational barriers and forming bonds bigger than the theological complexities that life presents.
The fact of the matter is Mr Straight Jacket Denominational Theologian, for at least 100 years, church fishing has been a documented staple of the Christian subculture of Aotearoa. I have told you this before, I tell it to you again!
Charlotte Greenhalgh has conducted a significant amount of research into Kiwi romance in the interwar period and has found that it was common practice by at least the 1920s for young people to play the field and church-hop in order to meet Jesus loving cuties.
She found that "Young people attended a range of churches, in search of good times and attractive faces as well as religious inspiration." Although cross-denominational and inter-church unions were not seen to be preferential according to church leaders, the 'church scene' was far more popular in this time for hook ups than any other establishment. And the literature churches were putting out at the time openly encouraged it.
She found that these relationships were largely positive and that "Young men and women frequently taught each other the language of spiritual love and employed it to create positive and mutually understood visions of their relationships."
But, I have often been made to feel ashamed of my Sunday motives. I have been instructed to search my heart and make sure Jesus was the king of it, to make sure that I had a passion and vision for the local church bringing God's love into the world.
We're on a roll boys! And the roller-coaster at Disneyland
Many very rude comments have been left on my Facebook page with the photo of me reading a book while on the roller coaster. But, Kiwi lads, we're on a roll with this thing, history is on our side.
I said back then, as I say again, I have been lead to believe that while it may be a convenient reality that a significant proportion of church attending females are babes, that this was a side issue to things central to church life, such as praying, evangelising and trying not to think about sex. But, I refuse to be ashamed any more. That Disneyland photo did it for me!
Let's face it—the Americans are unashamed of their gratuitously large meal portions and horrific spin-offs of British comedies, the British are unashamed of their addiction to whinging or the fact that they only show affection to dogs and horses, and likewise, so we Kiwis should remain unashamed that church fishing is central to our documented history. It's no pantomime show. We're serious. Kiwi Christian history is serious!
I say, embrace it, New Zealand. Date for your country and the Lord. Churches, net those wandering-but-unchurched believers in with honest and statistically verifiable reports of how many unmarried options you house behind your doors.
This is true Kiwi mission strategy that needs to be embraced as we march into a future in which we no longer pretend that our churches aren't divine discos of desire.
Which one Lord?
Kiwi Christian boys have it easy. Generally, we make ourselves available for Sunday gatherings, events that provide multi-sensory spiritual experiences for people who love Jesus just like us. These gatherings we often call 'church', but it would seem that this is deliberately religious language used to distort the truth of what these meetings really are.
I said then, and I say again, what we are really talking about, are fishing ponds. And people are attending in the hope of a little nibble. Any young single is well aware of this. While you are standing there listening to the keyboard synth and delay pedal bring the anointing, with your hands in the air, employing your best devout expression to seek the Lord, you are employing the mastered art of simultaneously scouting for talent within your pool of choice.
And the eyes have it! Quite possibly your eyes meet with someone in a moment that Holy Spirit had to have orchestrated Himself. After all, it's not real lust if they're your future wife.
You know that afterwards there will probably be a time of 'fellowship" in which you will be able to impress a potential spouse with your slightly left-of-centre biblical theology, obvious passion for God's kingdom and your extensive knowledge of the entire Hillsong United catalogue. You will also be able to whip out the pick-up lines that the Christian shawtays love the most, classics like "I think you have a rib that belongs to me", "Can I put your number on my prayer list?" and "Is your name Grace? Because you're amazing."
A Christian tradition so it must be right
It's quite the ritual. I have good friends that are young females who know this unofficial liturgy well. They are invited to the post-service "time of fellowship" and quite often it turns out that they are the only girls there in a large group of males ready for their tackle to be the chosen tackle. Often this is a fiercely competitive time, with males who underperform in the group setting resorting to the post-time-of-fellowship "Facebook follow-up flirt" to compensate. Some guys are just better on paper. Trust me, I would know.
But it doesn't dampen the spirits, especially if when exchanging pleasantries about the weather, the male trying his luck in this particular fishing pool felt Jesus tap him on the shoulder with a quiet, "She's the one."
New Zealand has its own flavour in all this and as I taste the vitals (food, folks, food and not food, it's more) of the All American Way in this my holiday (oops sorry, serving Jesus tour), and view the brazen and the astonishing (as I occasionally look up from my book), there is something quiet sensual about our Kiwi Christian fishing ways.
But first things first when I get back to Auckland, you can't go fishing without the wherewithall and my newly acquired American accent (firmly established in 2 weeks) just might do the trick (along with a seriously proper black bible with mandatory highlighting throughout with romanticisms). Girls, I'm a changed man.
First published July 10, 2014
Sam Burrows is an ex-Middle School teacher (he made it out alive) who is currently working in Young Adult ministry while completing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College. In his spare time he likes to pretend to be a rock star and writes for enjoyment and in order to impress a potential wife.
Sam Burrows' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-burrows.html