click here for gadget for god  
about the ship sign up for our newsletter
community the mystery worshipper gadgets for god caption competition foolishness features ship stuff
features home columnists archive
steve tomkins
crows nest
By Stephen Tomkins
More Crow's Nests here
The world's best churches
February 2003

My favourite church is one I've never been to, but where, if what we hear is true, the voice of God is heard in a new and unique way.

St Mary's is in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, England. The vicar, Peter Craig-Wilde, was going about his business in the sanctuary a couple of months ago – tidying up hymnbooks, dusting the font, whistling Moody and Sankey, whatever it is these people do when it's not Sunday – quite unprepared for the imminent encounter.

Suddenly a voice spake from above. An unearthly utterance seemed to descend from the rafters, with a message perhaps for him, perhaps for the church, perhaps for all humankind.

"Fuck off," it said.

Was this God's final message to his creation? A personal instruction? Playful testing? A timely word to really speak into his situation? The Living Bible translation of "Go forth and multiply"?

Sadly it was none of those things. It was (and still is) a parrot. It sits aloft singing, bringing words of chastisement and wolfwhistling at passersby.

If only every church had one. St Mary's is so far unique, I believe, but there are many other churches who have been doing their bit to make Christianity more interesting recently.

There is St Phocas's, Sinop, on the Turkish coast, which has been discovered to be the unluckiest church in the world. First it was wrecked by an earthquake. Then it was wrecked by another earthquake. Then it was wrecked by a flood. Then it was wrecked by a landslide. Then it was converted into an opium den, and, thus losing its divine protection was washed into the sea.

It has finally been found again, but visit at your own risk.

A little more cheery is St Giles's on Salisbury Plain in the UK, which has opened its doors for a wedding for the first time in 60 years. In 1943 the army borrowed it for WWII training exercises and apparently took a shine to it and forgot to give it back.

John Syme and Sylke Woods also took a shine to it, and have celebrated their happy day there, but had to provide everything from chairs to altar cloth themselves as it is still used for soldiering – presumably not on a Saturday afternoon. Another church to appreciate at a distance, I think.

Midwest Baptist Church in Stewartville, Minnesota, is in the rather jollier position of being propositioned by its neighbour. Rev. Joseph Grimaldi is getting hot under the dog collar because Pure Pleasure, the marital arts shop next door, is marketing to worshippers.

"And God said go out into the world and have great sex," says their signboard. "Clergy discount. Hallelujah!"

"I just hope I'm not too close when the lightning strikes,'' says Pastor Grimaldi, displaying a sad lack of confidence in the Almighty's aim.

He should maybe take a leaf out of the more aggressive book of the US evangelical church in Concepcion, Chile. Rather than shunning the unclean, they bought up the city's largest brothel for their church premises, and – not unlike Pure Pleasure – preach at the opposition's clients. The church also plays extremely loud hymns first thing in the morning after a hard night's work. They are being sued by the Prostitutes' Trades Union in Chile for loss of earnings.

Then there's the Community Church in Carinthia, Austria, whose recent excavations revealed that they were the custodians of a 14th-century fresco depicting St Christopher and Mickey Mouse. The prospect of the Catholic Church suing Disney for breach of copyright is nothing short of intoxicating.

There's the Orthodox church of Halmagiu in Romania, where the priest Viorel Nan's solution to the problem of 1,400 parishioners squabbling over the best seats is to auction them for up to 100.

And rather more happily, there is Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, where members have all been given $100 bills to "use the money in the name of Jesus". Well, I know where I'd rather go anyway, and not just because I'm cheap.

But finally, to remind us that Christians don't have all the fun, consider the Guruvayur Temple of Krishna in Kerala, India. Priests there are begging worshippers not to donate any more elephants as they now have 62. You just never know what you're going to find in the offering bag, do you?
also see
hubris 2
Mark Howe's regular rant about Internet culture
strangely warmed
Andrew Rumsey's regular column about the religious life
loose canons
Stephen Tomkins' regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
sip of fools mugs from your favourite nautical website
buy your ship of fools postcards