Now what? - Lauren Booth gets religion
Should I have my head dabbed with holy water? Or go for the full immersion?
Until recently, I was going to get baptised at my local Anglican church. I really was. The reaction of my friends to this news ranged from: "Ugh, creepy. Just don't start lecturing me every time I have a drink" to "Organised religion is the source of the world's pain."
Still, I spoke to the guy in the suit one Sunday and he gave me a choice of "rebirth options". I could a) "have your head dabbed with holy water" or b) "go for it! Experience the full immersion!" Then came the bombshell. I hadn't really been paying attention over the past year as we chanted the creed every Sunday. My words went along the lines of ". . . believe in Jesus Christ mmm, mmm . . . saints . . . etc, etc". I had somehow skipped (or deliberately ignored) the part about supporting "the Holy Catholic Church".
Now, I've written it before and I'll write it again: to me, the Catholic Church is the McDonald's, worse, the George Bush of the Christian world (no offence to my Catholic boss, Cristina) - it just is. Now I was in a quandary. Where would my daughter and I go to get our spiritual fix each week?
Last Sunday, we tried the grand, red-bricked, Baptist church. The interior was breathtaking. Wood on wood with more wood, interspersed with impressive, brightly coloured stained glass. We sat in the cosily rounded pews and waited for the show to begin. Two very aged white matrons and a big black lady in a bright pink hat with what looked like her granddaughter were our only companions. At two minutes to eleven, it was clear that there would be no last-minute rush for the sermon. I began to dread the thought of singing the first hymn, a jazzy-sounding number called "Higher, Higher, Higher". A miffed-looking school-marm in round glasses and a black trouser-suit stalked sulkily on to the small "stage" - it turned out she was the "pastor". She looked at row upon row of empty seats and sighed.
Suddenly the lady in the hat stood up and screamed: "Don't drink the communion wine here, it's poisoned! She poisoned it with Tony Blair. The government wants us dead. It's all her fault, the child molesters in this church trying to kill me! Aagghhh!"
She lumbered heavily up the aisle and waved an accusing finger at the pastor, who simply sighed again and looked even more depressed by the way her Sunday was shaping up.
The young girl, in her teens, took the woman by the arm and pleaded: "Please Nana, come on, let's go. It's not true, calm down." For her pains, the poor girl was called a "paedophile" and "daughter of Beelzebub". My daughter started whimpering with fright, as the woman and the teenager wrestled up the aisle and out of sight. The whole strange outburst in this empty wooden church, leaking failure from every pore, was making me feel physically sick.
During the drama, three black families had snuck into the very back pews. They sat silently staring at the white pastor and the white-haired spinsters. The oppressive atmosphere between the two groups made me feel as if I were in an old movie; this wasn't a 21st-century church in London, it felt more like a failing mission in the Congo run by nervous nuns fearful for their lives.
I told the Tory lord John Taylor about my search for the "perfect" modern church.
When I told him I planned to give the Quakers "a go" this weekend, he hooted with laughter.
"Don't waste your time, Lauren, you'll be bored senseless. Find a good Pentecostal church. That's where I go with my family. There's a lot of clapping and hand-waving if you're not too Anglican and uptight to enjoy it."
Say hallelujah, here I go!