Perhaps even more peculiar is the small but strangely universal series of sounds which are so often emitted by its followers. With little imagination, I'm going to term these sounds 'Christianoises'. It has been said that you could drop any Christian, from any point in history into a modern church, and once they were offered Communion, they would surely feel at home. I believe the same is true of exposing that time-travelling believer to Christianoises, and as you read through the following examples, I believe you'll soon be agreeing with me. Possibly through the medium of example #1...
1. The understanding hum of agreement
Regularly deployed during times of open prayer, this is an earnest sound which indicates support. It's also the way by which you convey to the person praying that some part of their rambling prayer made sense, and how you let the rest of the meeting know that you're not asleep. Also used during sermons in medium-level charismatic settings (eg your local Baptist church), but never in a high church (total silence) or a pentecostal gathering (only whooping).
2. The shifty rustle of conclusion
It's the classic challenge of any prayer time - when exactly are you finished? At least three people have prayed; you've covered all the requests, but no-one wants to seem unholy by simply breaking the silence and asking what people thought about last night's Bake Off. In this highly awkward situation, we employ a subtle but effective measure: a slowly crescendoing act of communal fidgeting and shuffling in which all become complicit. Creaking chairs, lightly drumming fingers and loose-fitting clothes are all useful tools in the creation of this Christianoise, which to the untrained ear sounds a bit like an old man trying to get out of bed. The result: eyes open, everyone nods sagely, and you can get on with talking about Bernadette's Flakey Plum Duff.*
*No, I've never seen Bake Off.
3. The sympathetic heart-cry of compassion
This sound, often accompanied by an affected frown and textbook 45 degree head tilt, is used to indicate a heartfelt response to sad news, a little like Facebook's proposed 'dislike' button. It's possibly the most over-used noise on this list, thanks to our habit of catastrophising our simplest problems, such as struggling to find a parking space, or having a tricky encounter with the photocopier. To all of these problems, and lesser ones, this noise is our well-rehearsed stock response.
4. The Jesus back massage of delight
At the risk of irreverence, I never quite understand the strangely ecstatic sound that many Christians make once they close their eyes. I have no doubt that their encounter with the almighty has some tangibly powerful results; I just feel a bit awkward when I'm sitting next to them. I probably shouldn't say any more about this one for fear of offending every charismatic Christian I've ever known.
5. The elongated superlative of encouragement
Ok, the final entry is halfway between a sound and a word, but still worth mentioning. It's the strangely Christian practice of adding enormous extra emphasis in the middle of a superlative when describing God, his mighty works, his miraculous encounters with humanity, and the quality of the chicken tikka masala you're currently eating. At times, especially in the poshest churches, this can see several extra vowels (and even whole extra syllables) added to words, so 'great' becomes 'greeeeeeaaaaat', and 'amazing' becomes 'amaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyzzing'. Once the latter enters the Oxford English Dictionary, we'll know Christianity is really making a comeback.
This, as Chris Tomlin once sang, is the noise we make. But there may be more; tweet me your alternatives and we'll compile an even more conclusive list. It feels like an greeaaaaat use of all our time. Mmmmmmm.