I am a little worried about the Church...
Although there is nothing new in being worried about the Church. In recent days we have begun to see an easing of lockdown measures in many different areas of life. We can now meet people, at a distance and outside. We are allowed to shop more broadly, exercise at a greater distance, and go back to school and work. As of now, when I am writing this blog, there is almost no indication of when we might be able to come together again as a Church community.
My diary continues to buzz periodically (electronic diaries do this; they are alerts for events you might be at). Mostly these notifications are for things that were part of our regular ordinary life; coffee morning, mass, sandwich making for the homeless, playgroup etc. Sometimes they are reminders for a wedding that’s been moved, or a baptism that has been cancelled. The buzzing is deigned to make you look at your device and remember where you are supposed to be. Now it is just a reminder of what we have had to restrict and stop.
I have purposely left these events and alerts in my diary. Initially this represented a hope that our situation was temporary and, within a week or two, things would go back to ‘normal’. Latterly I have left them buzzing away, not so I can drop in and say hello to the volunteers and families of the Church, but so that I can be reminded of them and pray for them in these days of isolation and confinement.
This represents just one of the ways in which my relationship with the Church has changed. Now it is one of distance, prayer and remembrance, rather than physical and pastoral presence. Our worship is virtual, our fundraising at a distance, and so the list goes on.
Some of these things I hope will remain, and become part of our life as a Church. We can learn some valuable lessons about staying connected with the housebound in a time when visiting is increasingly difficult and perhaps less welcome than it was in the past. We have been reminded of the importance of practicing our faith at home, and not just in our wonderful church building. We are reminded of the spiritual dimension that underpins the physical motions of the mass.
Much of this has been introspective. If I am honest, I have not wanted to think let alone actually hear, what the wider community, and society at large, has to say about the Churches paltry offering in this time of heroism and self-sacrifice. I hold out hope that we have something to say when it comes fo crafting the narrative of this pandemic and processing the grief and trauma it has caused. At the moment I feel we have allowed ourself to be nudged off the stage and given the role of understudy to a political narrative, when perhaps we should have been teaching, guiding and helping the nation grow during this period.
A particularly distressing, but indicative of our current place as perceived by those in power, is the decision to allow shops and schools to resume their operations on the 1st June, but a failure to entertain the possibility of even private, distanced, prayer in Church before the 5th July. What does it say when you may draw near to a new pair of shoes, or a fancy appliance, before being allowed to come and give thanks before the presence of Christ in the house of the Almighty? I fear it says rather more than we would like it to.
I am not sure the answer can be found in simply doing more. We can pick-up the pieces of a broken system, feeding families with a food bank, addressing the crippling debt that is another epidemic in our society with our initiatives, providing a place for young parents and carers to come and socialise safely at a playgroup. But this is about making ourselves indispensable by doing the vary things that should be done already. We need to have confidence that our indefensibility comes from the vary things we do that seem less than ‘essential’. Our worship, our prayer, our participation in the preaching of the gospel into the world.
When the Church does re-open we need to rejoice. Not because the playgroup is playing, the soup-run is running, our fellowship is flourishing, but because we can draw near to Christ again, in his people, in our liturgy, in the physical presence of Christ in the Sacrament.
My body balks at the thought of continued confinement, but my soul fears for its survival…