1God is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved: and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;
11The Lord of hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46: 1-2 and 11 – Common Psalter, Book of Common Prayer
I’m absolutely sure that, like me, you’ve found the latest lockdown more difficult than the others? Apart from other considerations, I’ve been bitterly disappointed to note that some organisations are now cancelling events that were due to take place next September. Whether you support lockdown or not (and it’s worth stressing that the vast bulk of scientific, peer-reviewed papers find that there is no correlation between lockdown and mortality internationally, or even nationally) it’s difficult to make any plans for the future, and that is hugely disruptive to the way we normally live our lives.
This lockdown shares one characteristic with the first one last Spring: that most of our churches have been closed for services, despite the fact that this is not a government requirement (unless you live in Scotland). Some Cathedrals and larger churches have been closed for services, but open as vaccination centres.
What message does this convey to those who’ve depended on attending services as an important part of their lives and their faith? I’ve pasted at the bottom of this article a link to a podcast put out by two Church of England vicars (‘The Irreverend Podcast’). I’ve done this because I believe that it’s important that these and other questions should be debated against the background of a Christian faith; something that we certainly don’t get from our ‘Mainstream Media’. I’m not saying that I agree with absolutely everything that’s said in the podcast, but I think it’s good for us to ask ourselves: ‘What are Churches and church services for?’
There surely cannot be many churches that have not dabbled in ‘virtual’ services at some point since last March, but there’s increasing evidence in many churches that as time goes on, fewer and fewer people are engaging with these. I wonder why?
Our lives are now lived more individually, (rather than collectively), than they have been at any time in our history; in that sense COVID has simply accelerated a trend that’s been there for many decades. But it’s surely right for us to ask ourselves whether a faith can be entirely individual or in addition also needs the collective? I think I’d be happy to accept that a faith that is only collective and not individual is also missing something. My own faith in the last few months has been sustained by reflection; that was one of the purposes of starting this blogsite in the first place. But I miss singing in church and taking communion more as each week passes, and I also feel the absence of a sharing of services and of faith with others. I have to admit that I no longer attempt to follow virtual services; they simply do not feed my faith; actually they never really did, if I’m honest.
Over the centuries, the issue of how Christ is present in the bread and the wine has been debated ferociously. My own position, which I arrived at many years ago, was that I accept Holy Communion as an act which is carried out in remembrance of Our Lord, but I also firmly believe that Christ is present with us at the moment of consecration, both for us individually, but also for those present, collectively. I simply can’t sustain that feeling when I’m watching a computer screen.
I wonder what priests in the distant past would have made of the stress that many religious communities place on churches not becoming responsible for the death of parishioners, some of whom are very vulnerable? Are we now more scared of being prosecuted, than we are of demonstrating our faith and being there for others? What might the closure of churches at a time when many need them more than ever, mean for the future of our churches?
Please do listen to the podcast by clicking on the link and do let me know what you think about the opening of church buildings for vaccine, but not for worship. Is the Church of England now loudly declaring that vaccine is our salvation, and not Our God?
And if it is, does it even deserve to survive?
Gracious God, as these very strange months tick past, please breathe awareness into our churches and those responsible for them, that collective worship is not, and never has been, an ‘optional extra’ to our faith. Amen