I was glad…

Published: 9th July 2020

I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.

The Psalmist’s words have rung poignantly in my ears over the last weeks, as we have been unable to enter our churches to worship together. At the time I am writing, the timetable for our re-entry into church buildings is not yet clear, as it will be dependent on the government’s gradual easing of restrictions, which in turn is contingent upon the effectiveness of those restrictions in containing the spread of the coronavirus. We do know, though, that we will have to move through different phases in taking up again the use of our churches, that many precautions will need to be taken to ensure that our churches are safe and clean, and that some limitations (on singing, on numbers, on distancing) will remain in place.

Nevertheless, there will be a time when ‘our feet shall stand within the gates’ of our churches together, and I look forward to that with eager anticipation. The closure of our buildings has been the right decision to help protect the common good of our society’s health, but it has not been easy: we have been missing these places we love, hallowed by the prayers of generations; we have been missing the real fellowship of one another, fellow members of the body of Christ; and we have been missing sharing together in that body and blood in communion. When we meet again we will indeed be glad; and it will be for our churches collectively a time of restoration, a return from exile.

In the Bible, times of exile are of course full of longing for restoration; but they are also times of re-imagination. God’s people during their years in Babylon learned so much more about the purposes of their God that they were able to shape their life in a new way when they returned to Jerusalem. And our own, much shorter, exile has been a time of re-imagination for us too. We have learned new ways of being together in virtual reality; we have found new patterns of worship; we have discovered in a new way what it means to serve our communities. While our buildings have been closed, our churches have been very much alive and learning. And it is vital that we should take that new learning into our restored life together as we re-enter our churches.

Here are a few points of learning, taken from an evangelical website, which I have found helpful. The writer suggests that in our experience of this lockdown, God has been training us:

  • as we are unable to gather physically as churches, to appreciate the vital importance of meeting together;
  • as we feel our individual weakness and vulnerability, to repent of our self-dependence;
  • as the vulnerable are in self-isolation for a long period, to care for others and put their needs ahead of our own; as we find ourselves restricted in our homes and communities, to gain a renewed evangelistic heart for our neighbours;
  • if we find ourselves confined at home with family, to deepen our relationships;
  • as we find ourselves unable to do many of the things we have taken for granted, to value what really matters in life; as we find ourselves threatened by something affecting the whole of society, to value good government;
  • as we find ourselves with time on our hands, to regain a habit of daily prayer and bible reading;
  • as we find ourselves in awe of healthcare workers and those performing essential jobs, to free us from our adulation of over-paid celebrities and sports stars;
  • as we feel the fear of death and frailty of life, to appreciate the gospel hope of resurrection with joyful confidence in the future that awaits us;
  • as we sense that the lock-down is going to last longer than we first imagined, to value the virtues of patience and long-suffering;
  • as we begin to understand the devastating impact that the virus will have in less developed countries, to regain our passion for world mission and to care for our poorer brothers and sisters around the world.

These are things for us to take to heart in our own individual lives and in our local churches. We will also need to shape new ways of planning our mission and ministry at a diocesan and at a national level, and work is already beginning on that. In all that we do, as individuals or as churches, we will need to hold together the twin themes of restoration and re-imagination. So we pray, in the words of the eucharistic prayer for Lent that we were using at the beginning of all this, that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your people once again.

Bishop of Lichfield

Page last updated: Thursday 9th July 2020 2:57 PM
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