As we pray for the end of lockdown and a great re-awakening we need to prepare, now. We — that is Church congregations everywhere — must use this Lockdown to PREPARE. Prepare for the time when we can get outside again and all meet again.
We need to be ready, knowing what we need to do. Not like the bishops who, last March, announced the closure of all their churches, at the same time re-assuring us that the clergy could hold services “on-line”, from their own homes, which would be ‘just as good’. They were wrong. The Easter Eucharist from Archbishop Justin Welby’s kitchen was not ‘just as good’ and he would have had plenty of technological assistance. Most clergy have done a magnificent job providing services, on line, on Zoom, on the phone, learning hi-tech as they muddled through.
Later, when the churches were allowed to open again, the bishops issued pages of rules and regulations and protocols to ensure that you would be far safer in a church than in any train station or supermarket. Again the clergy coped, with very little in the way of help and guidance. Perhaps there might have been a bishop somewhere who ordered all the sanitizers and cleaning products and safety tapes all the churches would need and went round delivering everything to the individual clergy, and checking how they were getting on. Sadly, I suspect that hope is pie in the sky.
What we have to do now is keep our feet on the ground.
That’s what Our Lord did, literally. He kept his feet on the earth as he walked through the Gospels, day after day, apart from when he walked on water. He was down to earth at our level until the final day, when he was lifted up on the Cross.
There is probably a PhD thesis somewhere that could tell us how many miles Jesus walked in the Gospels. There may be someone who could even tell us how many pairs of sandals He wore out. He walked from village to village and town to town talking to everyone he met. When he wanted to be alone to pray and think he walked up a mountain.
Bishops tend not to think down to earth. They prefer Big and Expensive. The Bishop of St. Asaph spent £2 million — two million pounds — a few years ago, to buy the old Dorothy Perkins store in Wrexham. The building is on Hope Street so it’s now called the Hope Centre. Clever, eh? Not so clever when you think about the six Anglican churches already in Wrexham and what their clergy could have achieved with a cool two million.
Let’s come down out of the episcopal clouds and concentrate on where to walk on earth.
When Lockdown began a priest here in North Wales went up into the mountains to pray by a lake. Wonderful, until they closed Snowdonia National Park. Then there’s Reverend Pat Allerton of St Peter’s Church, Notting Hill, labelled the ‘Portable Priest’. His parishioners couldn’t come to him so he took services around his parish. A hymn, a prayer and a mini sermon in 10 minutes at any convenient street corner. Perhaps the fact that he is an old Etonian gave him the confidence to thumb his nose at his bishop. He admitted to feelings of trepidation as he set off the first day. But guess what? People loved him; no one complained, no one was offended. He was even asked for an encore.
Surely that’s something lots of local clergy could do. If the bishops don’t want us in our churches so be it. There’s no law against street preaching so as soon as we’re allowed out on the streets again let’s get out there. The bishops have explained that we don’t need churches. God is everywhere. They are half right. But congregations that work hard all week running food banks, feeding people and other volunteer projects do need their churches on a Sunday. They do need to recharge their batteries and refuel their tanks to give them the spiritual strength to carry on. And those vital services can be held on the village green or in the town square or in a supermarket carpark.
Father Jonathan Beswick SSC is Rector of another St Peter’s Church, this one in London Docks. Writing in the Spectator on 16th January he has plenty of reasons why he is actually keeping his church open at the moment. Last Spring he set up an outdoor shrine and held services during daily exercise. He also rang his church bell which was much appreciated. I’m encouraged to think he would agree with me. In his article he says, “God did not reside on Mount Sinai reissuing successive tablets of stone. Rather, he got stuck into the mess and mortality that is the lot of the human race.”
Absolutely right. The same mess we should be walking through, with our feet firmly on the ground.