CH ** CH …What’s Missing?

That’s right. You are; so am I. Regular church goers have been missing from our churches since the beginning of Lockdown; not willingly but by command of our bishops, who chose to lock our churches against us, despite government advice that they could stay open with safeguarding measures in place. Thank God the supermarkets were more efficient or we would all have starved.

I will leave out all the stuff about the Church not being a building but its people; that is repeated so often it is becoming trite. Church communities have been doing sterling work individually to keep the “show” — if not on the road — at least on line, but it’s not enough.

Front page headlines in The Times (L) and Daily Telegraph (R)

Of churches and spiritual life — not a word!

Beginning yesterday, Monday 22nd June, churches may now open for private prayer.  Last week our local Vicar sent out a 14-page downloadable booklet from the bishop. This we were to read and discuss, on a Forum, on how we can do this safely. In our church, this means how to keep 2 or 3 very old ladies safe in a building that can seat 200. 

In the many weeks of lockdown one might have thought the bishops, the diocesan office, the people who wrote the booklet and the individual vicars could have put plans in place in plenty of time for this day. After all, the local clergy are the ones who know the size of their churches, the odd nooks and crannies that could be safely used for private prayer and, most importantly, the people in their congregations who would be likely to respond to this opportunity.

I would love to be able to go into the church I have been at home in for 30 years but I won’t. I don’t want to cause so much trouble and bother to all the able bodied members of the congregation who will have to get the 14 pages of the safety measures put in place.

Also, I have taken the words of Bishop Gregory, of the Diocese of St Asaph in North Wales, very much to heart. 

“It is very important that we do not make the re-opening of churches a free for all…”

A “free for all”? What planet is this man on? What church is he Bishop in?

Jesus says “knock and the door will be opened to you …” (Luke 11.9) unless the bishop has locked it.

Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World

 Jesus also says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11.28)

I can’t think of a time since the end of the Second War when people have been more weary and burdened, and grieving and fearful or more in need of spiritual peace. To paraphrase George Herbert, “Love bade me welcome, but the bishops drew back.”

Rugby Sermon

I had intended to make one of my rare appearances in my village church last Sunday morning but clearly the Holy Spirit had other ideas. My old fashioned clock was running an hour slow so I got a much more interesting sermon by staying home and watching the Rugby World Cup.

There is so much more to watching sport than just sitting in front of a TV screen cheering or groaning as your favourite team wins or loses. It can be both a thought-provoking and a spiritual experience.

The game I watched was Wales v Australia in Pool D. It was an excellent match, ending on a most satisfying cliff hanger. We — I speak for Wales — were ahead by 4 points but in the last ten minutes it looked as if Australia were very likely to get another try and win by one point. There were many terrific, unrelenting struggles on the touch line. Exactly the sort of situation where tempers can fray, but they didn’t. Far from it.

At one point, a few minutes from the finish, both George North and an Aussie player leapt high into the air for the ball. It slipped through George’s fingers into the hands of his opponent, who then tripped and fell to the ground. The ball rolled into touch.

Were you watching? Did you see what happened next? George held down his hand to his fallen opponent and helped to haul him to his feet. As they walked back together George ruffled the other man’s head and they grinned at each other.

I can’t see that sort of thing happening during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Englalnd. It’s even less likely in the Church in Wales. From all I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of the discussions in Synod, if I were there I would have many opponents. Anyone who supports Same Sex Marriage and all the other sex/gender shenanigans would undoubtedly consider me to be a homophobic bigot lacking any compassion. In which case, I suspect they would be more likely to push me over than give me a helping hand, and, when I staggered to my feet, would trip me up again.

That’s the difference between the Welsh Rugby Union and the Anglican Church in Britain. The former may be gentlemanly hooligans but they know there is a strict rule book which must be obeyed. Of course, the players will try what they can get away with when the Ref isn’t looking — the odd sly shove or a muttered rude word — but the players and the spectators know there are consequences for broken rules. You can get a Penalty against your whole team or you can end up in the Sin Bin.

It’s quite otherwise with the Church. For a start Anglican bishops don’t really do sin any more. Not only do the senior clergy not get penalised for disobeying the rules but they are much more likely to get promoted. It’s the traditional law-abiding Parish priests who land in the Sin Bin or act as scapegoats.

Could it be that falling church numbers have a lot to do with our competing love of sport. We admire and respect our top sports men and women for their single-minded devotion and dedication to what they love. Few of them would take time off from training to waste time on Brexit. It’s different for Bishops. Having thrown away the rule book they don’t know what else to do. Organise a fun-fair or a fashion show, perhaps.

**Computer problems, so no pictures I’m afraid though I do have a lovely one, on my screen, of George North racing for the touch line