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.”

So that was Easter, 2020.

What a weird time! 

I pray that we never have to live through another Easter with all the churches locked and silent. Locked churches happen in dictatorships not in democracies. But it wasn’t the government who closed them down; it was the Archbishops.

On Good Friday I did not go to church. I could not go to church. For many people that would not matter very much. For some of us it was devastating.

I have been going to church on Good Friday since the Easter before I was confirmed, initially with my mother, for one or one and a half hours of the Three Hour Service. 

The Easter before I got married in the village church the Vicar’s wife mentioned, quite casually, that she always stayed for the full three hours.

“If Christ could hang on the cross for three hours the least I can do is sit in church for three hours,” she said.

After that I stayed for the whole time, year after year, and learned an enormous amount. I was given so much good sense and solid theology during that time, at a depth not possible in a short sermon.

Then the fashion changed and those Three Hour Services became hard and then impossible to find. I don’t remember why; I suppose we were given a reason. I was disappointed but not worried, because I had no idea then what was in store.

In recent years the Good Friday Service seems to have taken the form of wandering round the church being lead in meditation in front of the Stations of the Cross. We rarely have the Stations of the Cross as fixtures in Anglican churches, so we used to group ourselves around pictures blu-tacked to the walls. Well, I can sit and meditate in front of pictures just as easily at home, and I don’t even need to do it on line because I have many books. Even so, for someone my age, this was very strange.

Last Friday, instead of going to church, I was stopped by the police. They commented on what a beautiful day it was and how was I? Then they wanted to know the reason for my journey. When I told them — I had taken my husband to the Renal Unit of the local hospital for dialysis — I had a typical Welsh reaction. “Oh, bless!” In Welsh “pechod!” How was he? Was he doing well? Later in the day I went back to fetch him. I am so lucky being able to do this otherwise I would never leave home. I am sure the wild flowers along the banks of the country lanes are even more prolific this year; but perhaps they were always as magnificent and this year I am in the mood to appreciate them more.

St Thomas’ Church, Mellor, Greater Manchester

On Easter Sunday I followed a service on line from the church which I attended regularly for two years a few years ago. This is the church on the edge of the Peak District where my family received so much support, kindness and generosity and where my daughter lies in the churchyard. The service was simple and soothing but watching the Vicar eat a piece of bread, with the suggestion that at home I could do the same thing, didn’t make it any sort of a real religious experience and certainly no Eucharist.

As well as clapping and cheering all the workers and nurses and carers every Thursday evening we should also be singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving for our clergy. Many of them have been having a terrible time, not just not working but bereft of a whole way of life. They can go on reciting Morning Prayer alone — many of us do that anyway — but it must be disheartening never to get any response.

‘O lord, open our lips’, and not even one croaky voice to respond ‘and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.’

They have been doing a tremendous job, not only hanging on to their own faith but trying to help maintain the faith of people not only locked down but also locked out. They have been zooming, conference calling, e mailing, sending out regular briefings, all while they have been on a very steep learning curve in advanced computer technology. They have also been taking funerals, many of them in the most trying circumstances.

A politically correct Easter Sunday in the Kitchen.

They have been managing to do all this, having been utterly let down by their leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury holding a service in his kitchen should be ashamed of himself. He is lucky enough to have two lovely Chapels right there in his house – one upstairs and a lovely medieval one in the crypt . . . so why the kitchen?  What was gained by being so very twee and trendy!
He just doesn’t get it. 

Supermarkets manage it. Chemists manage it. It involves queuing which the Brits are very good at. For some reason, Welby and Sentamu didn’t think churches could manage it, despite the fact that Christians tend to be every bit as law abiding as any other group, and despite the fact that, given the sizes of most churches relative to the sizes of their congregations, they would have plenty of space to stand 10 or even 15 feet apart and no need to queue. 

Even during the Plague and the Black Death Christians were never locked out of their churches.

People throughout Britain are staying at home, even if it’s driving them mad, they’re helping their neighbours and doing their bit. Within the medical world people have been putting their lives at risk because that is their vocation, which is why so many nurses and doctors are among those who have died. 

Don’t look for any martyrs among the bishops.