This week, you have probably heard the news from the Government, that churches may open for individual prayer, from 15th June and that funerals can take place in church, with very clear instructions regarding how social distancing, etc. must be implemented. The wardens and I are currently in discussion and will be doing the necessary risk assessments to assess how we might best move forward. We are also in liaison with the other churches in the area; I will keep you informed but am sure you will understand that there are many factors which need to be considered and that we have a responsibility to ensure that people are kept safe, so this may take some time. Chelmsford Cathedral have announced that they will be opening for individual private prayer from 4th July.
We have beautiful, historic buildings which have been cherished and nurtured for centuries, and within which prayers have been offered to God by people through many generations, for which we are thankful. It is, therefore, understandable that people are keen to get back into church, notwithstanding the sense of fellowship and community which many have missed greatly over the past three months; I, too, share that desire. But one thing which has become apparent over the past weeks is that the church has remained very much alive and kicking, despite its buildings being closed, and that our worship does not have to confined to the buildings for it to be meaningful. The presence of several ‘new faces’ at our online and recorded services has been very encouraging. As clergy we have all been urged to consider what church could be like when our buildings are open again, what a ‘new normal’ might be and for us not to leave behind the new, positive things discovered during the lockdown.
Of course, we all long for new people to walk through our doors, to have full buildings on a Sunday morning, but for some people, I believe, walking through those big wooden doors is incredibly difficult and I would like to share an analogy. I am not purporting, in any way, to be holier than thou; that I am not, as most of you know! But one place I have never been is a betting shop. When I walk past a ‘bookie’s,’ with its frosted windows, I have often thought, even if I wanted to go in , I wouldn’t dare because I wouldn’t know what to do, that naivety would be clearly written all over my face! And my guess is that many people who are unfamiliar with church might have similar worries about going to a service, even if they desperately want to attend. How hard it must be to walk through a massive wooden door when you can’t see who or what is on the other side, or when the door is so heavy and thick that it is impossible to hear whether or not the service has started? ‘What happens when I go in?’ ‘What happens if I am not meant to be at that service; if it is for a certain group of people which doesn’t include me?’ These are very real concerns that people have. And that’s before even entering the building and other anxieties such as ‘Do I have to pay?’ ‘Where should I sit?’ ‘When should I stand up and sit down?’ come into play. As a priest and someone who has been to church most of my life, when I attend church services on holiday, one or two similar thoughts or fears about entering the building race through my mind. If I can’t see any lights on, I wonder if they’ve changed the time. Or if the lights are on and there is no one outside, I wonder if the service has already started and I am late, even if I am arriving at the time it says on the noticeboard. If, as a regular churchgoer, I have these fears, what, on earth, must be going through the minds of those who have never been to church before.
As churches, we do need to welcome people into our buildings and, as Christians, we need to encourage people to come to church with us, but gone are the days when we can just expect people to come to church on a Sunday morning as ‘normal.’ Statistics show that for most people today, Sunday morning church attendance isn’t ‘normal.’ As has been happening during the lockdown, we need to continue to seek additional ways of, sharing our faith with others, and being church in our communities.
Before the lockdown, over the past two years we have introduced Messy Church at our three primary schools from 3.30pm until 5pm, for families, which has been great. In April we were due to hold our first Forest Church, an outdoor church, for all ages. Over the past couple of years, we have held some outdoor services, where people who are walking past have been able to join in without having to go through the whole ‘walking through the big wooden door ‘thing.
In Matthew’s Gospel, 28:19, Jesus calls his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ And we need to note the word ‘go’ as we continue to seek creative ways of ‘being’ church in our local communities beyond our buildings, keeping the Gospel message relevant and the Church vibrant in the years to come. I firmly believe that our foodbank collection is one way of doing this, which has engaged people far beyond our regular congregations; it has triggered some great conversations and the response has been so positive that this is something I hope we can continue, when the lockdown has finished. Once again, thank you for your support. And, just to let you know, requirements this week are condiments (ketchup, brown sauce, gravy, stuffing etc.) sponge puddings and jelly cubes. This week they also require shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap / hand wash.
I know many of you have been using the Lectionary for your daily Bible reading and prayer and the readings for the week beginning 14th June are, as follows.
|Day||Morning Prayer||Evening Prayer|
|Sunday – Corpus Christi||Psalm: 147; Deut: 8: 2-16 1 Cor: 10: 1-17||Psalm: 23; Proverbs 9:1-5 Luke 9: 11-17|
|Monday 15th Evelyn Underhill, Spiritual Writer||Psalm: 30; Joshua 14 Luke 12: 1-12||Psalm: 28; Job 13 Romans 7: 1-6|
|Tuesday 16th Richard, bishop 1253 Joseph Butler, Bishop & Philosopher 1752||Psalm: 36; Joshua 21: 43 – 22.8 Luke 12: 13-21||Psalm: 33; Job 14 Romans 7: 7-end|
|Wednesday 17th Samuel & Henrietta Barnett, Social Reformers.||Psalm: 34; Joshua 22: 9-end Luke 12: 22-31||Psalm: 119: 33-56; Job 15 Romans 8: 1-11|
|Thursday 18th Bernard Mizeki, martyr, 1896.||Psalm: 37; Joshua 23 Luke 12: 32-40||Psalm: 40; Job: 16: 1 – 17.2 Romans 8: 12-17|
|Friday 19th Sundar Singh, Sadu (holy man), evangelist, teacher of the faith, 1929||Psalm: 31; Joshua 24: 1-28 Luke 12: 41-48||Psalm: 35; Job 17: 3-end Romans 8: 18-30|
|Saturday 20th||Psalm: 42; Joshua 24: 29-end Luke 12: 49-end||Psalm: 46; Job 18 Romans: 8: 31-end|
Prayer needs this week include Nicola, Hazel, Rose, Dave, Jane, Steve, Steve, Dawn and Steve, Please continue to pray for those recently bereaved and, especially the family of the two women tragically murdered in the park in London at the weekend.
As ever, please continue to let me know about any prayer or pastoral needs.
Take care and God bless,