Saturday, 2 May 2020

Reflection on our closed churches

The fourth Sunday of Easter

I want to say sorry to you all.

I have until now been quiet, zipped here in my tent, peacefully behind the flaps but the trouble is I so disagree that our churches are closed for private prayer, tightly shut, slammed, barred and bolted. And I think someone should say they are sorry.

No more can we kneel in dust moted aisles and seek the sweet voice of God as centuries of people before us have done during plague or famine or simply to mourn a single death. These spaces have been nurtured, augmented, fashioned individually by generations of the faithful and the arguments that we do not need them to be close to God true as they most certainly are, nonetheless fall like stones upon my ears because we can see that we have always needed sacred spaces. Think perhaps of Stonehenge or Ravenna or the building of St. Peter in Rome not to mention our Saxon heritage here in North Norfolk.

There are some who are saying that we are returning to the original way of the church yet this morning’s reading makes me question that. The reading comes from Acts 2:42 which immediately follows Peter’s speech to the assembled people of Jerusalem - there is no gap it is not hidden in an obscure sub paragraph but it is there on the very birthday of the Church.

“They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  All who believed were together and had all things in common. Day by day they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”

A distinctive feature then of Christian life from the beginning was being together, gathering, holding things in common. Now of course I do not think we should hold services and certainly we should not expressly invite people to gather for that would be irresponsible but is there a clear reason for closing churches that are usually open for private reflection and prayer?  It turns out that we are more responsible than our leaders foresaw, and I am not sure that the praying population would be any less so. We can keep two broomsticks from each other in many places (I have just come back from the pharmacy window at the surgery) we can wait our turn affably and have developed a penetrating fear of the outdoors that prompts us to vigorous hand washing on returning home.

At the beginning of the virus outbreak many, often not regularly seen in the pews,  said to me how grateful they were for the chance to go into our churches, our visitor books’ entries illustrate the support for open churches. Lots of people find our places of worship comforting.  Again I am sorry that they are not there today when comfort is sorely needed. As we are constrained to be apart there is something about the sharing, expressed so clearly by the earliest Christians, that is important: When sitting in a church we are there with all who have walked through that 800 year old door to sit by Norman columns carrying burdens we cannot imagine and to lay them before God. We share with the person who was there yesterday, an hour ago and who will be there tomorrow.

In  our Gospel reading Jesus says that he came to open the sheepfold so that the sheep may enter by it. Please could you in your prayers this week include a prayer that this aspect of the Church’s Lockdown - capital C and capital L may be speedily revisited so that we sheep may come into his house, one or two at a time, apart from one another but sharing deeply together. Amen

You may listen to the whole service and this sermon at

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