Last Sunday I found myself at church at both 10am and at Evensong. I had not planned it that way but the extra worship provided solace at the end of a difficult week. I did wonder whether this was ‘stockpiling’ church services and therefore somehow illicit. People talked about being back together this Sunday, but from my experience as Chief Operating Officer of the Diocese in Europe I think I knew what was coming. Churches across Europe have been getting used to being closed for longer than in England and the concept of ‘giving up church for Lent’ is now well established.
Let us be clear though – We are not giving up church. We are finding a new way of being church. It is a unique opportunity to appreciate what it is to be without church. Absence makes the heart grow fonder of course but our calling is to continue to be church. We are learning how to connect digitally like we have never done before. We should probably have had our Facebook group years ago. It will soon become business as usual. What a privilege to be able to come out of our ‘upper room’ at the click of a mouse or a tap on a phone. And no it is not true that older people cannot cope with the technology. Some just need a friendly person to talk them through it. My 92 year-old mother-in-law is a star on Whatsapp. The next phase is to learn how to be church not just for each other but for society as a whole. It is truly shocking to hear that Islington’s Food Bank has run out of food. Islington!!! We should be ashamed.
What we are experiencing is something of the wilderness. We are walking through the land of the shadow of death. Many are self-isolated. That is a truly Lenten concept. Perhaps the time I am forced to be at home will give me the chance to read, to learn, to pray.
It is hard to focus on good news at a time like this but as Isaiah said ‘those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined’. At this time of the year we wait for the light to shine at Easter. In a Diocesan meeting today someone said ‘We don’t know when Easter will be this year’. I pondered this and concluded that what he meant was: we don’t know when we will celebrate together in church, but celebrate we will. Our faith is that the wilderness and the cross are followed by the resurrection and no virus can take that away.