The new English lockdown, expected to pass through Parliament tomorrow and come into effect on Thursday, includes the closure of churches and places of worship for worship services. Unsurprisingly, there is a move from some Christian lobbies, such as Christian Concern, to stop a ban on worship services. However, I am not minded to fight that battle.
At Thorpe Acre church, we’ve eased our way back into live services. We opened for private prayer in July (planned in June and fixed just before the changes which allowed services again after the first lockdown). We restarted our Tuesday morning services a month later along with a rota of different types of events for Parish Prayers. We decided to wait until schools had started back and had time to bed in, so the next step was at the start of October, when we returned to Sunday morning services and wound the Parish Prayers evenings down. Now, at short notice, we’re likely to be stopping Sunday and Tuesday services again for at least a month.
However, I think there is a vital difference between being required to stop Sunday services and being asked to stop practicing our faith. The proposed restriction is only the former and only for a time. I’m writing personally – the team don’t meet until tomorrow to agree the way forward for this church. Personally, I am minded to embrace this coming lockdown because:
- Our nation is in pain. People are dying or picking up long-term health problems because we have been mixing too much. A national response, even in areas where the infection rate still remains low, is an expression of solidarity and compassion.
- The services we’ve had were a privilege and we’ve made creative use of them but they are eviscerated of many of the vital ingredients we previously added, such as being able to warmly greet friends and draw in strangers, buzzing round the building with words of grace for each other
- We approach this month with much better preparation than we had back in March. We’ve survived this before and are experienced in ways of keeping together spiritually while keeping apart physically.
I will particularly miss the way we’ve been working with the worship team, having a small group on the stage worshipping together for 15 minutes as people come and take their seats. It isn’t the same as leading the whole congregation in a song that we raise together to God but it’s something and – personally – I’ve been able to experiment with songs and arrangements that would normally get steamrollered by the requirement of leading the whole congregation.
However, I believe that we can not only bear another month of significant lockdown but that we can wear it as an expression of corporate worship for such a time as this. That is why I am not planning to add my voice to the cries of “let the churches keep running meetings”. Instead, I’d say, “church – be alive!”.