At time of writing, a state of national lockdown persists in England but a statement is expected in the House of Commons within the hour, with the Prime Minister setting out a plan for returning to normality. News sites, which seem to continue to struggle with the concept of reporting what has happened in favour of (informed) speculation, are generally of the opinion that schools will start opening more widely in early March and that we’ll be back to ‘the rule of six’ (up to six adults able to socialise outside, while taking some precautions) from the end of March.
That’s shortly before the Easter weekend and, not wanting to prejudge my own church’s decision based on my own opinion, means we will probably at least have some kind of live service on Easter Day. Some Christian pundits, such as Graham Nicholls writing for Premier Christianity, argue that we should resume meetings in our buildings now if we haven’t done so already.
For myself, I think there are ample reasons to hold off a little while longer. Despite the continued roll-out of vaccinations, we continue to have several members of our congregation who have been advised to actively ‘shield’. We need to keep our online game up strongly for a while yet. Even more pressing to me, is the fact that, extreme restrictions on socialising are still in place.
In my theology, a key reason for the gathered church is that we congregate together – hence ‘congregations’. We aren’t prevented from meeting but, at present, I think the best we could do would be to watch one or two people at the front leading the service while sitting apart and mumbling into our masks. Most painful of all, we can’t exchange handshakes and hugs or even form small clusters to catch up outside. God is with each of us where we are and we aren’t held back from communicating with each other in various ways but we’d have to arrive, sit and depart in isolation if we returned to the building together.
Nobody wants to police that but I’m not sure our very friendly congregation would be able to resist clustering if brought so close together. It would be like dropping magnets into a jar! I think the watchword for March should be ‘endure a little while longer’ and, even for April and May, we need to tread cautiously until we reach a state of play closer to places like New Zealand.