The effect of the closure of the Church buildings quickly became something that has upset many people. Knowing that a church is open for anyone to go into for prayer is something that we have taken for granted, and for the time being it has been taken from us. Now we may well think that, in the face of everything else happening in the world, this is a small enough thing, and, yes, weighed according to that particular measure, that is indeed true. However, it does not detract from the loss that we are experiencing.
Peter Burtwell kindly sent me the photograph above taken on the very first Sunday when the churches remained locked for the first time, according to the instruction from the Church of England centrally, and underlined by the Diocese of Salisbury. Some people have said, “But why?”, “Why can we not use an empty building on our own?” The simple answer that we have been given is that Church buildings have many smooth hard surfaces that potentially harbour the virus, and upon which it can remain live for some time. It would be impractical to wipe the church down several times a day and, besides, even then it remains a risk that it is not necessary to take. So, there it is, the churches remain closed, as we attempt to model what is being asked of everyone across the country.
Let us think today a little about our ways of coping, especially if the internet happened to collapse too. Someone said to me on the phone a few days ago, “Thank goodness for the Prayer Book, I always have it with me, and that is all I need.” Someone else reminded me of Terry Waite, who for a long period of time was in solitary confinement, and didn’t even have a Bible or any book of prayers. He has spoken and written of his natural tendency to fall back on the words of hymns, psalms and collects that he has held in his memory all his life.
Using our memories of things that have stirred us spiritually is a good path to tread. Most of us can think, and be inspired to let those thoughts travel, as we contemplate those around us in our neighbourhood; our families miles away, but close to our hearts every minute; all who are in difficulty of any kind as a result of this virus or for some completely unrelated reason; and, of course, the natural world of which we are a part. As we turn to Prayer Book or Bible, we bring a myriad of thoughts to mind, but also make space for the Scriptures to open a channel for Christ to reveal things to us. We may come metaphorically, or actually, on our knees in thanksgiving, but we always take from our prayers hope and comfort, and a reassurance that we are not alone, but held with others ever in the love of God.