The second Sunday of the second lockdown and it is the 2nd Sunday before Advent. People are raising the question with me and others, “With what sort of a Church are we going to come out of this health crisis?” I suppose that there are two answers needed, that which is fairly immediate around Advent and Christmas (on the assumption that we are back in the church buildings in December) and then the much longer term, when we are able to meet without restrictions once again (which may be some months away).
Plans are, naturally enough, being put in place for Christmas, and its leading-in period that we call Advent, in all four churches. As one can imagine, it is a matter of doing what we can. So, it will be a mix of limited numbers attending services, at which only choirs can sing, plus enhanced on-line provision between streaming some services and providing links and recordings, to fulfil the Church’s desire to celebrate Christmas as fully as we can. We remain ever-conscious of those who are most isolated and are unable to access services electronically, and are shielding, so unable to come to church physically either. Printed orders of service will be distributed as far as possible, and the network of pastoral contact continued. If you know of anyone to be added to the lists held by any of the churches, do let the clergy know.
As to the long term prospects, my feeling is that we are likely to experience several different scenarios, but, at heart, everyone I have spoken to is keen to get back together again, in a way that returns to what things were like prior to the end of March this year. People are becoming more and more frustrated at not being able to meet physically; chat; circulate; drink coffee together; sing and pray together; share communion in both kinds; mingle before and after services; get together during the week as well. The strength of feeling is such that, much as some people say, “Church has changed forever”, my response to that is, “Not really.” I do believe that we shall make more use of on-line meetings than previously, but largely for two reasons: Firstly, for cases where people are needing to travel quite a distance, so this may affect some diocesan and even deanery get-togethers; Secondly, where the matters to be discussed are short and few, allowing things to be dealt with in ten minutes by zoom, rather than spending an hour or more getting people into one place. The streaming of services is likely to become more refined and frequent too.
As I reflect on this Sunday morning before reading Morning Prayer and accessing at least two, and probably three on-line services today, I am left with a deep desire, as with many others I know, to meet in Church again; and be at one with a congregation worshipping in a place built and designed for that purpose.
In the meantime, we shall do all we can. Stay safe and positive. Pray for those most affected by the pandemic, and give thanks for all who are working very hard to ensure that our churches are active and held in fellowship though this most difficult period.