For some time now a number of us have been sustained by our benefice’s online Sunday and Daily Services. But in the last months a group of us have also been acting as stewards/assistant vergers for the re-opening of our benefice’s church buildings. There have been ‘hours for prayer’ every week at St John Baptist, Padworth, and at St Saviour's, Mortimer West End. And from September there will be a Eucharist in church on Sunday mornings for limited numbers of households.
When we stand in the strictly-cordoned and clinical environment of our benefice’s church buildings, with a clipboard in front of us and the smell of alcoholic spray in the nostrils, it can sometimes feel a long way away from the mystical Eucharistic love-feast that Jesus initiated at the Last Supper. It might even seem that we have lost the sense of the Sabbath as a resting in-between time between the week ahead and the week just past. And, thus far, no singing, no sign of peace, no sharing of the same cup, no staying afterwards for coffee, and attendance by booking only.
Of course this is absolutely necessary if we are going to ease safely back into public worship. And we are nonetheless glad to witness to this.
Rather than being a ‘haven of escapism’ it feels as if the sacred space is itself touched and affected by the global situation - wounded almost. Yet, of course, believing that God, and therefore hope, transcends this virus is not the same as believing that God is aloof to our pain. We heard a story recently about a religious Sister/nun who, as a midwife, witnesses to God’s love on a daily basis in the extreme difficulties that the coronavirus brings to women already facing in childbirth some of the most challenging moments of their lives. The Sister reflected that perhaps we can offer a kind of eye in the storm of life in which people can take refuge and realise that whilst the storm might not pass quickly God is always there alongside us to offer to accompany us through it.
Many in the Christian community are still shielding and many can’t go to church and some church buildings remain closed. And for many of those who can go to church it may be only to enter for personal prayer - subject, of course, to all the current health and safety regulations. In these strange times perhaps it can feel like our church buildings have become strange and abandoned sacred spaces. And we might be tempted to ask 'where is God in all this? Is he away on business?’
In reflecting on how these restricted, sterile environments have been endured over these past few months - not just by us, but by many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world as they struggle to find their daily bread - we are reminded that God’s business is with us even in the most difficult of situations. And so let us remember to pray that we may know that he is present with us and let us, with one heart and mind, pray for those in our world most affected by coronavirus. God bless,