This are difficult times for us as people, as a nation and as a church. The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of life that we take for granted; work, home, school, leisure, church, and even our very lives.
May I thank you for all that you are doing to ensure your congregation, and members of the local community where you live, especially the more vulnerable members, are cared for and looked after. May I thank everyone who has stepped up to the challenge of what it means to ‘be church’ in this ‘new world’ in which we find ourselves; livestreaming services, using social media, grasping ‘zoom’ meetings, and so much more. As I’ve sampled various online services and resources from different churches across the Archdeaconry I’ve been amazed and thankful for the creativity and willingness of people to use these technical resources to demonstrate something of the light of Christ to their community. I know that many have been surprised and delighted about how many ‘non-church regulars’ have tuned in and accepted resources offered to them.
When we emerge from this pandemic I believe we will be a very different church. Aspects of what we took for granted will have gone, but also we will have learnt new things and how to help people engage with God in very different ways. When we return to our buildings to worship we will be able to claim back some of what we’ve lost, but I’m sure some aspects of what we considered church will have gone forever. However I also believe we mustn’t forget and lose the new things we’ve learnt, and the ‘new people’ we’ve connected with during this period. I believe it won’t be either ‘worship in church’ or ‘worship online’, but it will be ‘worship in church’ and ‘worship online’. We will have to discover how we help those who have dipped into our services and websites, from the safety of their own homes, to grow and develop in faith and become active members of our ‘new church’ communities.
These are difficult and dark times, but within them we’ve discovered new ways of doing church and seeing Christ. The way ahead for us as church may appear uncertain, but it is also full of new opportunity.
I’ve been struck, as I’ve read the Gospel accounts of Easter, how often a phrase like “the disciples were hiding behind locked doors in fear” occurs. Those phrases of course have always been there but they leapt off the page this year. To some extent we too are ‘hiding behind locked doors in fear’ at the moment, and as we look ahead to what church might be we too could be uncertain and fearful. For those early disciples what they experienced was Christ stepping into their midst and saying ‘peace be with you’.
Christ does the same for us today. In our fearfulness of the current situation he steps in and says ‘peace be with you’. For those grieving a family member or friend, for those anxious about the coronavirus, for those uncertain about their livelihoods, for those NHS workers trying desperately to help patients, and more, Christ comes and steps into the midst and says ‘peace be with you’.
Christ does the same for us as church, as we work through the challenges of this current situation and what it means for us as church, and as somewhere down the line we step into the ‘new world’ of ‘new church’ of post-pandemic world he does the same for us. He stands in our midst and says ‘peace be with you’.
Thank you for all that you are doing to keep church alive and to care for your communities. I pray that you will know Christ standing in your midst at this difficult time offering you His peace. I pray too that as we emerge we will know that same Christ in our midst, offering us His peace, as we relearn what it means to be church.
Take care. Stay safe.
Venerable Dave Middlebrook – Archdeacon of Bedford