Doing church differently

Published on: 4 May 2021

The last six months have brought changes to our lives in a way which no-one could have foreseen as long established routines have had to be either abandoned or radically changed due to the restrictions brought about by COVID-19.

The challenges facing us have been unprecedented and life changing as we have sought new ways of living and being.

The church, along with every other institution, has had to find new ways of being and we have had to learn new skills in online worship and pastoral care by telephone or Zoom. This has been challenging but we have embraced the technology and recognised its benefits. Some churches have actually gained new members through it but we also realise that it excludes others who feel uncomfortable with, or who cannot access, on-line worship.

As we begin to emerge from lock-down and return to our buildings this experience has brought into sharp focus some very fundamental questions about what church is. For us in a deeply rural part of the Diocese, worshipping together via Zoom has actually been a very positive experience as our ‘virtual’ congregation has been so much larger and we have felt uplifted as we have been able concentrate entirely on the worship without the worry of the building – those nagging and seemingly endless things which so easily detract from worship – “has someone checked on the heating?”, “has last night’s storm left debris on the path?”, “have the bats made a mess?” These things may be important but they are NOT matters of the Kingdom. They are not worship. Six months of ‘doing church differently’ has given us the space to ask the question “do we want to go back to how things were before the virus?” For most of us the answer is no as we have glimpsed the benefits of coming together in larger numbers and being freed of the shackles of the building where only two or three people faithfully try to maintain it.

In our benefice of thirteen church buildings two have already become ‘festival churches’ and we are planning for several more to do so. Festival churches cease to function on a Sunday by Sunday basis having occasional one off services to mark significant Festivals or events in the life of the community and they remain available for the Occasional Offices.

The joy of this is that it takes such a burden from the shoulders of the often small congregations who are free to travel to the main places of worship and join much larger congregations where all the practical tasks are shared more widely and worship can be so much more uplifting.

Having one service every Sunday at the same time and in the same place means that those on the fringe are far more likely to become regular worshippers as they know exactly where and at what time the service is. The regular worshippers themselves also have the opportunity to attend every Sunday rather than the once a month slot formerly allocated to ‘their’ church. An added bonus is that the clergy can stay and talk over coffee rather than rushing off to the next village.

Being true to our faith surely means that it is not where we worship God that matters but that we do so wherever the worshipping community gathers.

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