Should Churches be reopened? Absolutely not!
It was in a little disbelief that I started reading that DUP ministers in the Northern Ireland Local Assembly were suggesting such a thing. However, being shocked at inexplicable utterances of politicians has sadly become second nature!
My biggest disappointment was not that they were suggesting that Churches reopen but the dangerous mixed message that it was carelessly throwing out to our society.
I have blogged elsewhere today that I believe us to be in a difficult week in the endurance of these strange times. For some reason people seem more anxious, lonely and frustrated. I am not sure that anyone thought we would be locked down so long but even more wearying is the absence of an ending.
Into such a fragile societal moment, mixed messages seem frighteningly life threatening. People who feel frustrated can get on the back of a political comment and start pushing for an easing of lockdown measures that can still put my life and your life at risk and pressure back on the NHS.
So, there was the mixed message.
However, I am against the return to church for a few reasons.
Firstly, telling us we can go back to Church is so much more complicated than a simple phrase.
Before lockdown was official we in Fitzroy had done a Coronavirus health and safety check. We had stewards on the one door with gloves on, to make sure people didn’t touch door handles. We had no offering plate or orders of service. We banned hand shakes and we kept the coffee area closed, asking people to leave without crossing social distancing boundaries.
Those measure is themselves significantly curtail the “gathering” of believers. Fellowship is almost nonexistent.
We also found that some of our vulnerable members, out of a wonderful sense of duty, broke good advice to stay at home and put themselves into dangerous situations in our pews.
When lock down does begin to lift we will have to add to those measures we already had in place. We will have to separate people, at least a pew apart. That will probably mean going to two services. Post worship fellowship will be discouraged. We might have to ban our more mature members, which is a very difficult call.
The simple “Churches should reopen” call is a complex one. When people are looking for an embrace, a hand shake or social interaction, it might actually cause more frustration and push us in our self discipline more than might be helpful. It might well add to the mental health fragility.
Secondly, with the creativity of on-line services, teaching videos, bespoke worship, children’s and youth activities, Zoom prayer meetings, midweek groups and other meetings many aspects of Church life have been kept very much alive, maybe more vibrant than ever. Certainly more imaginative and with a further reach.
That doesn’t mean I do not miss the live vibe of worship and particularly for me preaching with a congregation present. I long for that day but I would rather it was a day that was safer than we can call now. I would rather we could do more of the things that we need from Church.
Finally, I also want to make a call to fellow believers to listen to the call of God in all of this. “Love your neighbour” is a more intense and costly call at this moment than maybe any other moment in most of our lives. When we clash the writer to the Hebrews telling us “not to stop meeting together” and Jesus call to “love your neighbour” I believe Jesus wins hands down just now.
We need to be those modelling the self sacrifice of Jesus to our society. We need to be prepared to give up some of our desires for the health and survival of our neighbours.
The idea that we would be the whingers shouting for some God given right to break lockdown leaves not only a very bad taste in my mouth BUT also flies in the face of all the teaching and example of the Jesus we claim to follow. God calls us to give up our rights. Let’s be exemplary in our love for our world at this time.
For centuries we have declared that God is everywhere and that we don’t need to go to a building to meet God. It is time to cash that cheque.
Should churches be reopened? Absolutely not. Not just yet. The time will come… but we can wait…