I was delighted to hear that our Church leaders had made the call to close worship services and go online until February.
This is not an easy decision for churches. Worship services are our family meals. It is the centre of the dynamic of our family life, when we connect horizontally with one another and vertically with God. For our church leaders to take such a decision after discussions with junior ministers at Stormont is a well thought through and sacrificial decision.
When Jesus called his disciples he said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Self denial is at the centre of our faith. Jesus himself denied himself. As the King of the Universe he made himself a baby in a manger, a servant with a towel washing his disciples feet, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and dying on a cross of wood for all of humankind. That is the denial and cross carrying that Jesus tells us marks the church.
So when the world is struggling through a pandemic, hospitals at capacity, NHS staff being pushed to their limits and neighbours fighting for their lives and dying, then it is the right and proper Jesus way to deny ourselves for the common good.
I was a little disturbed when Scottish church leaders attempted to get services open. My reasons were more than just the self denial.
If I was being harsh I would suggest that the current Covid 19 wave as seen in the 10,000 people admitted to hospitals across the UK since Christmas Day is because of our inability as a society to deny ourselves and love our neighbour.
For months we have tried to live as close to the edge of restrictions as we can. We have flaunted the very best piece of advice - to minimise our contact with other people and to only do essential things. I do not think we have.
Such a cultural change needs a strong example. It needs a swathe of strong influencers. What we see our neighbours do will make us think or be thoughtless about what we do. If we all slack on our alertness then the ripple effect a slackness across our society.
What the Church leaders have done by closing worship services for a month, and going on-line until then, is a message to our own members to take this crisis and our responsibility for its curtailing seriously. They are asking us all for Jesus-like example to the wider society. With shops and theatres and bars and cinemas closed it would not have been a good witness for a self denying Jesus or a good role model for our country.
Families can survive without the family meals for a time. Churches can survive without gathering for a time,. That we have on-line services, prayer meetings and other such virtual connections is not perfect but it is a huge resource to see us through these difficult times. I keep saying that Fitzroy is not closed, it is just meeting in different ways.
Let us be those on the forefront of setting the best example in these times. Let us be those who in the vanguard of the campaign to minimise the impact of this virus. Let the church be a shining example. We don’t have to do anything new or different. We just need to do what we are - cross carrying self deniers and the light of the world.
Well done church leaders. God grace and imagination for the decisions you will face in the days ahead.