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I hope you are bearing up ok as we move into the 2nd full week of ‘Lockdown 2’. I find it seems to pick up its own particular rhythm after a while but it takes a few gear changes in your head before it gets there! Hopefully this time of lockdown will have an impact on the spread of the virus across the nation and we hope and pray that restrictions can be eased again to some degree come December.
This last week or so I have been interested to see how Christians and Church Leaders have reacted to this lockdown. I know that both Archbishops and other faith leaders were amongst those who had lengthy discussions with the Government imploring them not to shut churches again. Clearly that hasn’t been the case but undoubtedly pressure was put upon the Government to review their thinking. The key reasons given, as I understand it, are that we have now learnt how to make our buildings safe and Covid secure, that our faith is not an optional extra for us but an essential part of our identity and being which finds particular expression when we gather together for worship and to receive the sacraments together, and that peoples mental health and well-being is put at risk when we can’t gather together.
I understand this and fully respect all the reasons given, but for my part, I feel that our solidarity with our fellow men and women is best shown at this time by not meeting together. We are not simply a church under bondage at this time; we are a nation under bondage. I am conscious too that Leisure Centres, Pubs and Restaurants could argue that they have the exact same right as churches do to remain open and that, indeed, peoples health and well-being is put at risk when they aren’t able to. Not only that, of course, but people’s livelihoods are at risk when they are employers and employees in places that remain closed whereas, mercifully, we don’t have to deal with that. I am particularly conscious that as a Minister in the Church of England I am paid and housed and haven’t suffered at all in this respect. Finally, I simply couldn’t bear it if we were the only groups allowed to meet and an outbreak started in one of our church buildings. I feel that would be a harmful and shocking witness to all around. As a friend said to me, ‘A sanctified space is not a sterilised space!’
I thank God that I know that Jesus is with me through his Spirit, that I have a bible, that I can pray and that I’ve got ‘Zoom’! We are under pressure at this time but I certainly don’t agree with the view that we are under spiritual attack or being persecuted in any way. The whole world is feeling the burden of Covid at this time and we are simply part of that along with everyone else. Likewise, we are having to do things very differently at the moment but we are free to do them and our gospel witness is not being suppressed. My brother-in-law has worked with persecuted Christians across the globe for many years and being intimidated and silenced for your faith is something completely different to being shut out of our buildings for a short and necessary while.
I realise that not everyone will think the same as me but I thought I’d let you know where I’m coming from – not least because a number of people have asked me! I am very mindful too of the fact that I do not live alone and my perspective might be different if I did and I was more isolated. Am I missing our church gatherings, though? Of course I am and I’m very much looking forward to when we can all be meeting back together again which I hope is only a couple of weeks away. It seemed particularly frustrating when in Overton we had just started meeting again in the mornings and were looking forward to getting back to a more normal pattern. It will come!
So in the meantime let’s pray and let’s pray hard. For our world, our nation, our leaders and our own villages and communities. Please also do be praying about Christmas and what we might be able to do to spread the light and good news of Jesus in this dark and difficult time. Things will undoubtedly be different this year but let’s rise to the challenge as best we can! After all, we hold on to the unchanging truth that Immanuel means God is with us. Amen to that – he certainly is.