There’s been a lot of comment, both publicly and privately, about the closure of church buildings and all sorts of strange ideas about why the bishops and archbishops felt it was necessary to close the building. They range from conspiracy ideas that we’ve always really wanted to, through to comments about obsession with health and safety and all this sort of thing.
There are actually five very simple reasons, all of them pretty positive. The first is to set an example: the government has said again and again, and every public health official in the country is saying, stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. It’s a very simple message and it’s a very ethical message – it’s about looking after those who look after us, and it’s about looking after the most vulnerable. By closing the churches we make a powerful symbol of the need to listen to that message: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. The second reason is that part of the church’s role is to be with people. The church building is a building, the Church is the people of God, and when we don’t go to the church building we go back to what we did in the early centuries of the Church and what churches all around the world do at present, which is we meet in homes, just family and household, we use the wonders of technology to be in touch with each other, but we recover the sense that Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there with them.” And they don’t even actually to be physically gathered, virtually gathered does very well indeed. Jesus is quite up-to-date on this stuff.
And thirdly, for ministers, for priests and bishops it’s about sharing in the inconveniences, the restrictions, the isolations imposed on us. It’s about being part of the flock rather than some super special category that can go and do its own thing.
Fourthly, we need to remember that the Church of England is the Church for England. There are all kinds of arguments about being an established church but deep within our DNA, deep within our nature, in every parish, for all of us who’ve been parish priests, there is the sense you’re there for everyone. And if you’re there for everyone, it means you have to think about everyone. You have to be available in whatever way is best, and the public health message is, let me say it again, stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. So if we’re the Church for England we pay attention to that.
And fifthly, it’s not just about us you know, the believers, it’s about everyone, it’s about being welcoming in every way we can. The online services are being accessed by vast numbers of people – they may not be everything that those of us who are regulars, lifelong churchgoers want, but they are a way of reaching out. It’s a way of saying we don’t depend on the buildings, It’s a way of saying we don’t depend on the buildings, wonderful as they are, and they are treasures. What we depend on is the presence of God,through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, who leads us into his love, into his mission, into following him.
May God bless and keep you in this difficult period.