If anyone should be prepared for a plague to sweep the earth, it is the Church. Such a thing is foretold in many parts of the Bible. One would expect our current predicament to be one in which the Church comes to the fore of society, standing in opposition to the doom-mongering of temporal governments.
Reluctantly churches have begun to reopen with bare-boned services. Anyone stepping into a church is now confronted with Stasi-like registration, the black and yellow tape of a crime scene, alternate pews cordoned off, hand sanitiser, visors, masks, even gloves. No more exchanging the peace, no more hymns, no choir, no organ; hell, not even allowed to sit by other people, or talk over a cup of tea after the service.
Gone is the communion with God that began even before the silent procession up the nave. The rasping crunch of leather soles on York paving stones; a crisp, clear sound in harmonious opposition to the bells and the bird song–which from Heaven descend–passing under the arch where ornately woven into the stone are angels and visions of Eden. How many generations have they seen walk humbled beneath them?
Seated in the familiar comfort of a wooden pew, a whispered hush fell upon the gathered. Greetings fizzed across the chancel as the choir assembled, and then, the organ. That glorious sound which seems to radiate from not just the pipes but the very building itself, and lauds the skies about.
There was no air of apprehension about being alongside others; there was no fear of meeting strangers, no atmosphere of suspicion. Just a friendly group, in a friendly Church, in a friendly village. This is what so many have lost, and what is missed most dearly.
It is natural for humans, in times of crisis or not, to look soulfully for guidance, to aspire to higher ideals. Ritualising these ideals with credos, songs, words, rites of passage and group actions, coming together with others in common cause satisfies the human need to be accepted as part of the group, to belong.
The NHS was thrust into the gap left by absent by the archbishops, deified, voluntarily, by millions across the land. Participation in ‘clap for our carers’ was high across the whole country; yet many participants would struggle to explain why they took part, beyond the obvious or the vain, to see a deeper need for ritual.
Part of the word Christianity derives from the Ancient Greek krísis meaning crisis but also judgement. Each time the Faith is shaken it is also being judged and those parts which are unworthy fall away–will its remains serve the needs of the flock?
Church leaders recognise that we live in a near irreligious age and in response have let down Christendom. This pull towards secularism makes the Church increasingly irrelevant as it constantly shifts with societies’ whims and fads–see the Archbishop’s response to BLM. More visible though was the sound of closed doors across the realm; the end of services and private prayer; restricting the clergy from entering their own buildings to pray; in addition to stopping clergy administering last rites to the dying, or ministering for the sick and vulnerable in their parish. To push many thousands away and tell them that ‘zoom’ church is just as good is shameful. The Church is meant to act as an oak tree in a field does: rooted in a world of chainging seasons. To offer constant hope and salvation, fulfil the spiritual yearning of each and keep the Faith, even when it seems so little cared for.
It is time for Church leaders to recognise the righteous anger of the common people and their wish for its return to common sense normality, to return to Church; accepting the risks but acknowledging the rewards of a life well lived on one’s feet, not kept away by fearful bureaucrats. Is this not the place that teaches of an afterlife and to accept our mortality, as Jesus did?
Sadly, the Church currently represents little more than an arm of the nanny State, bogged down with health and safety diktats which actually go above and beyond what government recommends. The following passage provides the scriptural backbone for a different response from the Church, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
Matthew 22:21 teaches us of the separation of Church and State, an idea which seems at odds with current episcopal policy. Our taxes go to the treasury, but our souls belong to God. The Church should take a stand against this overbearing government and draw from its own teaching on how to live: not merely existing in ‘bubbles’. We want to sing hymns; we want choirs and organs; we want bustling, welcoming churches; and in the coming months, carol services too. We do not wish to live in purgatory forever; therefore, let us be brave for the rewards are plentiful on this earth and the one beyond.