Letters Reflections

Letter to parishioners, 22 January 2021

‘Why haven’t you closed the church?’ Read Revd Stephen’s letter to find out why…

Friday, 22 January 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

In this week’s edition of The Church Times there is a headline which unwittingly engages with a question I have been asked several times over the last couple of weeks. The headline reads: More than half of churches shut, and the question is: ‘Why haven’t you closed the church?’ Seeing the headline in the press this morning caused me to pause and think again about why I haven’t joined the many parish priests who rushed to lock the doors of their churches as soon as the third lockdown was announced. My reasoning is simple: people need the Church. Even those who continue to shield and live in a bubble of self-isolation and self-preservation benefit from knowing that the daily cycle of prayer and worship goes on. In 2020 we experienced the pain of being forced to close our churches, but not so in 2021. The government seems to have recognized the nation’s need for the sacred space offered by our churches. There has been an acknowledgement that a legacy of Christian prayer and worship dating back centuries cannot be brought to a halt simply because we now have the capacity to meet and pray on-line. As we enter an historic church we join the procession of the faithful in prayer; the peace and love of those earlier prayer journeys enfold us as we seek consolation and comfort in sacred stillness.

The presence of the Church in every community is important to so many more people than those who make up regular congregations. The presence of the Church, and especially the Church of England, in every community is a legal right that dates back centuries. What is more, that presence is for everyone … the Church is not a holy club with inviolate rules that only serve to distance people from its ministry of love and care. The Church in our benefice continues to be open, albeit in a limited way, because it has a duty to be available, and not just via the internet. The churches in our Benefice that are open have all undergone careful preparation that makes them as safe as possible for anyone who comes into them.

This consideration of whether our church buildings should be open or not has a connection with this Sunday’s reading from John’s gospel. On Sunday we will hear of Jesus’ first sign at a wedding in Cana. We will hear of Jesus taking plain water and turning it into the finest of wines, 180 gallons of the finest wine. Of course Jesus’ action was miraculous, but it was also a sign of the new way that lay ahead. The steward in the story of the Wedding at Cana criticizes the bridegroom for serving the best wine last, after the guests had already dulled their taste buds with the cheaper, inferior wine. Jesus is demonstrating that greater things lie ahead if we go forward in faith, just as there are greater things ahead for us.

Humanity has become complacent about its ability to control its own destiny. Coronavirus has caused us to realize that we are fallible and vulnerable. Jesus’ first sign of his power shows us that no matter how comfortable we may have been with the ‘old’ ways, there is a new and exciting way of viewing the future. This will mean change of vision, reasoning and action, but it will give us the opportunity to come into a closer relationship with God.

So, let us all pray that we may each keep safe and well. Let us rejoice that, for the moment, the Church can remain an open and active part of our community. Let us look forward in hope and joy at the exciting future that lies before us, a future that is not focused on closing doors, but rather throwing them wide open in order that Christ might come in.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen