What could we hold onto ?

This question is posed to us – a church community in the middle of the coronovirus lockdown.

What might we hold onto from the experience of the last 9 weeks or so ?

I think that is such a big question.  For me the bigger question that it leads to is
How can we learn from both the inherited church, and the emerging ‘new ways of being church’ to enable us to be a church fit for a post Christendom world ?
But for now, I’ll focus on what have I learned from lockdown, especially with regard to worship.
So – for the last two weeks, our ‘zoom church’ has been like this:
Short ‘hellos’ and a prayer
* Brief reading of and introduction to one of the Bible passages for the day. (Usually, but not always the Gospel).
This has been done in a way that is accessible to all ages from pre-schoolers up.  E.G Godly Play.
* Some open questions to think about what might emerge from the introduction.
* Break out groups of 4/5 people.  This for me has been great, because I have ‘met’ people who I have known a little bit before, but got to know them much better through these small zoom groups.
* Come back together for some prayers.
* Close and further chat over coffee etc.
I would like to hold on to this much simpler approach to worship.  I like the way it has given us something to reflect on, rather than a sermon with a possibly complicated train of thought.
It’s very ‘word light’ in the sense that we don’t have a lot of the quite wordy prayers and responses typical of Anglican worship.  This is good for inclusivity.  Some prayers that we all can learn off by heart would be good to give structure and stability.  (But not too many, or prayers that are too long)
I like the way that it invites everyone to contribute.  This makes it more empowering and engaging.

Maybe there are some principles to draw that can be adapted back in a church setting.  In fact this is something we were beginning to experiment with before lockdown, with the time to break up in the middle of the service to respond to the opening introduction in a variety of ways. 
The drawback is that it’s harder to be a bystander, which can be quite threatening/challenging, so there should always be the option of using this time for personal reflection.

The Moviegoer

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the longterm effects of Lockdown.  Some of course are bad news – for families suffering bereavement, for those whose businesses will not survive, for those whose education has been affected.

There will be some good news as well.  But I think we will have to be attentive to what that might be, otherwise we will slip back into old ways.

We have on our shelves a book by Walker Percy – The Moviegoer.  I can’t actually remember if I have read it.  I bought it on a recommendation years ago, and I’ll have to revisit it.

I was reminded of the book today when I picked a random page (page 73) from ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ by Brennan Manning. He is writing about a moment in the book that helped me make some connections with where we are in Lockdown.

The Moviegoer tells the story of a commuter who has a pretty good life in many ways, but in spite of that feels bad all the time. Every day as he rides the train he is gripped by a nameless despair.

Then, one day, while on the train, he has a heart attack, and is taken from the train to hospital.  he wakes up in a strange place, surrounded by faces he doesn’t recognise.  He see a hand on his bedsheet, and not realising it is his own hand, he marvels at the way it can move and open and close.

Percy describes what happens to the man as an awakening, as bit by bit, he encounters himself and his life in ways that he hadn’t done for years.  The ordeal restored him to himself.  What he chooses to do now will be the whole burden of his existence …

His heart attack has liberated him from a meaningless life and set him on a path to a new existence.

Manning writes – “Percy plunges his heroes into disaster and ordeal, only to speak out of the whirlwind about the worst of times being the best of times … through the catastrophe they discover the freedom to act and to be”

It’s as if we have all had that ‘heart attack moment’ when we suddenly went into lockdown.  For Christians, and those of other faiths, that meant we could no longer meet together.  Our buildings were closed.

For Muslims, this has been a Ramadan like no other.  On a typical night in Ramadan, mosques would be full with hundreds of people, many of them praying all night.  How terrible to not be able to meet together in this way.  Yet out of this catastrophe there may have been new opportunities, new discoveries, new experiences.

Christians too have had to cope with online virtual services, and all that lockdown has meant.

But could this time signal a reawakening ?  As we ask questions about our faith, and the meaning of church, might this lead us as churches to discover a new freedom to act and to be.

More to come, as I ponder on all of this.

Peace be with you.

Some phrases above are quotes from ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’