This article appeared in the February 2021 issue of our parish magazine. You can read it again here:
We had a difficult decision to make a few weeks ago. Churches were given the option to stay open or to close during the current lockdown. There were arguments on both sides, and what I would like to do is to draw your attention to both points of view, and to look at why not everyone sees things in the same way. There is no right or wrong in this – the following points are all, in my opinion valid, and no one should feel criticised for taking one side or another on a very difficult decision.
Let me start by stating two things I think most people will agree are uncontroversial
- St Margaret’s church is a relatively safe environment. As of December, only 47 individual cases of Covid in total had been traced back to places of worship in England during the whole pandemic. Churches have high ceilings are naturally well ventilated (draughty!). Going to church is safer than going shopping, where people are continually passing through and are not required to sign in. We take care to keep everyone safe and observe the regulations. There can never be no risk, but the risk is small.
- Practising one’s religion is a human right. That’s not by any means to say that churches should be in all circumstances kept open, but it puts them in a different category from garden centres or gyms.
There are many reasons why people disagree about whether opening churches is a good thing.
- Some people are more risk averse than others. If we agree that the risk is low, one person will be nevertheless nervous, another will think a small risk is worth taking. That is a matter of temperament.
- Some people think that individual freedom is very important and that worshippers are entitled to make their own decisions. Others think that we have an obligation to protect members of our congregation, or to set an example to others by staying at home as much as possible.
- For some people church may be the only time they go out. Neighbours do their shopping, and they obey the rules about not seeing family and friends. It can be very lonely. They may choose to come to church as a way of connecting – not socialising – with others. If that way was not available, they might go to the shops, for example, instead.
- For many people communal worship helps them stay mentally healthy as it helps them process grief, anxiety, or loneliness, and some find this more effective in the actual presence of others.
- There are different things people value in coming to church. Online worship provides services with hymns, which we cannot do in church. If your priority is the music or the sermons, you won’t mind watching online, especially in bad weather. If your priority is to take communion you will wish to come to church. If you do not have access to the internet, it is in-person worship or nothing.
For myself I value worship with others present more than many other things I choose not to do. I don’t go into shops, and I am putting off visiting the opticians (do not ask me to read small print!) I know that some of you sorely missed taking communion when we have been closed and would also put going to church right at the top of your priorities. I want to make that choice available to you. But I hope that I have represented the other opinions fairly (let me know if I haven’t), as I would hate to give the impression that those who stay away are thought to lack commitment in any way. In the body of Christ there is room for disagreement, and we are gloriously varied in our personalities, our worship, and the way we think about the world. May the day soon come when once more we can bring all that we are once more to meet with each other without fear or restrictions.