Doing Church differently

Everything is different at the moment!  And church is no exception.  We are not allowed to meet together in our church buildings, nor are we allowed, as clergy, to go into the church building to live stream or film a service to share later.  And so we are having to rethink everything.  How are we the church when we can’t meet together in the church building?

I have been surprised at some of my feelings so far.  First, that I found myself in tears as I locked the churches up knowing that we wouldn’t worship together in them for some time.  I have long been a believer, indeed preacher, of the truth that the church is not the building, its the people. I don’t believe that any less than I have always done, I just hadn’t realised how important it is for those people, the church, to gather together.  And, of course, that normally happens in our church buildings and so they become special – made even more special when one remembers, perhaps even senses, the generations of Christians who have worshipped, prayed and met together there.

The other thing I have wrestled with is whether to record services, or live stream them for people. I haven’t yet been keen and I am trying to work out why.  There are several reasons I think.  The first, if I am honest, is a weird kind of self consciousness which has really surprised me as I don’t feel this in the same way week by week being upfront at church!  The second is a genuine need to learn how to best use the technology available to us.  But the main reason is a question about what ‘online’ church is, or does?

Some of my reluctance is not wanting to simply offer something that people can ‘watch’.  Church, even fairly traditional ‘vicar-at-the-front’ kind of church is interactive and participatory.  And something, not all, of this is lost in virtual interaction.  As we head towards Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday in particular, I am struck by the physicality of our worship.  We hold Palm Crosses, we process into church, we share the peace….we bread bread and pour wine, we wash feet, we strip the altar.  How does this translate to zoom, or facebook live, or you tube?

I think we as the church have much to learn in this time, about how we connect with those who cannot ‘go to church’, about what technological advance are avilable to us to make us more accessible, but I also think we must accept that worship, indeed human interaction, has a physical aspect to it that is lost when we are home, alone.


Lighting a candle

The Archbishops and other church leaders called on Christians to light a candle and put it in their window at 7pm last night as a symbol of prayer and action.  I have to confess I initially thought it was a bit silly – what would it achieve.  However, I decided I would do it (it is always good to get me to pray) and encourage others to do it.  I think people are deperate to ‘do’ something at the moment.

7 pm candle

So I lit my candle and found myself wanting to pray the third collect from the Book of Common Prayer’s service of Evening Prayer:

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen

And I then posted a picture of my candle on Facebook and Twitter.  And my feed on both was full of other people’s candles and prayers.  It was a wonderful moment, just a moment, of connection at this time when we are physically having to be apart.

Mothering Sunday

What a strange Sunday!

No services for me to lead and people to shake hands with or to converse with and yet I attended a service along with many other people.  The service was held in the crypt chapel of Lambeth palace – and in the homes of many many people as we watched, took part, worshipped, online.

I was especially touched by some of Archbishop Justin’s opening words –

At difficult times, we have a choice: to focus on fear, on ourselves, on what we cannot do. Or we can turn to God and let God lead us into praying for the world, and letting prayer flow into creative action. This is what we want to do today.”

and by the lighting of candles in prayer at the beginning of the service.  These prayers were used:

So this morning we pray and place before God the life of our world and we light this candle to remind us that the love of God is like a light in our darkness.
Blessed be God for ever.

On this mothering Sunday, when many are far from family, friends or loved ones, we light a candle for all those we cannot be physically present with.
Blessed be God for ever.

We light a candle for all who are sick, all who are in hospital, all who struggle with pain, fear and sadness, and all who are grieving this day.
Blessed be God for ever.

We light a candle for all who are isolated, lonely and worried at this time.
Blessed be God for ever.

We light a candle for all those who care for others, whether as family or friends, or as doctors, nurses, carers and all the health professionals we are so deeply thankful for.
Blessed be God for ever.

And on this Mothering Sunday, we light this candle for all mothers who have loved and laughed and laboured as they cared for their children.
Blessed be God for ever.

We light a candle for all mothers who have wept in sorrow and joy for their children.
Blessed be God for ever.

We light this candle for Jesus, born of a woman and nurtured in her love, and for Mary, a reminder of your patient, waiting love.
Blessed be God for ever.

Worshipping with an online community is a very different experience, but I felt connected to others and grateful for the leadership of our Archbishop.

I hope you will join me again in prayer at 7pm by lighting a candle in a window of your house and praying.candles

Sabbatical – terminated!

Yesterday morning, with the agreement of Bishop Dagmar and others, we decided it is best to postpone my sabbatical.

There are a couple of reasons.  Firstly, I am now unable to do many of the things that felt important to do in this period of extended leave – travel, visiting a large variety of churches across the UK and beyond, have time with family and friends.  And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I feel I need (and I want) to be around in the churches and parishes as we, together, work our way through this time of uncertainty and confusion and work out how to best care for each other and enable continued worship and prayer.   At the point I made the decision, I was also aware that over half the church services in the coming months would be covered by people over 70.  This felt like an unfair demand.  As it happens later in the day, our Archbishops issued a letter calling for the suspension of all public worship services in our parish churches.  More information and the letter can be found here –

I will now, along with others, be working on various things such as the use of our website, social media and other means of communication to ensure that we can care for one another, protect each other and continue to be worshipping communities.

Sabbatical day 13

I popped out to the garden centre on Sunday afternoon.  Not for anything for the garden, you understand, but because their gift shop area and deli are really nice!  I was after a couple of samosas and a jigsaw pusszle.  Samosas for dinner and a puzzle as I wanted a ‘slow’ activity.

I didn’t buy either as it happens as there were no samosas and jigsaw puzzles are really expensive!

So this morning I nipped to charity shop row in town and got two lovely jigsaws for £2 each.

It is a very slow activity, sorting, looking, waiting, and gradually building a picture.  I like it.  Here is the progress so far…

jigsaw 1jigsaw 2

Sabbatical day 12

So, our USA sabbatical road trip is off!  The USA extended their travel european travel ban to include the UK and Ireland and then our own FCO has advised against all travel to the US.  So tomorrow I will spend the day working out what we can get refunds for, and what we need to claim on the insurance.  I am sad but not distraught – there are far more serious things going on for people.

We went off to a local church today.  It all felt very different to last week.  Last week, we were aware that Covid 19 may impact our lives but Sam and I happily travelled to London, shared a chalice and generally behaved as normal.  The only differences really were not shaking hands at the peace and being offered hand sanitizer on arrival.

Today, given the advice we have had this week, it all felt rather more serious.  Should we even go to church, is this tickly cough anything sinister?  And, no wine at communion, signing the peace rather than shaking hands, seriously diminished congregations, extended notices about self isolation and caring for each other, and many, many activities, clubs and events cancelled.

So church felt strange today.  But it was nice to see deanery collegues in ministry, and to gather with some unknown brothers and sisters in Christ.  And it struck me that for the rest of my sabbatical, I will attend other churches as planned but I am not sure I will see any of them doing their normal thing!  But God is faithful, God is present and there is always hope.

Sabbatical day 10 – 11

I am not sure that I am a natural blogger.  I have lots of thoughts, and I wonder and ponder (what is the difference?!) a lot and yet every time I try to write a blog, it ends up being a bit of a diary.

So today I will share a thought…

Yesterday and today I have had a tickly dry cough so, given the current advice, although I don’t feel ill, I thought I probably ought not to go out.  However, I am bored!  So I gave our bedroom quite a clean.  It gets cleaned often but this was a ‘hoover the lightshades, clean the windows’ kind of a clean.  It is astonishing where dust gathers!

And as I cleaned, I got to thinking about confession.  Week by week in church, we ask God to forgive us our sins, to cleanse us and make us new.  And often that confession for me is fairly simple, short and then I move on.  A sort of flicking the duster round and a quick hoover kind of clean!

However, in Lent and especially on Ash Wednesday, our focus is very much one of penitence.  Our Ash Wednesday service has a lengthier depper confession – more like the kind of cleaning that I did this morning.  Where we pull out the furniture and look behind, where we scrub and go right to the corners.

In confession and in cleaning it seems good to do both.  We mostly don’t need the deep clean, as Jesus said to Peter when he washed his feet – ‘those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet’.  And our bedroom is mostly pretty clean.  But every now again, in Spring, in Lent, maybe it is not a bad thing to spend a bit longer on that deep clean, to go to each corner, to pull out the furniture, to clean the windows to allow the light to stream in.