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25th Oct, 2021

Lockdown and after: Redditch's Urban Friar on uncertain times

Correspondent 7th Jun, 2020

By the Reverend Paul Lawlor, Vicar of St Stephen’s and Town Centre Chaplain.

FIRSTLY, I pray you are all coping as well as you can in the prolonged time of uncertainty and disruption to the way we live day to day.

From my perspective as a Minister in the Church of England, we remain in a time when our buildings are closed. I choose my words carefully; the buildings are closed but the Church is still active.

Different congregations and ministers are responding in different ways to the restrictions placed upon us all.

Many of us are now adept at video editing and the ways of posting prayer and services live or pre-recorded on to the internet.

We are providing pastoral care, as best we can, by telephone and video conferencing.

Who knew the Church could adapt and change so rapidly?

The issue of our church buildings is a thorny one. Some would say that faith is being dismissed as a fundamental part of our humanity as we seek to open car showrooms ahead of churches; that not having our churches open for people to go and enjoy private prayer is a shocking and unnecessary restriction.

In a meeting with the Bishop of Worcester John Inge, other clergy and lay representatives on Monday evening, the response was a measured one. Yes, we would like to see our churches open again but only when safe to do so.

The comparison of the retail sector and the Church here is unhelpful. Not least in comparing a commercial operation with an institution staffed largely by volunteers.

For me personally, the key points are: Our relationship with God is not dependent upon our buildings. Jesus speaks of His body raised up after his crucifixion as replacing the temple and as He died the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the people was torn in two.

The Church is not a collection of buildings but the people of God – serving Him, worshipping Him and being active in the world.

We are called to be a sent people. This can be a challenge, our worship and our buildings can hold us in place, when we are called to be sent to serve those around us and to make Christ known in the world.

This time of not being able to enter the buildings gives us time and space to look at what God is calling us to.

Do we simply go back to what we were, or do we look to a new future?

In the Old Testament we read of the people of God adapting to new ways of being, nomadic herdsmen, a slave people in Egypt, a wandering people in the desert, taking root in the Promised Land, being exiled again, then returning…change on change…different ways of being.

The unchanging thing in the midst of the change is God with us.

I hope that what we are all learning during this time, people of faith or not, is that we need to look afresh at our priorities, let us not get bogged down in holding on to past things for their own sake but look to how we seek to use the resources we have to be the people God wants us to be and, I hope, the people we seek to be.

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