Maybe not always, but as much as possible, I’ve tried not to be negative on my blog. If I’m asked to review a book I’d rather just not post a review if I don’t like it. When things wind me up in the church I try to take a wider view, look at the position others are coming from before launching into one. As I say, not always, sometimes the redheaded fury gets the better of me, and recently that has been a challenge. Frankly Anglican Twitter has been a shameful place to inhabit over the last few weeks. So much so that I’ve even considered coming off Twitter – and if you know me you will know how much of a big deal it is that I even considered that. Instead I’ve just avoided commenting on any of the ongoing issues *cue: eyeroll* and turned my phone off more frequently (which I should arguably do more often anyway).
So this post is, I guess, the blogging equivalent to a subtweet, for which I make no apologies. There are those who build up and there are those who tear down, I’d rather be on the building side. So if you know what I’m referring to you’ll know, if not, well I hope it will be interesting reading nonetheless.
Now, opinions can be rebutted, counter-opinioned and rejected so let me just tell you my story of the last few weeks, it’s my experience not a viewpoint. Never before have I felt such a fulfilling of my diaconal role – to serve the community, bringing the needs and hopes of all to the church; seeking out the poor and sick and lonely, seeking to do so in the love of God.
I make no boast about this, I do not enjoy all that we are doing, it is no cause for celebration, it breaks my heart that much of our work right now is even necessary. Our church building is not locked and silent, because it’s full of food for those who need it; and as a church – the church – yes, the people not the building, we have:
- worked with the local foodbanks to make sure they are resourced
- taken on new referrals for those who’ve lost jobs or income
- fed the street community, whose usual routes for support are dramatically reduced
- reached out via social media to offer prayer for those who are struggling, anxious and suffering
- called hundreds of people each week
- posted sermons and service outlines to the more isolated
- rethought every aspect of our roles, including creating ‘novel’ acts of worship – novel as in new, innovative, different, not inferior
In fact whether deliberate or not, we’ve found ourselves more than ever:
…reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.Service of Ordination for deacons, Church of England
I’ve lost count of the number of emails, comments and kind words we’ve had for the work we’ve put into online worship. Those who’ve not been able to, or chosen not to, attend church for years have been touched by God’s presence – yes even, shock horror, through the medium of wifi.
[An aside here: I am not qualified to comment on the greater accessibility of online church vs the buildings – it is, of course far more accessible, and embracing many more people than we should have been doing already. There are those who have been doing this for years and they can, and have, commented far more eloquently, and from experience, than I].
The local, and rather secular, Facebook group has shared our online stream several times.
A far cry from privatisation, online worship has given joy and strength to so many who would never have made it across our doorstep. In one easy move the lockdown has done the work that many of us try to do every day – to tear down that perceived membership policy that says you can’t come in except for funerals, weddings and Christmas, or if you’ve done the right course. We have never before been less of a ‘members-only’ organisation.
More than that, the opportunities for prayer are vast. In the last few weeks I have pleaded before God, the prayers of regular church goers and those who’ve never been – prayer requests that have been shared with me largely via digital means. I’ve been able to share with people words of comfort in the prayers I have prayed, a privileged opening into the lives of people I’ve never even met but who are very definitely souls in this parish.
As the church we have so much to say to our congregations, our communities, our nation. From the national church – the Archbishops and Bishops, and at the coalface of parish life, in schools and hospitals, and anywhere we minister. Here, conversations about dying, anxiety, fear and concern for the future are rife; I’ve taken more funerals in the last few weeks than the last 6 months combined. I’ve talked with those who’ve lost loved ones, who are experiencing a double grief: the loss of one so loved and the loss of not being able to celebrate their life and grieve in the way they would like.
Sacrifices are being made by those whose lives have been turned around in so many ways, in just a few short weeks. Not to mention the clergy who are in many cases working incredibly long and draining hours to serve their communities, sacrificing their own well-being, family time or daily exercise.
And the charity of local communities coming together, working beyond difference to serve one another in love, is making headlines.
We are not a ‘domestic church’ stuck at home. Oh yes, our services may be filmed in domestic locations, but for many of us we are in the heart of our communities digitally and physically. And our domestic-scened worship has brought a sense of camaraderie to many, who recognise we’re no different, we are all in this together.
So much for clergy as key workers, eh? I mean we’re all sitting around like moral cowards absurdly thinking up crazy new ways of worship or moving all our furniture around so that our bookshelves can be admired by one and all, right?
Will we be forgotten? In a way, I hope so – I’m not doing this for self glory, it’s what we are called to do – any of us who are ordained remain as deacons for life (in fact some are called soley to this) and we signed up to serve the communities in which we are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people, for the glory of God.
But that’s what I hope won’t be forgotten – I hope that people will look back and say, ‘the church’ helped me when I was struggling, ‘the church’ prayed for me when I was at rock bottom, ‘the church’ was there for me – online and off. And that same church they might remember is not a building, it is the people who served them.