Today I went to church. But I wasn’t in church. I was on my street.
In the UK we remember Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8th, remembering the day the Second World War ended as Germany surrendered to the Allies. Our usual Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May had been moved to this day, as it is the 75th Anniversary of that day in 1945. Major celebrations were planned, although the Covid-19 crisis has put paid to many of those. Last week, I felt God nudging me to suggest to my street that we hold a socially distant street party for which I would come and do some live music; the Music Therapist in me is always looking for opportunities to be useful with my craft! The uptake was enthusiastic and extraordinary in number. People came out with picnics and prosecco, singing along and playing their own instruments, feeling connected and sharing a common experience despite the physical distance enforced.
As I prepared for the afternoon however, I kept drifting to Twitter and seeing exclamations of hurt on a day we should be celebrating peace. They were in response to an article published by Church Times, entitled ‘The C of E has become member-only’ . In it Tilby argues it would be easier to let priest into their churches to livestream their usual services than the current system many churches have adopted of producing online content. She states “How trite has been the little trope that “The Church is people, not buildings,” which totally misses the point about the public and institutional nature of the Church. We are now a domestic, members-only Church, with nothing to say to the nation about death, sacrifice, or charity, and nothing to plead before God on behalf of us all” (Tilby, 2020).
This got me so angry. The Church is both people and buildings, and to deny either avoids the complexity of the situation. However in the Kingdom Jesus taught about, I don’t remember anywhere the institution of the temple being a significant factor. I don’t remember priests having special privileges to access church while the rest of us wait outside, I actually remember those things being rendered unnecessary once the Holy Spirit came to us. 1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us we are the temples for the Holy Spirit that has been sent to us. Each and every one of us. We meet in church buildings, and that fellowship is good and proper. From the time of the early church this has been so, as Acts 2:42-47 suggests (although I would suggest the modern day organised church misses the mark this example presents). However Jesus’ main recorded commission was to go out (Matthew 28:19-20).
So back to my going to church today. I didn’t lead any hymns, we didn’t come together for a specific religious purpose and it wasn’t in a building. But I went out, in the name of Jesus who gave me a gifting and convicts me to use it in the way I do. Two or three (and more) gathered (Matthew 18:20), in public, for a common purpose, with something to say to eachother about hope in the darkness. We sang together, shared stories, many had wine and bread (or equivalent). I prayed the whole time, and it certainly felt like worship to me. I’ll let God have the final say on whether They received it as such.
We need to be more creative in our definition and expressions of church. It is wonderful to see churches rising to the challenges of online church, although it is sad to see it has come out of necessity for the many and not in response to the long campaigns from organisations such as Disability and Jesus (For their response to the Tilby article, see this video, future blogs on this topic will follow). I pray churches will not stop exploring alternative ways to bring their services to all who may seek, just because the current crisis is over, and perhaps even learn from having done so. Even if that is just one congregant blessing the street with a little music.
Peace be with you.
Tilby, A. (2020) The C of E has become member-only. Church Times. Available at https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/8-may/comment/columnists/angela-tilby-the-c-of-e-has-become-member-only (Accessed 8th May 2020)
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