Letter from the Team – July 2020

Posted on by Tania Birtwistle

Dear Friends,

On June 15th we were permitted to unlock our church buildings and to welcome people for individual private prayer. This moment felt like a welcome first step in a return to normality.

There has been some debate in church circles about the pluses and minuses of worship without church buildings. Some have argued that the experience is a liberation. Those who support this view perceive a model of an emerging church that, relieved of the crushing financial burden of medieval buildings, will be able to travel light into a brighter future. Online worship provides the opportunity for creativity and flexibility. Mission and evangelism via the laptop and tablet can reach millions who never enter a church building. Online learning and teaching will equip disciples and deepen the faith of new disciples.

Our own experience in Sole Bay has shown how use of Zoom has been a blessing for us. I am extremely grateful to Revd Alan for the hard work that he has put in each week in producing high quality Zoom services, with hymns, music, film clips and a variety of participants leading worship. Zoom has also been used for some PCC meetings, saving time and mileage. Zoom has enabled weekly Messy Church and Compline and has helped us all to learn new skills and to pray together in ways that until recently we did not think possible. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our new ways of being church in Sole Bay.

Others argue that church is not church without a building. The physical building provides a space for the people of God to meet together in praise and worship as one body. The official line is that Holy Communion is only possible when priest and people are together in one place.

Buildings also provide something that is difficult to describe. When I wrote on Facebook that St Edmund’s was to reopen for individual private prayer, the message was received by, liked and shared by over 300 people in 24 hours. Yet few of those who welcomed this news on Facebook have actually been in to pray. I wonder if the physical presence of the church in the heart of the community, a reliable and unchanging rock in an uncertain world, is something of deep importance. The church building is a visible sign of the body of Christ in a way that on line church cannot replicate.

It is a blessing therefore that church buildings are open again. Further steps back to normality will hopefully follow in the next few months.

My contribution to the national debate about what lockdown has taught the Church of England is to argue that new technology does not replace church buildings. Church buildings remain as a vital tool for ministry and mission. However we have seen how new technology can enrich worship, include those who do not, or who cannot, attend physically, and help us to find confidence in trying new things. I am sure that the church will emerge from the lockdown ready to embrace the goodness of both traditional and new ways of being Church and of witnessing to Christ.