The doors of the building are locked, but the Church is still open for business

There is no doubt that the last 18 months or so have been challenging. Negotiating the rules around restrictions let alone applying them takes energy. For many businesses this has seen a downturn in their trade at the door. For others their businesses have never been healthier as they explore new ways to service their customer base. This, as we know, has seen so many businesses trade more and more through the virtual and online platforms.

The Church has found herself in a brave new world right along side every other organisation. Our doors are closed but we are still open for business trying to explore every opportunity to engage not only those that make up the Church formally but those who have need of our services.

These are challenging times for those of us called to minister. Every faith community’s leaders will be feeling the sense of isolation from our community whilst in lockdown or semi-lockdown, especially those of us who live alone. Our identity comes from our ability to serve, to connect and to celebrate with our brothers and sisters on holy ground.

Every member of our congregations has felt many times a sense of loss as they have had to isolate and keep safe, often alone. Our vulnerable members have become more vulnerable. We know we are loved when we know that we belong. Gathering on Sundays and the engagement of conversation and shared journey is fundamental to our health and wellbeing, as much as entertainment, coffee shops and dining out.

Thank goodness for the new technology available to our communities. Not only have we had to learn what they look like, but all of us have had to learn how to use them. All of which has helped us become more aware of our neighbours and have assisted us in being more willing, as we are more able, to reach out. Re-thinking and re-imagining how we minister and gather during these COVID days has given opportunities too.

What is not surprising is how adept our mature friends have become at not only the modern technology usage but the language and terminology that usually defines our younger friends and relatives! Downloading data, uploading information, app stores and online platforms all form part of our daily routine. Grandparents more skilled at engaging with their grandchildren who may well be teaching them in this IT arena.

Who knew 18 months ago that Zoom would be such a way of life in 2021 with its meetings and webinar facility, or that faith communities would have YouTube channels and know how to livestream on Facebook! Face-timing as well as ringing has helped keep us connected with our loved ones, seeing their faces so important.

How quickly we have adapted to Sunday celebrations in the virtual space and that all of us from the youngest to the oldest would have smart phones full of apps for connecting, signing in and communicating!

For many communities the discovery of not being locked into a building has been both a revelation and a liberation. The Churches have known for centuries that the building is not the Church but rather a vessel for gathering the Church together, a place for the men, women and families of faith to share life together and to be nurtured and fed.

These times have allowed us to remember the fundamentals of faith and to re-imagine them for a world in need of God’s love. Who’d have thought being lockdown would make us more welcoming and lot more accessible to a much wider audience?

Nothing though, will replace our need and our want to personally engage our friends and family in the same physical space. Getting back to ‘normal’ is at the heart of almost every conversation. Whilst I have appreciated greatly the ability to stay connected through the virtual platforms during lockdown, I am hungering for the day when I can return to gather with my Church family. I have gained a deeper appreciation of their presence and hope that I never lose sight of their giftedness or take that gift for granted.