After careful consideration, the PCC decided that we will open our church for public worship on Sunday 12th July at 10 am. Just before the beginning of the lockdown, the churchwardens and I went through the cupboards to update our inventory and we discovered a bottle of Champaign. I put it in the fridge thinking we could crack it open on Easter morning to share as part of the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. When we closed the church in March, the fridge was turned off but the Champaign was left inside. Although we are now able to gather in church for worship, I don’t think we’re quite ready to celebrate with Champaign. We will know when we have come through this crisis when it feels right to drink Champaign after church one Sunday morning.
Many of us have longed to come back to church. Perhaps we’ve discovered how much the Eucharist means to us. We’ve missed human contact and being with people who share our faith and values. Whatever it is, many of us are looking forward to going back to church. But I must warn you, we won’t be worshipping like we used to. There will be no singing, no processing. Responses must be whispered. I will need to wear a mask and you will only be able to receive in one kind (no wine, let alone Champaign!). It will be very subdued.
Some members of the PCC rightly argued that until we can worship the way we really want to, we should wait. Others pointed out that we are by no means through this crisis and, as we’ve seen in Leicester, infection rates can go up suddenly. Our church family includes people who are more at risk from COVID-19 than others and we have a responsibility to them. Is now the right time? Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should and just because something is possible, it doesn’t make it desirable. Some of you are still shielding and some of you might decide wisely, that the risk of returning to church outweighs the benefit.
We pride ourselves at St John’s that we are inclusive, welcoming and hospitable but we have had to put the toys out of sight because they are a risk; we can’t serve refreshments because they are a risk. We don’t want to have to open the toilets, because they are a risk. If you have fidgety children, stay at home. If you are at all concerned about the risk to your health or the risk that you might pose to someone else’s health, I would encourage you to stay at home. We still have to maintain social distancing and that will make life trickier for some than others.
I’m writing this on St Thomas’ day. I think he is, without doubt, (see what I did there) my favourite apostle. In the reading set for morning prayer (John 11: 1 – 16), Jesus explains to the disciples that Lazarus is dead and he wants to return to Judea. The disciples are nervous as the last time they were there, people tried to stone Jesus. Thomas says, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ I’ve always imagined Thomas rolling his eyes. Is he being sarcastic? I’ve no idea if sarcasm existed in first century middle eastern culture. My children inform me that it was invented by the Anglo-Saxons and they know this is true because they saw in on Horrible Histories. However, I think it is in keeping with Thomas’ reputation as a sceptic. The point is that the disciples were addressing a perceived risk. It is risky for them to return to Judea as Jesus is persona non grata and his life is in danger. However, if they are prepared to take that risk, they stand to witness signs and wonders: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. They cannot imagine what Jesus intends to do.
You might be thinking, she’s giving us very mixed messages here. I am. But I want to be very clear that there is no pressure on anyone to come or not come back to church on 12th July. Thomas, I think, didn’t really want to go back to Judea but as far as we know he went anyway and that might be because of peer pressure. Maybe he wasn’t being sarcastic, and he genuinely thought they should go and die gloriously together. Either way, don’t be like Thomas. Don’t come back to church because of a misplaced sense of obligation and don’t be a martyr. Do come if you feel you cannot keep away and God is calling you back. God might just as easily be telling you to stay at home, so might your GP. Only you know the answer to that.