I have a comfort zone and I’m in it right now. I’m sat in front of a screen, writing, in an empty house. This is comfortable for me, I am alone with my own thoughts. Paradoxically, I actually prefer to spend a lot of time outside my comfort zone. I actually get a little bored being comfortable, a little complacent and no more so than when in comes to church.
Before Lockdown started I used to joke with my wife, Karen, about Sunday worship meetings being like a club meeting. We all turned up, watched the show, said our piece, chatted with fellow club members and went home until the following week. People got upset if there was a change to the schedule, it interfered with their comfort. I include myself in this. I had my “traditions” for a Sunday morning. I liked to get there early and speck to everyone. I didn’t enjoy sung worship so instead I would stand in the foyer, greeting late comers and making sure no children escaped. Then I’d return for the notices and sit quietly, half listening to the sermon and then escape quickly afterwards. I was a part of all the outreach, I love talking to people but Sunday morning was about greeting people and the sermon (if it connected with me).
Then Covid 19 hit and we went into lockdown. I found myself leading one of the daily morning prayer meetings, week in, week out. Now prayer, I would have told you if you asked, is not my thing. I feel uncomfortable with many people’s prayer styles and I struggle to find words in public prayer meetings. I have complicated feelings about asking for things in prayer, healing particularly and I would have been my last choice to lead a regular prayer meeting.
For the last thirty weeks I have spent time in prayer and contemplation before hand and have brought something different to each week as a way of focussing prayer. I have prayed for people, for healing (in my own odd way), for jobs, for peace, for my community and peoples’ mental health as we struggled through this odd world. This is not where I saw myself this time last year.
I was asked to do some of the family and children’s talks for the on-line Sunday service. I’ve always avoided children’s work because it felt uncomfortable, that comfort zone again, but it needed doing so I stepped out of my comfort zone and did it. I sat down with Cornelius, my parrot puppet, and we talked together about various Bible stories, this last week we discussed together the story of Martha and Mary and the importance of the Marthas of this world who got on and did the practical stuff that we all need. Again I’ve tried new things, in my own way, to keep it interesting and engaging and stretching beyond that black and white reading of a story.
We are becoming a new thing but that new thing looks back to an old thing in many ways. Reading Acts and Letters we see that Church was the people and Temple or each others homes was where they met. I have been much reminded over the last few months that when the word Church is used in the New Testament it is often a translation of the Greek word “Ekklesia” which simply means gathering. It is a word very dependent on the context within which it is used. So we can be ekklesia on-line, we can be ekklesia in a coffee shop or a field, we can be ekklesia in our living rooms, we can be ekklesia anywhere two or more of us gather together with purpose. “The New Monasticism” seems to be a key phrase doing the rounds in a lot of places and it’s not about becoming monks and having funny haircuts. It’s reflecting on the way the place of prayer and worship fed into it’s community
So we have to ask ourselves, whatever we do, is it God’s will or ours? Is God using our current situation to adjust our understanding? God loves us to gather together and to worship, He loves a joyful noise, but we were called for more than that. It says in 1Peter 2 that we were called to be a priestly people. It says time and again in the New Testament that we are called to be one people, brothers and sisters and we are called to preach and share the Gospel. Our Sunday services, in whatever form they take, have two purposes beyond worshipping God. One is to remind us that we are all connected as part of the body of Christ. The other is to build us up to answer the calling God has placed on our life.
Church is not the building we meet in. That is a blessing that enables us to meet with ease and should be a tool that enables us to answer our calling but it shouldn’t dominate our thinking. If a group want to meet in a local pub for a Bible study or discussion group or a parent and baby group want to meet in Costa for prayer and a chat or a group want to meet and dance in the local park, that is church.
I hope the new thing we are becoming will be able to encompass all these things and more, Zoom prayer groups and book groups, on-line choirs, socially distanced meditative prayer, worship through art. There is space for all this and more, wherever two or three gather together, when God is at the centre. We don’t have to go back to the way we did things before. It worked for a season but now we are into a new season and we need to make space for change.
I pray God’s blessing on you all as we struggle through these odd times.