September 2020

Why be happy when you can be normal?

The title of Jeanette Winterson’s sometimes painful experience of her past comes to mind these days when people ask me when we will be going back to normal. I fear that the answer I tend to give now is, ‘You tell me what significant changes will occur in relation to the virus and the way we treat it, and I will tell you when significant changes will occur in the way we can operate as church.’ 

For that is the truth. We will not be going back to the ways in which we used to do things: we will go forward to new ways of doing things, and some of these are becoming visible even now.

The Christian faith has always been one which builds on the past, lives in the present and looks hopefully to the future. And that is what we need to be doing now. There can be a huge temptation to find refuge in a comfortable past, but that is not just an illusion, it is not the way Christ lived and taught.

It has been interesting conducting worship outdoors, seeing and hearing people’s reactions to doing things differently. People have told me how much they enjoy the different styles of worship we have been using: I have enjoyed watching people sitting not uncomfortably in serried rows, but in natural semicircles which engender so much stronger a feeling of community. It will be a challenge to see how we can build on this when the weather inevitably drives us back indoors for the autumn and winter.

The absence of hymns has been a sadness, but I do hope that local musicians may come up with ways in which music can be incorporated into worship - to highlight, to punctuate, to enable meditation or whatever. I hope this is a richness which can be developed.

These parishes have always been good at not being narrowly parochial in their worship. It has always been incredibly rare for me to take a service in a church and the only people there have been from that one parish. Now that is something which has grown, and, most Sundays, all parishes have been represented in our single acts of worship.

And then, of course, there is the on-line worship, and not just on Sundays. This is clearly, from anecdotal evidence, drawing in a number of people who are not part of the regular congregations, but who are responding enthusiastically to what is being offered. This is something we need to develop and grow.

I do hope that, far from looking back wistfully to a time that is past, people will look hopefully to the future, and will want to build on the new and exciting ways in which we have been able to ‘do’ church.

And I do hope that people will look to extending that attitude to the wider questions of mission and ministry in this benefice and this deanery. There will be a Deanery Gathering - via Zoom - on Tuesday September 22nd when we will be looking at the new ways in which the deanery will be operating when clergy numbers go down. This is a really good opportunity for us to look excitedly, I hope, at the new opportunities this will offer us about how we spread the good news to the people around us and how we celebrate God’s love together. It might not be the ‘normal’ to which we have all been used, but, with everyone positively behind it, I hope it will make us happy.