Learning to be a Church without walls

When our webmaster suggested that a blog might be a good way to keep in touch with people during the current crisis, I was trying to think of a title that might capture what’s happening at the present time.

For pretty well everyone I know, the world has changed remarkably in the last week or so, as schools and businesses have been closed, the outside world has effectively been closed down except for absolutely necessary journeys for food or prescriptions and we are all trying to find our way.

The church is no different and, last week, with the help of a number of parishioners, I recorded a little audio file for the first time. I spent Sunday morning in the church praying for our parishioners with no one, apart from the Lord and myself, in the building. The adminsistrator of our Facepage told me that we have had more visits and traffic than at any other point since she took over running the page.

Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, I had been preaching and praying about ways in which we, as a church, might engage with and support our local community more meaningfully. I was asking myself how can we take the barriers down and let people see inside? How can we love each other, and support one another, and share that faith which someone once shared with us to bring life and hope and transformation to people through Jesus Christ?

One Sunday night in church, I got the idea to write a letter to all our local shops and businesses to thank them for what they do for all of us all year around and to invite them to come in person on Maundy Thursday to a service where people from our church might wash their feet, in appreciation for all the service they have given to us over many years. If they didn’t feel comfortable with that, we would pray for the issues affecting their business at that service.

We wrote and delivered letters in February to Austin’s pharmacy, to Maud’s ice cream, to Toast Café, to Hamilton’s, to Lizmar Bakery. We wrote to the Orange Order’s museum and to the Café at the Museum, to the Doctors’ surgery at South East Family Practices, to Cregagh Library and to Phil, our community police officer.

During this past week, a number of these businesses have been in touch, either by phone or email, to say how touched they were to hear from the church. Most of them didn’t ask so much for prayers for themselves, but for their customers and thanked our church community for being part of that customer base. Some expressed a desire to come and attend a service of thanksgiving when the current crisis is over.

In recent days we have been phoning parishioners and asking them to stay in touch with a couple of people during the crisis. Some who are doing the phoning may receive calls themselves if they are in the older age bracket or live alone.

The isolation of the present time is a huge burden for many to bear who love the interaction with others through our regular activities and attending worship together. The telephone, the Internet and technology can break down the walls and let people look inside and get a feel for who we are and what we are about.

In the strange and awful circumstances we find ourselves in, we are discovering, I think, afresh what it is to be a church without walls. Maybe a church without walls is a little presumptuous as a title and we might be more correct in calling the blog learning to be a church without walls.

I want to leave you today with a couple of verses from the Message translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson . Many people I’m speaking to are overwhelmed at times by juggling work, home schooling and working from home, with concerns for vulnerable family members they cannot visit in person. In the midst of all the mayhem and madness it’s so important to centre ourselves in Jesus and I hope to speak a little about that on Sunday, if I manage to record on my own.

Look at this translation of Matthew 11 verses 28-30 and drink it deep into your soul. This is the translation of Jesus’s words.

It’s when we cast ourselves fully on Jesus, as we are maybe being forced to do in these times in a way that we never have before, that we actually recover our life. We return to Him in whom true life, eternal life is to be found. Let’s walk with Him and work with Him in these days and in the days to come.

I look forward to being in touch again soon, God willing.