As I write I am looking forward to being able to stand in the Sanctuary of our church building and celebrate the Eucharist for the first time since we had to lock the church doors, eight weeks ago. At present, only I and members of my household are permitted to do this, as a result of recently relaxed guidelines on church buildings.
During that time, some things that would normally have happened in acts of worship have gone ahead but in a different way. The Sanctuary was stripped, and for a short while from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday the tabernacle hung open and empty. The altar linens were washed and pressed, and many of the adornments were also removed and cleaned. Whereas these would normally have been replaced on Easter Saturday, that didn’t take place until this morning, when most were restored to their positions and the Sanctuary was prepared for a very short and simple service tomorrow morning.
In a very modest defiance of some of the guidelines I have received, I have been into the church building a few times in the last weeks, partly to carry out these ceremonial acts that are, to me, an important way to mark the passage from Lent through Holy Week and the Triduum to Easter, and partly to keep an eye on things, pick up mail, run taps, flush toilets, and so on. Everything, I’m pleased to report, is fine.
I wanted to tell you this today because I hope, and trust, that it will reassure you to know that all is well, that our ‘family home’ is waiting for us, and will be ready for us as and when we are able to return in full. And it is the process by which that will happen that I want to write to you about in the rest of this letter.
The short message is that we don’t really know how or when it will happen. There are lots of rumours, and evidently lots of different opinions. While there have been some suggestions that places of worship might be able to re-open, for some activities and with suitable precautions, in July, there have also been other hints that it may not be until the end of the year that they can open for ‘normal’ worship. Much depends, and will continue to depend on how the various numbers and indicators about the containment and control of the virus change over the coming weeks.
I say all this because I want to be honest in sharing two difficult messages – I don’t know what is going to happen, and it may be a much longer time than we originally thought before we are able to return to ‘normal’.
For those of us who attend church regularly, this is a sadness, but we know that we will get back one day. I want to invite you to spare a thought, and a prayer, for those whose ‘special days’ have been ruined by the current restrictions. We have so far re-scheduled nearly two dozen baptisms and weddings, and it’s possible that we may need to re-schedule some of them a second time. Throughout this time, those who would dearly have loved to have a church funeral to say goodbye to those they have lost have been prevented.
There are also those who will never come back, because they will not survive the current restrictions. These dear folk weigh more heavily on my heart and feature more prominently in my prayers than anyone at the moment. Please remember them in your prayers too.
The road back is going to be a long one, and I can promise only that it will be bumpy, confusing, and frustrating. There will be mixed messages, false starts, and doubtless a fair amount of fake news. I can’t do much about that. But I can try not to make it any more difficult than it already is. So I will try not to make promises that I can’t keep. I will keep doing everything I am permitted to do to help you to worship and to pray and to grow in your faith. And I will be relentless in bringing you, all the people of this parish, this city and this nation to the altar in prayer.
Please pray for me also, and may God bless you all,