It is a step forward to be able to go into the church building again for private prayer, but let’s remember that’s not church. This whole challenging season of closure and disruption has not just knocked us out of our routine, and made us wary of taking anything for granted. It has caused us to consider deeply why we need church.
From Monday 22nd June, an aspect of the normal use of St Luke’s church building has been restored. The doors are open for half the week and everybody is welcome to pray and ponder privately within, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. There is clear guidance to be followed to minimise health risks and enable thorough targeted cleaning. It’s not much, but it is a step in the right direction.
I say it’s not much because the essence of church is not private prayer. The Greek word translated ‘church’ in the New Testament means ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’. The essence of church is a crowd of God’s people.
Private prayer is a spiritual discipline which Jesus expects his followers to fulfil day by day, but when he talks about it, he assumes it will be done in Christians’ homes: ‘when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father..’ (Matthew 6:6). Church is called church because it is about the large gathering.
We welcome to St Luke’s church building anybody who finds it an inspiring space to pray and ponder. Those who find it hard to pray at home are only too welcome to seek the Lord in the place where locals have come to worship the living Lord God for 6 centuries. The even better place to seek the Lord is among the gathering of His covenant people.
We pray that may be soon, and safely.
Because Christians are told in the Bible not to neglect coming together to hear God’s word, to pray for needs of the world, and to participate in holy communion, or the Lord’s Supper, to be strengthened in our inner life. As Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has written, “We are grateful that technology has enabled most of us not to lose contact with one another, and to gather ‘virtually’ for worship and learning. We are however three-dimensional beings and cannot forever be satisfied with the somewhat two-dimensional world of the electronic media. We crave coming together to renew friendship and fellowship, to seek for and offer assistance, to celebrate and grieve together.
So none of us is satisfied with merely individual and private prayer and we all look to the day (hopefully not too far away) when we can meet together for corporate worship both in buildings dedicated for the purpose and, if necessary, out of doors, at least during the summer! Until then we are grateful that churches and other places of worship will be open and that people will be able to access them for meditation, reflection and prayer. Studies have shown that prayer helps in healing and recuperation.
It helps in giving us a sense of direction and of the support of others. Let us take this opportunity to pray not just for ourselves but for our fellow citizens, the ill and the bereaved and, yes, for control of this pandemic so that people can gather as families, friends and colleagues and so that believers can come together to express their faith in worship, prayer and teaching.”
Yours with prayerful best wishes,