I wonder if we should start to have a look at some of the implications of possible futures!! It is really important that we don’t attempt to go back to business as usual or imagine that will happen in the foreseeable future, however there are things that we can begin to discuss and mull over in our minds.
It is also important to have a view as the government are in the process of asking industry and the public sector how they would like to see lock down eased in order to safely facilitate their activity and at some point they will ask the church. I would like for us to have a voice, through our Archdeacon, about these issues so am beginning the conversation.
I am using the Transition Movement questioning model that initiated creative thinking in the faces of uncertain futures…… that asks What if?
What if churches were allowed to open but no services were allowed?
What would we do? How would we manage the opening in practical terms and what would we want the opening to facilitate? Why open them, what is the rational for opening? Would we encouraging contagion to do so and even if the government says yes, should we do it? What would we offer inside, would we encourage candle lighting, prayer trees and even small exhibitions of spiritual art or poetry or craft?
These are my thoughts so far……
Why open them? This is the first thing to ask
Because they normally are open. I know this sounds a little of an odd answer but in the rural communities were we live the relationship that people have with the churches is based on them being open. Many town and city centre churches are normally closed and opening them in a pandemic would be a novelty… for us it is just an adjustment back to ‘normal.
Because people passing like to pop in and pray. Again this is normal for us, part of the fabric of our communities for many more people than attend a church service on a Sunday. Our churches in the villages and attached to graveyards offer a place to add a moment of reflection to our exercise and support mental health for many people of any faith and none.
Because opening our churches offers hope. An empty church with a lighted candle is for many many people a symbol of unseen communion. Communion with people who have and will pass through and with those who have passed through their earthly lives. They epitomize continuity and at this time in the Pandemic this symbol could be a lifeline.
Would it encourage contagion?
No, there is no reason why it should. It would seem that the present lock down practices have been working and the ‘curve is flattening’. This reduction in spread has been achieved despite the continued opening of food shops of all sizes. It has to be the case that if you can enter a food shop with the multiple possible areas for contamination from warehouses, deliveries, shop staff, and checkout pin machines without creating a spike in infection rates then entering an empty church has to be seen as less dangerous. The transmission of this disease is as yet not fully understood and the argument above in anecdotal but surely has some weight.
What would be available for people in the church?
A candle would be lit in the morning and placed were it is visible and safe.
The votive stands would be available for people to light a candle and plastic gloves and hand sanitizer would be near to them for people to use if they wish.
A prayer tree could be created with paper labels to hang on the tree but no pens out, people would be advised to bring their own pen or write it at home. This may be an addition for later months as the risk levels fall.
As more people are allowed out and things reopen so some other people will remain isolated and this will be very hard to bare. The following things could help.
Exhibitions in the churches giving them a space to offer their ‘voice’ might give some sense of worth and purpose. Creative work, poems, songs and paintings created by those who are confined could be displayed and their offering photographed with the encouragement to comment and be in dialogue with the work.
Artistic projects that give people some part of a larger work of art to create at home and then bring it together in an installation in the churches… to build community through shared craft.
Community gardening where people are encouraged to individually tend the church gardens on a rota, bringing their own tools and connecting through seeing what others have done. Isolated people could offer plants they have grown.
How would this work in practice?
Priests and churchwardens and PCC members who are not shielded or over 70 would be asked if they would like to be part of a rota to open and close the churches. Door nobs and lighters would be disinfected and the plastic gloves and sanitizer checked as the church is closed.
People to help design and create artistic projects and gardening. Meeting in zoom chats on line or through whats-app groups.