Several people have asked me recently if I think the increasing restrictions on movement may result in us not being able to meet in church again. No one can say at this time what the future holds. At present, the restrictions aren’t preventing us meeting in church and it has been good to meet people personally; even with social distancing. Zoom has its uses but they are limited.
It is a strange anomaly but during lockdown when we have been prevented from using our church buildings and travelling we have engaged with more people. The online services are attracting people who have never been to Otford; whilst they may not watch all the service or visit us more than once there is some contact.
I have been pondering the statistic that a quarter of the British public have viewed church services during lock-down. I’m slightly sceptical of that figure: I wonder how many people are logging on to different church sites looking for one that takes their fancy? However, it does show an interest or curiosity about what the church is doing and offering online. And that is encouraging.
For so long we in the church have seen declining attendances and listened to strident atheists mocking our beliefs that we have become cowed into silence. Instead, we need to reflect on what the early church and the church through history has experienced. Criticism, mockery, ridicule are all signs of people noticing us; it may not be the kind of attention we want but it’s better than indifference. For a long time in Britain, the church has been ignored and considered of no value apart from when people want a christening, wedding or funeral; thankfully that is changing.
Today people are offended by Christian teaching and are reacting aggressively to it. Margaret Court, the Australian tennis player, is being attacked and criticised for speaking clear Christian truth about marriage. When Christians have the confidence and courage to speak we will be criticised and castigated for going against social norms. More importantly; those who criticise will hear something they need to hear even if it offends them.
In the book of the prophet Haggai we read:
If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” Haggai 2:12-13
Sounds a bit odd but the meaning is simple. Bad behaviour and bad habits are contagious, good behaviour and good habits aren’t.
Christians are called to be salt in the world. For salt to have an effect it has to come into contact with the meat or whatever it’s being used for and do its work. Left in the salt cellar it achieves nothing. Perhaps through COVID God is shaking the salt out of the buildings and into the world where it’s needed most!