If B&Q and Ikea can reopen then why can’t we pray in our rural churches?

An orthodox priest wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus distributes Holy Communion dur

An orthodox priest wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus distributes Holy Communion during a service in Moscow. Russian churches are reopen to believers after a two-month lockdown imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus. James Marston ponders why they're still closed in the UK Picture: PA - Credit: AP

James Marston admits he has struggled with churches being closed during lockdown, but argues that as non-essential shops are starting to re-open, churches should be allowed to open their doors again too

Life seems to be getting easier.

This week, as the lockdown begins to ease, I feel a light beginning to flicker at the end of the tunnel. It might just be the end of the beginning, if nothing else, let’s hope so anyway.

So over the last few days, I have begun to take stock and think about some of the things I have and haven’t done and, perhaps, some things I may have learnt over the last few weeks.

The so-called elderly, with whom I have considerable contact have taught me a valuable lesson. As part of my ministry as a clergyman on the Suffolk coast I have been phoning and contacting parishioners, indeed now I can go to see some of them, many of whom fall into the elderly and vulnerable category. Many of them don’t much like this description – perhaps understandably – but it seems to me they have displayed far more forbearance, patience and fortitude than some of the rest of us. Instead of losing their heads, or engaging with armchair epidemiology, many have just got on with it as best they can, often listening to me complaining and carping about how unfair it all is.

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That’s not to say this experience has been easy for them, lockdown has isolated, in many cases, the already isolated, with all its damaging effects.

Perhaps too we might look back and think that we needed the lockdown and appreciate the ferocious light that dawns when we pause and look at ourselves and reassess our lives. Maybe there are lessons we can all learn.

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I have also discovered that I am far more extroverted than I previously thought. I looking forward to seeing my friends again and have decided I really must make more of an effort.

Yet I have found not being able to go to church perhaps the most painful of all the restrictions, although admittedly closely followed by restaurants and the cinema. It is in church that I believe the community often expresses its togetherness and unity – events like Remembrance Sunday are a good example of this. Virtual services – good though they are – offer only a hint of the real thing.

And I think it’s about time we were allowed back in.

If non-essential shops can open and we can buy stuff we don’t really need, can’t the churches open too? If not for services then for visitors keen simply to sit and think in the one building

in the community that is usually always open and offers a haven of peace in a frenetic world.

I have noticed, since I started my life in the church, that often people come into church, not to the main services necessarily, but discreetly and quietly making a visit perhaps for a moment of rest or prayer – and for those people church can be

a calm place of respite in a difficult day. The services will return in due course, when the time is right, and patience is no bad thing to learn.

But in the meantime let’s hope the glorious churches of our rural counties open soon to the occasional visitor and the curious – that is what they are for after all, our spiritual health.

And popping into a church often helps clear a troubled mind and nourishes a worried soul – and isn’t that what we all need at the moment?

What do you think? Have you missed church? Have you watched services online? Do you sometimes pop in to your local church or place of worship? Write to James at james.marston@archant.co.uk

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