How important is church?

Andy Hawes 

Priest friends are divided in predicting the effect of Corona Virus on church life. One view is that church going, being such a hard habit to establish for many people, will stop altogether for some. There is an opposite view: the enforced ‘retreat’ will provide an opportunities for some to reflect on their priorities in life and come to a renewed realisation of how vital attending church is. Time will tell if either, or both, of these predictions are in any way accurate.

The ‘lockdown’ has thrown out of balance the two key elements required to sustain a vibrant spiritual life which are on the one hand involvement in the corporate life of the church which includes partaking in Holy Communion, and on the other hand the individual disciplines of prayer, study and reflection. Unless those who rely totally on the corporate to be encouraged and sustained in their Christian life adopt some elements of personal prayer and devotion, it is very likely that their spiritual life with wither to nothing.  

There are a small number of people for whom involvement in church life is problematic because of age or infirmity, or difficulties in finding a community in which they feel comfortable and sustained. For this minority the corona crisis will have little effect. Ironically, now that the whole church has been atomised into myriad households, they may find more support available to them through various media. Certainly, the internet is awash with contributions of all kinds offered to keep the Christian informed, inspired and nourished with the Bread of Life as provided by the Word of God.

The perfect  (and to be prayed for) outcome is that Christians will emerge into what will be the new normal with reinvigorated spiritual disciplines, a more ordered rule of life, and also a fresh appreciation of the corporate life of the church and the sacramental grace at work through it.  However we emerge as the lockdown is released everyone will have to watchful in working out their own salvation in fear and trembling.

The experience of life as daily patterns resume, in the usual busy and noisy environment, terrorised by countless expectations and deadlines will be very similar to coming out of a long retreat. This being the case, it will be important to think and pray through how to cope with the transition. A starting point for this will be to reflect on all that the grace of God has revealed in social isolation and to recognise and cherish new patterns of prayer and new priorities in daily life as a gift from God. These must be understood to be ‘real’ experiences of lasting value and not accidents born of peculiar circumstances. It might be advisable to write a rule of life to aspire to before the deluge of ‘normality’ hits. As a rule what is discerned as given by God in retreat should be placed at the heart of thinking and planning and a determined effort made  ‘not to let the grace of God go for nothing.’