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Are We Asking the Wrong Questions?

A few days ago, our vicar sent me a link to aYouTube video, which made me laugh. It also made me think - or, at least, to look at my feelings, and dredge up the thoughts which had been lurking in the dark corners of my mind.

I was sent it, as a joke, because he’d asked me to look at ways we might reopen our church building - first for ‘private prayer’ then, later I assume, for ‘worship’ - in these days of Covid-19 and social distancing. I won’t go into detail but, basically, a church building like ours is designed to ‘cram’ lots of people into a relatively small space: the opposite of what’s required to keep people safe from the novel coronavirus. The more I think, and calculate, and draw, the more complicated and the more, ‘de-humanising’ and intractable the problem seems to become...

And ridiculous; especially that.

If we keep strictly to the 2m rule, and also expect that someone, anyone, sitting near the platform might need the toilet at some point, we can fit a grand total of eleven individuals - or somewhat more if we allow ‘lockdown bubbles’ to huddle together - but never more than about 10% of the church’s ‘capacity’. If you decide not to allow people to leave to go to the toilet, and insist that the first arrivals fill the church from the front, then you can fit about sixty people. How do you select which small percentage can come on any given Sunday? I have to say, I find this model of ‘church’ most unattractive and unlikely, therefore, to attract many people to ‘hear the good news’.

Tough Times and the Church

I think I want to start a conversation about grief, trauma and mental ill-health, and the church’s response.

I should say, first of all, that I’m no expert, and this is entirely personal perspective, developed over forty years of being around evangelical churches. I’ve had my share of tough times, and I’ve seen and experienced both the brilliant and the bad in churches’ response to people struggling through hard times. I’ve also been part of conversations around those issues, and churches’ response, for almost as long.

I remember one conversation, it must be almost thirty years ago now, in which a GP acquaintance was openly critical of evangelical churches, describing them as places which fostered a sense of unreality - that sense that you weren’t a ‘proper Christian’ unless you were always ‘up’ - always happy and smiling - and how harmful this was for those who aren’t always ‘up’. He also described the ‘quick fix’ culture (pray for someone’s healing, believe they’d been healed, and move on) as equally harmful - ‘leaving a trail of broken, hopeless, people in its wake, for the NHS to pick up and try to put back together’ was how I think he put it. His words stuck with me - because they illustrated neatly how wrong the attitude was; how wrong-headed the reasoning behind the church’s response can be. It was pretty damning and, sadly, in a lot of cases, all too true.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020