The Gospel reading for today is Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
“Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
This is sometimes known as the great commission, Jesus sends his friends to proclaim good news – the kingdom of heaven has come near. He clearly didn’t expect them to always be welcome. Nor did he expect the task to be straighforward. He told them to travel light, prepare for trouble, and expect to be put on trial. No-one ever said being a Christian was going to be easy.
This has not been an easy week for many people. Headteachers and school staff have spent hours working through legislation and preparing to reopen schools. At the last minute, literally the day before many were due to open, the news came that all their work had been in vain.
I met someone who works in retail property management, they told me that in a day they received 68 new pieces of legislation to comply with, with a further 26 arriving overnight. There is an overwhelming torrent of information, regulations and updates – many of the people we need to keep our society functioning are being pushed to the limits. Some will go under the deluge and not re-emerge.
Churches also face challenges. We were told to expect some form of reopening in July, probably the ability to conduct funerals in church. Here at St Peter’s and St Mary’s we were making good preparations for those new guidelines. Which was a good thing because last Sunday the Government unexpectedly announced their intention to allow churches to be open for private prayer from Monday 15th June. I think that caught everyone unawares and there was much confusion and discussion.
One colleague said to me, “If we are going to do this we shall need to make sure the congregation are spaced out.” I replied, “No problem with our lot, they’re always spaced out.”
You may send complaints to the bishop. That’s what he’s there for.
And then on Tuesday came some very unexpected news. Not only are churches allowed to be open for private prayer from Monday 15th June, but we can also reopen for funeral services in church as well. As I said to Mrs Dawson, “Well, well. Fancy that.” Or words to that effect.
So it has been a busy week with a lot to be done. We have made good preparations which include providing hand sanitising gel, airing and cleaning the churches, removing prayer books and hymn books, closing some pews and doing all we can to maintain social distancing.
I know some of our folk aren’t too sure about measuring in metres, so to make it simple, it’s about the length of a motorbike, or just over two fathoms if you’re of a nautical persuasion.
Of course our churches weren’t designed for this situation. We have one entrance and exit, fixed pews and narrow aisles. But with some common sense and courtesy I am sure we can do everything possible to open our churches to people who wish to be in sacred space for their prayers.
I know this won’t be for everyone. And I know many of our most loyal volunteers will feel unable to take part. This isn’t an easy step, but I know people in our communities have been coming to our churches looking for somewhere to be still in God’s presence. Our prayer tree in the porch at St Mary’s has been filled with people’s prayers. So I am pleased we can open our churches and we will do it with care.
Our PCCs have agreed to open our churches for an hour on Sunday morning and an hour on Wednesday morning. 9.30-10.30 at St Mary’s. 11.00-12.00 at St Peter’s We shall see how that goes and revise our plans if necessary.
We will do all we can to ensure that our churches are safe and welcoming. We don’t want to fill them with notices and barriers, that is not what churches are for. I hope the steps we have taken will provide both a welcome and sufficient guidance.
We will provide a weekly sheet with readings and prayers which we will ask people to take home with them.
Jesus asked his friends to go out into the world bearing good news, the kingdom of heaven has come close. He knew he was asking no small thing of them. They rose to that commission. I am thankful we can rise to this one. Prayer is valid wherever people stand before God, be it in church, in your home, in the farmyard, on up a mountain. But sacred space is a gift which we have cherished for generations. For those who wish to come into our churches to pray this is a good day, and everyone is welcome.
God of truth,
help us to keep the law of your love,
and to walk in the ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life. Amen.