Hereford Times Article - 11/06/2020
20 years ago, I started work as the vicar of a Sussex parish. In my first week I thought it would be a good idea to visit the pub at the bottom of the churchyard path. It was a typical country pub with a big black door and steep steps to get in. Halfway up the steps I remember feeling nervous. Strange, I thought. I’d been into lots of pubs before. Why should this visit be any different? But when I thought about it I realised, a, I had my dog collar on, and b, I had no idea who would be inside and how they would treat a vicar they’d never met before. As it happened, they were very friendly and delighted to see me. In fact, I had some deep spiritual conversations with people there. Especially when they’d had eight pints, but that’s another story.
I wondered why people in the pub felt more comfortable talking to me about spiritual things than they might have been on the rare occasions they came to church. I suppose it was because I was on their turf. It was an environment in which they felt comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I was comfortable there too, but it wasn’t the same as my professional world, doing church in a building only fifty yards away. That experience makes me very sympathetic to people who find going to church difficult. I was confronted with a big black door and had no idea what was on the other side of it. Many churches, might feel like that to you if you haven’t been for a while or have never been.
I’m sure you’d receive a warm welcome if you went. But, it’s understandable to feel self-conscious if there’s a small congregation, you’re not sure what to do, or you’re worried you might be asked to do something!
I’m not surprised by stories of wide-spread engagement with our live streamed services while church buildings are closed. One cathedral recently had 7000 hits to an online service where normally there’d only be a few hundred. Social media makes it easier to dip in anonymously. If you are asking big spiritual questions, as many are in the midst of this crisis, such anonymity can be invaluable. A crisis like this opens us all up to spiritual realities that we haven’t considered before. So, why not turn off the Netflix and log on to a live church near you. You may well find the answers you’re looking for!