by The Revd Elizabeth J Smith | Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
‘Welcome back! St John’s is open again for our community. Please come in!’ That’s the message that went up outside St John’s Old Cathedral Kalgoorlie on Monday 18 May.
Our church building, right in the downtown area, with lots of passing foot traffic, is normally open every day. It is great to be able to open the doors again for the many visitors who drift in and out. Some come to see the historical plaques and soak up the architectural ambience. Some come to pour out their troubles or their joys to God, or just to sit and think, quietly taking spiritual shelter in a place that is open to everyone.
Welcoming our Sunday congregation back was more of a challenge. There was a lot of dusting, and an extra service to timetable. Many parishioners were emailed and telephoned. We invited them to book themselves a pew for a particular timeslot, to keep our numbers under the regulation 20. Safety plans were made and lodged with the relevant authorities. Decisions were taken about how to wrangle rosters, arrange furniture, and adapt the service booklets to the circumstances.
We are a small congregation with a large building. We know that parishes with larger congregations or smaller buildings have not yet been able to juggle all the needs and responsibilities associated with starting Sunday services again. How we all long to gather again, see each other’s faces, greet each other with the peace of Christ, share the bread and drink from the common cup! Alas, there are many hurdles still to be cleared.
Some of those hurdles are less administrative and more theological.
When so much has been going on in our community and the world, we can’t just slot back into our old groove in the blink of an eye.
It’s good to remind ourselves of who we are. We’re not just churchgoers, much though we love going to church! By our baptism into Christ, we are the Church. Some of us have been connecting with live-streamed or pre-recorded worship. Others have been saying our daily prayers quietly at home, reading our bible, perhaps using the phone or Zoom to pray with others, or reading sermons circulated by email. So, once inside the building, we began by renewing our baptismal promises. Before that, outside the church door, we prayed:
you are caring for us and for all people
through this long season of epidemic disease.
Thank you for your constant companionship in our homes,
for feeding us with your word,
and for hearing the prayers of our hearts
while we have been unable to gather as the Body of Christ.
On this joyful day,
re-unite us by your Holy Spirit
so that we may see your love in one another’s faces
and, in the breaking of the bread, recognise the Lord Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This crisis is not over, not by a long shot. We need God’s continuing care So, in the Prayers of the People, we prayed:
Give us courage and calm as we live through these changing times.
Make us grow closer to each other in care, even as we maintain our distances.
Make us good neighbours for people struggling with loss of work,
loneliness, anxiety or trouble at home.
Remind us that you are always with us, wherever we are.
In some parts of the world, people stuck at home have come to their front doors to applaud health care workers for their faithful service. We want not just to thank them, but to thank God for them. Some of them are members of our own congregations.
We thank you, loving God, for all who are working so hard
to care for the sick and reduce the spread of disease in our community.
Thank you for the dedication of hospital, medical and aged-care workers,
and scientists working on treatment, prevention and vaccines.
Refresh and inspire them by your Holy Spirit.
Who ‘we’ are has changed since last we gathered. Members and beloved friends and family have died, probably not from the coronavirus, but from more ordinary causes: accident, sickness, or simple old age. With limits on the numbers allowed to attend funerals, we have not been able to gather to farewell them. Bishop Brian Kyme is just one of those treasured members whose life we were not able to honour at a public funeral. Back in church, we will want to acknowledge our grief for those who have died, give thanks for their lives, and perhaps plan for a public memorial service when distancing arrangements are lifted even further. So we prayed:
We thank you, living God, for the life of those we love
who have died since last we gathered in this place.
We remember especially . . .
We trust that they are at peace, and in your everlasting care,
through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How have you been praying through the separation and the suspension of our common prayer? How are you praying through the administrative and theological bumps of our journey back into our church buildings? How will we keep praying, through the long months of uncertainty and change? However we manage it, the Holy Spirit is always with us, to guard and guide our common prayer, and our life in Christ.