Ah, my dear Lord, the church is locked, but let my heart be open to your presence. I recently came across these words on the gate of a local church which, like most others at this time, is closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The words form the first two lines of a poem entitled ‘A locked church’ by Alan Amos.
This issue of whether churches are locked or not is one of the questions I’m asked the most frequently when discussing my pilgrimages. When I describe how I walk long distances and visit churches as I go, it’s inevitable that people will be curious about how many I find open.
However, my reply often surprises them as I find that more church buildings are accessible than many people might expect. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most Anglican churches in rural areas of Wales and England are open. Occasionally I find free church chapels and Roman Catholic churches open too and, especially when I went on pilgrimage in Brittany, many village and town churches there were also unlocked.
But as I look forward to finally being able to set out on this year’s pilgrimage, I know that my experience will be very different. Most churches remain locked for much of the time, perhaps being accessible for just a few hours a week when local volunteers are available to act as stewards. This will clearly make quite a difference to my experience as a pilgrim.
However, Alan Amos’ poem serves as a reminder that the real issue is one of our own hearts-that although church buildings may be locked, each of us can be open and available to God’s presence with us whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in. A locked church is no barrier to God’s working and leading in our lives and even to the deepest recesses of our own souls.
As I set off on this year’s pilgrimage, aiming for the ancient cathedral of Winchester and also the lovely Isle of Wight, I too will need to ensure that my heart is open even though many churches will be unavailable to me and to others. On a practical level, I will pray outside and content myself with taking photos of the exterior of buildings.
If I do come across churches that are open, then I will consider myself especially privileged and hope to be able to chat with those who are volunteering as stewards and perhaps offer to pray with them too.
In these challenging times, may the door of each of our hearts be open to God’s presence.
Click here for Alan Amos’ poem in full.