In a recent text message, a friend of mine who is a church organist and keen musician vented her frustration at the ongoing restrictions in place as regards church services; congregational worship being permitted but only if social distancing is in place and with no singing to be included because of the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus through the breath.
Having now returned from my 2020 pilgrimage to Winchester and the Isle of Wight, I have become all too aware of the challenges faced by churches at this time and yet also the opportunities. I have seen countless church notice-boards giving details of their services on Zoom and YouTube and so on as places of worship continue with the ‘virtual’ services that have become necessary during lockdown.
And yet these challenging times have also resulted in fresh opportunities not only online but also in the imaginative use of outdoor spaces by churches.
One notable example of this was coming across a long-established prayer garden at the Roman Catholic church in Amesbury in Wiltshire. There, this lovely outdoor space had taken on new life and purpose as a place for a small group to meet for prayer each morning as well as a resource available at any time to the local community and, indeed, for visitors like myself. It was a great joy to me to start my walking day in prayer at this quiet spot. I have also seen several places where the churchyard has been set up with a series of prayer stations, as at St Mildred’s Church at Whippingham on the Isle of Wight and also at Newnham on Severn in Gloucestershire.
As I walked, I also had the opportunity to attend several socially-distanced ‘said’ services as these became permissible. This was in settings as varied as a midweek Methodist service, a Catholic vigil mass and Evening Prayer at the great cathedral in Gloucester.
However, the situation remains frustrating and I too would like to attend ‘a real service with singing’ and I expect you would too. And yet, in spite of the restrictions, our churches are experiencing a slow but radical transformation in their mission and ministry. What our worship will look like in the future may seem unclear but one day we will be able to sing again!