‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’
The vocation of the Church of England, as the established church, is to be the church for the whole nation – whatever the creeds and beliefs, or even non beliefs of its citizens – irrespective of the political and civic temperature. We exist, in part, to hold the nation before God, in the words of the preface to the marriage service ‘in good times and in bad.’ Part of our mandate must surely be to ‘enrich society and strengthen community?’ We are both a national church and a communal church.
In these current ‘worst of times’ our mandate, duty and responsibility, strange as it may sound, is to follow the coronavirus where ever it may lead us so that we can reach out with open hands to the poor and needy neighbour in our land (Dueteronomy 15, 11 – our benefice verse for the year).
Of course in following the virus we shouldn’t be foolhardy or negligent. We shouldn’t put ourselves or others at risk, but neither should we be rendered impotent by fear for at a very basic level we have a responsibility to continue praying and to keep communing. Praying and communing are, after all, the very things that equip us to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ through acts of loving service to ‘the poor and neddy in the land;’ especially the poor, the sick, the dying and the vulnerable. We go to church so that we can be fed through word and sacrament to make a difference. An unhealthy nation needs a healthy church, even if it maybe temporarily a smaller gathered church.
When we go to church we should also be mindful of the fact that we should expect to encounter and be fed by the ‘Lord (who truly) is here.’ The fact that the Eucharist is for the time being to be received in one kind (bread) shouldn’t in any way diminish the efficacy of the sacrament. Christ is fully present in the Eucharist in both bread and wine. The fancy name for this is concomitance. For sure it might be desirable that both the priest and the people receive communion in both kinds (this being the spirit of Article XXX of the Articles of Religion), but where this is not possible it doesn’t diminish the power and the potency of the sacrament; where Christ is present He is fully present and when we are fed we are fully fed.
So having prayed and having been fed how can we go ‘in peace to love and serve the Lord’ following where Coronavirus leads?
Here are just a few suggestions; suggestions that have sprung up from within the church and the community:
How about gathering a list of names of people who are happy (subject to their own health) to shop and collect prescriptions for the vulnerable and the isolated?
Or maybe creating a network of telephone and virtual friends?
What about a prayer or reflection for the day or week ahead on the parish website, Facebook Page, or Twitter feed?
Earlier this week I was delighted to receive a request from one of the town’s civic organisations to partner (in our existing scheme) to help those facing food-poverty. Would your local Rotary, Lions or other clubs and organisations be interested in partnering with your church as you seek, in a spirit of mutual cooperation to ‘strengthen community?’ If you don’t ask, you won’t know!
We maybe in approaching the ‘worst of times’ but, perhaps, just perhaps, the opportunity exists for the concomitant church to work with others of good will to enrich society and strengthen community by reaching out, through acts of loving service, to the poor and needy neighbour in our land. The church should go where coronavirus leads.