I feel a little like the preacher that gets up in the pulpit and berates the congregation because no one comes to Church anymore. I know that you are the wrong audience for this in a way. On the other hand, it is a convention you may be drawn into with friends and family. It’s a conversation we all need to have.
The strangeness of the pandemic
The pandemic has impacted on different people in very different ways. As we have this conversation, I think a basic first rule of engagement is – don’t presume anything. I am amazed meeting with people coming back to Church over the last couple of weeks, some of them have no idea that we have been open or active over the last few months. Even with our over 500 live streams, reaching out and delivering to over 40 households – even then there are people we have not reached. You can imagine that some people felt abandoned by the Church. It is hard for some to comprehend that the Church would “bow” to the call to close. On the other hand, some have never been so connected to the Church than over this pandemic. It is a real mixed bag…
The lifting of the obligation
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Pope, and then our Bishops, announced the lifting of the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. The obligation to attend mass will be re-introduced on the 1st Sunday of Advent. For some, this is an important fact and milestone. Not just important – but a bone of contention. For others, the fact of the obligation is now a bit of an academic question. How conscious people are today of that “obligation” to attend. Certainly, from modern experience, this does not seem to affect the behaviour of a majority. It remains a fact of our Church discipline and one again that must be approached as we move forward. There is an objective and a subjective side to all of these elements – both valid – and both needing to be addressed. I certainly would want people to come because they want to. On the other hand, we are a Church of conviction and belonging and not simply of convenience. A challenging concept.
The role of live-streaming
Our Church was live-streaming well before the pandemic. In the pandemic, we had to up our game massively and expand our capabilities. There is a valid ministry to those who for legitimate reasons cannot get to Church. Streaming was a lifeline to many during the pandemic and kept that connection to the community alive. The growth of the community through our online connection was also a reality. Many who joined us online though found it a great support, but it is certainly not the same as attending and receiving Holy communion. It was convenient, with lots of stories being banded about of the joy of attending mass in your slippers, a cup of tea in hand. There are big challenges here concerning the reality of what a sacred space is and how we understand “real presence”. The domestic Church is also a reality and something that, I believe, has been strengthened over this year. But what about our sense of belonging and accountability. We are called to be a “real” community, and that is challenged and strengthens in our encounter – not from a distance. Our horizons have certainly been expanded and challenged. Yet more challenges to look at with an open mind.
Research from University College London has shown that it takes 66 days to form a habit. I have not seen research as to how quickly habits can be lost. But I am convinced that over the last months’ many habits have been formed and some lost. We all need to check what has changed for us over these last months.
What has become important that needs to be reevaluated? What is important that has taken a back seat that needs to be revitalized?
As we come out of the pandemic, we have a fantastic opportunity to join with one another in “building” our Church again. We have experienced and learned so much about each other and our faith over these last months. One of the great lessons for me is the fact that things can change, and that the change although challenging is not necessarily a bad thing. We have found new ways of doing things and see the weaknesses in how we have managed things in the past. Let’s build on that.