Church of England Diocese of Chichester Goring

Fr Keith's weekly pastoral letter

12 Jun 2020, 10 a.m.

Getting back to Church….

In school I have occasionally undertaken a little experiment. I ask the assembled

children if there is any one who would like to draw on a flip chart a very simple

picture of a church. To encourage those who are artistically under confident, and

to ensure that if a budding Canaletto steps-up, she or he doesn’t attempt

anything too ambitious I stress that the drawing should indeed be simple.

Invariably, what appears on the large piece of paper (or electronic screen) is an

image of a building with a spire, often adorned with a cross- and, however

primitively or sophisticatedly it is drawn, it is always a building. I then rapidly

sketch a group of people of various shapes, ages, colours and ages, and ask the

children to say what they think it is I have drawn. The answers come back, “ A

family?” “ A team?” “ People?” and once, memorably, “A load of weirdoes?” The

last answer is closest, because what I have drawn is, of course, a church. The

point I then make is that we are perhaps inclined to think of “going to church” as

spending time in a particular building, but the word “church” actually signifies

the people, not the building – rather as going to school is about being with a

particular group of people who make up the school- the school is still the school

wherever it gathers, and you are still a member of the school, even when you are

at home. The same holds true (at a far more profound level) for the Church

(notice I have capitalized the word) - we are members of the Body of Christ in

every second of every day, not only when we gather in our sacred buildings:

indeed, we are members of the Church for a lifetime, and for eternity. Once you

are baptised (remember the words the priest speaks at Holy Baptism, “Christ

claims you for His own…”) you are a member of the Church whether or not you

grow up to believe and to worship. If you do not attend worship, you could, I

suppose, be likened to a pupil playing truant (Something I know a lot about, but

that’s another story…).

It is worth bearing in mind as we continue to be unable to worship together in

our church buildings, that we nonetheless worship as the Church. We are no less

the Church in this time of exile. However, I know how many of you- like me-are

longing to be able to return to our beloved places of worship, and this is a very

good spiritual instinct. Our word “ church” translates the Greek “ekklesia” which

means an assembled group of people. It is sometimes said that Jesus did not

come to found a Church. Clearly, those who make that observation have not read

or understood the scriptures, and have yet to grasp what the Church is- very

simply, we are a collection of people who believe that Jesus is who he has

revealed himself to be, and we have committed our lives to following him. In

order to do this, it is absolutely necessary to be alongside other people- shoulder

to shoulder, or cheek by jowl. In the days of his life on earth, Jesus chose a very

motley group of persons to be his disciples (this was itself unusual as the it was

customary was for the disciple to choose the master, not the other way about)-

and they would have had to learn to rub along together (or, rather, love another),

as they walked the long miles with Jesus, facing all kinds of privations. The same

is true for us- though we may delight in one another, enjoy each other’s

company, and so on, it is a spiritual truth that our love is honed (if that is the

right word) by our contact with those whom we find it hard to love, like or

understand. We always have to remember that the Lord chose us; we did not

choose him, or each other! Though the technologies we have employed in recent

times have been a great blessing, and we will continue to use them, the

suggestion that the Church can be all she is called to be by “virtual” means, is

thoroughly mistaken. The Word (God) became flesh and dwelt among us. We

need to “dwell” and gather with another, no matter how demanding that can be.

God is not an abstraction, and neither, therefore is love. It is to be encountered

in the incarnation of Jesus, and in the embodiment of others.

Likewise, we really must be careful not think about worship in terms of its

convenience to us. Spiritual maturity tends to come in those times when we

resist the inclination to stay in of bed and not go to worship, or when we choose

to prioritise worship over some other alluring recreational activity, or worldly

commitment. In short, if we begin to have the mindset that worship should be

there for our convenience- a spiritual version of Netflix- then we have taken a

serious misstep. The Christian life demands something of us, and the gospel is

not be squeezed into our lives, but it is to be its absolute foundation and centre-

“Seek first the kingdom of God,” says Jesus; he does not say, “I’m over here, if you

could spare me a few minutes?”

With every blessing,

Fr Keith