What does today’s church look like to you?

This website for St James’, St Bartholomew’s and Shred is a new one, and I’m collecting photographs, drawings and images to help illustrate what the life of our churches looks like. When creating a church website from scratch, the obvious thing to do is populate it with lots of images of the gorgeous and awesome ancient buildings we worship inside… but with the current pandemic forcing our buildings to be closed for public health reasons, we have an opportunity to look at church life differently.

Dave Walker, the cartoonist and commentator behind CartoonChurch is working overtime to re-illustrate church life under the coronavirus restrictions:

Cartoon of church building with a sign reading, "The building is closed, the church is open"
Copyright: Dave Walker CartoonChurch.com

I am spending a lot of my time on the telephone, both with the people of the church, but also with people who don’t come to church but are looking for a Vicar to talk to. For me, one aspect of church life that looks different to how we’ve always done things is the change from the Sunday coffee/tea/cake with chat, to the armchair telephone conversation:

Staged photograph of a generic vicar bloke dressed in black jumper and clerical collar, holding a telephone to his ear while sitting in an armchair in front of a well-stocked bookshelf. How stereotypical.
Meeting on the telephone

Another aspect of Church life which looks different is our worship. There are a significant number of our congregation who don’t use social media, or have a good enough broadband connection to take advantage of live-streamed multi-directional group worship. While technology can provide us with some wonderful opportunities to gather online, the downside is how this further isolates those who hear about it but can’t join in. This experience is an ongoing frustration for those who’ve been unable to attend church for a variety of physical, mental and practical reasons in the past, so the rest of us have a chance to allow these groups to guide us into this new way of worshipping together.

Overcoming technical barriers is one of the reasons I have recommended engaging with the BBC Daily Service on LW 198 (DAB or online) and also the televised Sunday worship programmes on the BBC. I know that everyone within our community can tune in to these for little cost and are able to connect with good quality worship from the sofa, and at last our pets can join in every Sunday instead of only during the dedicated ‘Pet Service’:

Woman on sofa with pet dog, mug of tea in hand, watching a Sunday morning worship programme on the television
Joining in with televised SUnday worship on the BBC

Church life is not limited to conversation and singing hymns though, our calling as people of faith is to not only accept the blessings which God is graciously heaping upon us, but to share those blessings with others. As we have freely received – to freely give. To be blessed, and overflowing with blessings, so that we are a blessing on the world around us. While this pandemic continues, and in order to cut down the spread of the virus, I’m working from home. I’m following the guidance of the government and the church to “stay at home – protect the NHS – save lives”, but I am also taking my regular daily exercise – and staying local. As a cyclist this gives me the daily opportunity to cycle around the parishes and while I’m cycling, I’m praying. I look at the homes and businesses of the Colne Valley, of Marsden, Slaithwaite and the surrounding communities, and I pray for them. I see this as an opportunity to be alongside God and to witness what God sees: the fear, isolation and hurt – and to pray for peace, community and healing. An example of the church at prayer is the prayer walk, or in my case the prayer cycle:

Looking up the Colne Valley from Slaithwaite towards Marsden from the side of Pole Hill to the north. Villages in the valley bottom, farms dotted along the valley sides and moorland tops to the hills. Marsden Moor and Saddleworth in the distance
View up the Colne Valley: from Slaithwaite looking towards Marsden, the moors in the distance

I would love to have more images to share, from the perspective of everyone within our church community. Anyone with a camera, or a set of paint brushes, a pencil and paper, or even the imagery of a poem and prose. We can scan painting and drawings, we can photograph poems and transcribe them, we can take everything you share and use it for the encouragement of all: because even if there are people who can’t access this website, the way we think and behave can make a significant difference on the world around us.

The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

Number 6:24-26