Re-imagining Church: Garden or Window Box? (Ros' Blog)
Today's blog post was originally featured on Ros' personal blog -- you can find the post by following this link.
There is an ongoing debate about the closure of church buildings during the pandemic. On one side are people who are concerned above all for public health and not wanting to prolong the crisis. On the other hand there are those who quote Hebrews 10. 25 (‘Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together’) and wish to see churches reopen and normality resume in their worship services as soon as possible. Here are my thoughts.
Firstly, let’s not forget the pastor in the DRC who encouraged his congregation to continue to meet during the Ebola outbreak, thereby contributing massively to the spread of Ebola in his region, resulting in his own death and that of many of his congregation. Do we really want people to be able to turn round and point their finger at the Church and say, you people made it worse?
Secondly, people like my daughter who lives in a care home and has been condemned by this pandemic to a separation from her family which causes her a great deal of anguish, and people like my lovely colleague who is having to shield and has not been able to leave her city flat for 3 months, will be the ones who suffer the longer this pandemic continues. People who feel safe to meet up in public because they are at low risk from this virus need to consider that if their action prolongs the pandemic, it also prolongs isolation and separation for those less fortunate than themselves.
But thirdly, here is something I’ve observed. Looking round my garden as May ends and June begins, I can see that it’s a season of rapid growth. The roses that I pruned right down have shot up and are covered in buds. The vegetable seeds which I sowed weeks ago are suddenly sprouting at a rapid rate. My strawberries are laden with fruit. And in my own church I’m seeing something parallel to that in a spiritual realm. People are growing spiritually at a rapid rate. When we communicate via the church WhatsApp group or hold our meetings on Zoom, people are sharing deeper spiritual insights than ever before, reporting deepening understanding of and relationship with God, and are sharing the many ways in which God is using them to bless their neighbours and share the Gospel in deed as well as word.
It is as if we have been uprooted from our window box where we were crammed in with little room for growth of roots or foliage, and transplanted into a wide garden with plenty of space to spread our stems and branches, put down deeper roots and produce abundant foliage, blooms, and eventually, fruit. Why would we want to be stuffed back into that cramped old window box again?
Yes, I miss people, especially living on my own. Yes there are days when I would give anything to be back in the church building just so I am in reach of an actual person who can give me a physical hug. But these things are less important than what God is doing. Looking at church history, growth has almost always come through scattering, usually as a result of persecution. It’s not persecution that is scattering us, but an invisible virus. Nevertheless, personal growth and Church growth are the results. Let’s not be in a hurry to shut that all down again and scramble back into our old window box where we can look how we used to look and do things the way we used to do them. God’s dreams for us are far bigger than that.
And when we do finally begin to meet again, let’s not forget that some of our disabled brothers and sisters have, for the first time, been able to participate on a level playing field with everyone else when church has been online. Let’s not retreat into our inaccessible buildings and close the door in their faces again, but let’s become a church that uses every conceivable tool at our disposal to ensure that every member is fully included, especially the disabled ones of whom Jesus said in Luke 14 that his house is not full when they are absent.