The founder of the British charity Christian Concern says ministers of the Gospel during the coronavirus pandemic “have become seen as optional extras.”
Andrea Williams asks in a column on her group’s website if the church during the lockdown has become “non-essential.”
“We’re acting as if it is,” she writes.
In the United States, Christians have gone to court to uphold their consitutional right to worship. But there hasn’t been such demand in the U.K.
“We are currently witnessing a revival across the UK. Millions of people are gathering around the country for their weekly act of obeisance. Sadly, it’s not in churches – or in virtual church services,” she writes. “We put rainbows up in our windows, step outside on Thursdays at 8 pm and honor key workers who are providing ‘essential services’ during this coronavirus pandemic.”
Such recognition is warranted, she says, but it “makes me reflect on how the church, how ministers of the gospel have become seen as optional extras rather than critical leaders in these remarkable times.”
That attitude from governments and politicians is not surprising, she says.
“What’s far more devastating to me is the church’s widespread willingness – even eagerness – to accept this ‘non-essential’ designation,” he said. “I get it. For a short period, loving our neighbors has meant playing our part in slowing the virus’ spread. But church leaders have gone beyond what government guidance (and law) demands, or what scientists advise.”
She points out government officials have given permission for funerals to be held in churches during the pandemic, but the Church of England now forbids them.
The now-closed church buildings, which are “intended to serve” congregations, “exist for a reason.”
“Shutting them down, stopping meeting physically and taking extreme precautions does come at a real cost. Virtual church can still be uplifting but it is not the same,” Williams writes.
Couldn’t church leaders have pushed for more protections against such “real sacrifice”?
How about online or television services. Or making buildings safe?
“Maybe in some cases the wiser option is to hold back on some of this,” she says, but churches too often respond with the “club” mentality.
“We’ve implicitly admitted that what we do on Sundays and in our church communities is an option, a choice. Church is a club for religious people; the spiritual equivalent of crochet groups for crafty people,” writes Williams.
Instead, “gathered worship” should be at the very center of lives.