I didn’t watch any of the Glastonbury festival coverage on TV last weekend, but I was reliably informed that the BBC had sent two presenters to the site to introduce the recorded performances from a field full of cows. Why, has got to be the question? But then I’ve often wondered why reports have to come from certain places when it would be cheaper, and often drier for the presenters, if they just came from the studio.
There is clearly something about place that is important and for many people that is true of our church buildings. When a church in Cornwall closed, two members of the congregation faithfully turned up each Sunday morning even though there were no preachers planned. It was where they felt they needed to be. I left before the building was sold but did suggest that any purchaser might have to be told there were sitting tenants who would turn up for an hour every Sunday morning. Private prayer in our church buildings is not part of our Methodist tradition and yet as soon as it was announced that would be possible, a few people wanted our buildings re-opened just so that they could get back inside them.
In Exodus, Moses encounters God in a burning bush and is told to take off his sandals for he is standing on holy ground. He eventually leads the children of Israel to the promised land, for some of the journey carrying the tablets of the law in the Ark of the Covenant. After many years in the Promised Land, a temple is built, a place for God to dwell. Certain rituals had to be carried out there and we can only imagine the devastation the Jews must have felt when they were carried away into exile and the temple destroyed. Even though they rebuilt it, it was finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 ad. But things had moved on. The Christian Gospel was by then being carried to the ends of the earth.
Yet, we had a need for buildings, places where God could be worshipped so we began to build churches. Over time, they became the only places where certain rituals could be performed to the extent that when John Wesley is persuaded to preach in the open air to the miners at Kingswood he says that he, “submitted to be more vile,” echoing the words of David as he danced before the Ark of the Covenant. But it was by that act of preaching in the open air that the work of the gospel was carried forward. I know that the Meon Valley Circuit is formed of old Primitive Methodist Churches and The Primitive Methodists broke away from the Wesleyans because they felt they were becoming too tied to structures, physical, liturgical, and spiritual. They wanted to get back to the camp meetings in the open air where people could have a chance to hear the Gospel.
The current pandemic has forced us out of our buildings and our comfortable ways of doing things. However, by the wonders of the internet it has brought the Christian Gospel into homes and places where it has never been heard before and I pray that this might be the beginning of a new spiritual awakening in our country. I don’t want to dismiss the value of our buildings and I look forward to being able to join together to sing again whenever that might be allowed. However, I don’t want us just to rush back to whatever we had in the past. I know Waltham Chase are looking to continue streaming when we can resume public worship in our buildings and I pray that we will continue to look for other ways to reach out with the Gospel in the weeks and months to come from wherever we might be.
Wherever you encounter it, may you know the wonder of God’s presence and love, now and always.
With best wishes