A New Beginning or a Curate’s Egg?
A local and national reflection on the Church of England during the time of Coronavirus
The Rev’d Danny Pegg is the Assistant Curate of St Luke’s Stone Cross, in the Diocese of Chichester. He is two years into his curacy following training at Westcott House, where he undertook a Cambridge BTh in Theology for Ministry and an MPhil in Anglican Studies. His main theological interests lie in Anglican ecclesiology (his MPhil dissertation was on Archbishop Michael Ramsey) along with Anglican distinctiveness and theological tradition.
As it now has for many, ministry has transformed during the coronavirus lockdown for me. The Eucharist is said alone in the church building once a week. The heart of our former spiritual nourishment has been transplanted. My first Easter as a priest became something of a week-long vigil. The Daily Offices are seeing a renaissance in our parishioners’ lives – both the live-streamed variety and offices said alone at home at the same time as everyone else. The length of one-to-one conversation in any given week with most parishioners is up. I am asked to pray more. I am in touch with various groups in the community (the council, charities, schools, etc) far more than ever. I am praying more – and I have finally got around to creating that prayer space in the study. I am reading and – unsurprisingly – writing more. I am involved in my own small way with the efforts to connect volunteers to those who cannot get out of the house for essential food and medicine. I am seeing parishioners where able and permitted, getting involved in all of the relief efforts and sharing spiritual resources and prayer: the gospel lived out in action and word down a telephone line or digitally just as often as in the flesh.
And, we aren’t going to go back to normal.
On this micro level, the accessibility of our worship, prayer and fellowship time alone is something that we cannot regress on even when physical gathering resumes. Too many have commented on how they are able to ‘do more’ praying, attend more and are comforted as a result. For our parish, this shows us perhaps some things we needed to be doing before. There may well be a novelty factor attached to some of this, but the impact feels real.
On the macro level, the national Church too has been largely affected. Attendance at worship appears to have spiked i and many are being interviewed about why people are attending more at home. The visibility of the Church in terms of its social justice endeavours is up too through the local press and necessity for Councils and agencies to partner with each other. The presence of so much worship and content now on the internet and on social media is making large ripples and many who were not interested before are seeing the Church in a new light. There are viral worship song videos; Archbishops in hospital wards and the faith is being witnessed as sustaining, attractive and powerful.
The national Church also to has to face the many cracks appearing across its surface, unveiled by these times of pandemic. The interior debates around the usage of buildings; the theology of the Eucharist; the pros and cons of moving into the digital realm as Church and the policies on hospital visiting are a few popular examples consuming much space on the Twittersphere. The Church of England also had an imminent financial struggle approaching prior to this crisis and it seems that these events will also progress discussions around church closures; parish amalgamations; parish and diocesan finances and potentially the parish system as a whole.ii