A convenient temptation?
Lucy Berry finds weaknesses in online church
It’s difficult to imagine how local churches will look back on Covid-19. We’re still unsure when we will be able, truly, to look back, but when we do, we will surely remember the raw fear, and the grief and the isolation. For many of us there has been depression and political frustration. Speaking personally, it will take me a long time to come to terms with the last months.
‘Oi, Vicar!’ my neighbour said other day, ‘Covid then. What’s God up to?’ I no longer bother explaining to people that I’m not a vicar. But we talked for quite a while about where God is in all this isolation, trauma and anguish. People, churched or unchurched, are thinking about it. They will go on wondering for a long time.
As for Church, some local churches consider that they have worked surprisingly well during lockdown. I’ve heard much recently about the success of online worship, and the potential for it staying in the future. It worries me no end.
There is a place for online meeting after lockdown. Now that we have more general IT confidence, there are meetings which don’t require that we’re face to face: rotas, buildings, finance, brisk joint decisions on practical things. But do you believe that the prayerfulness of regular Elders Meetings, or Church Meetings, or Bible study, should routinely happen online? I don’t. As we move toward to the ‘new normal’, please, let’s find a way to do all those spiritual things, especially worship, in the flesh.
We’ve seen that online faith services can be a good short-term solution. They can be loving outreach, too, for people in prison, internment centres, mental hospitals, scattered refugee communities etc. But the idea of normalising church online should ring our alarm bells. For three reasons…
Lucy Berry is a poet and minister. Her books, Trouble with Church? and Church of Snails, are available from urcshop.co.uk
This is an extract from an article published in the September 2020 edition of Reform