On the pilgrim way: ‘It feels as if our church is dying’
Sheila Maxey sees a grim future for church and high street
Our high street seems to be dying, with shops closing or just not reopening after the pandemic. Maplin closed before Covid, but Laura Ashley, Edinburgh Wool, Fat Face, Dorothy Perkins and Waterstones have now gone, and there is a rumour that Next will be next. Because we live just off the high street, our grandchildren used to love visiting us where they had the freedom to wander the shops by themselves. I felt particularly devastated by the closure of Waterstones because I want to browse a bookshop – not buy online.
It feels as if the same process is happening to our church. We lost six people closely associated with our church to Covid. Two of them had been at the heart of our church for more than 50 years, and another one lit up the service – and the knitters’ group – with her smile and her kindly interest. A marriage breakdown has led to both parties, who were active members, moving away. One member resigned her membership at the beginning of the pandemic, citing loss of faith. And now another elder, who leads our tiny Junior Church and edits our magazine, is moving away with her family.
I feel stunned.
And yet, and yet… The abundant and glorious green of early summer is all around me. The moorhens on our local pond have produced five chicks. I can hug my nearest and dearest. In June, we are going on holiday to north-west Scotland, to Mallaig and the Small Isles of Rum, Canna, Eigg and Muck. And in August, the first baby in the next generation is expected and I will be a great-great-aunt.
Today is Pentecost, and our minister preached wonderfully on Ezekiel and the dry bones. ‘Can these bones live?’ Ezekiel doesn’t answer glibly: ‘I’m sure they can’; nor does he despair and say: ‘Not a hope’. Instead, he answers: ‘Only you, Lord God, know that’. And then we moved on to the great assurances of Jesus in John’s Gospel that our Advocate will come – the Comforter, the Inspirer, the Spirit of Truth – to our torn and broken world, to our apparently dying High Street, to our struggling little church community. And then he does come, through locked doors, and says: ‘Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you.’
In our younger days, my husband was a keen sailor, and I was a nervous crew. I like to be in control, but in a little sailing boat the wind is really in control – managed, just a little, by the helmsman. There used to be a popular Christian poster of a sailing boat with its sail full of wind, racing along, and the slogan was: ‘Let go! Let God!’ I am nervously, but hopefully, saying that to myself this Pentecost.
Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
This article was published in the July/August 2021 edition of Reform