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Reform Magazine | September 19, 2021

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I’ve grown used to my own space’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I’ve grown used to my own space’

Don’t stand so close to me, says Paul Kerensa

Forget January… September is new New Year.

It’s back to school – and with echoes of home school not yet faded, oh my, will it be back! Could this be the first uninterrupted school year since 2018-19?

But post-summer, it’s also a time to regroup and return elsewhere. New jobs, house moves, the return of Strictly. Bizarrely, it’s also the busiest time of year for births, nine months after midwinter. Ahem. Meanwhile, in church…

More than ever this year, places of worship are pondering how to return well this September. When restrictions lifted in July, the nation went on holiday, bouncing around this island home of ours like a pinball machine. So questions of how to return well may have been delayed.

Now we’re back, but back where? Back home? Back to church? Back to worship in a field or the church car park?

Perhaps it’s a shame that we’re heading back inside already. I thought this pandemic could have made us ‘outside people’. Grab a coat, a brolley and a Thermos, and let’s gather outside a little more. We could appreciate the natural world, save on heating bills, and meet like our ancestors did. This pandemic could have been the rebirth of the henge industry. Fire pits are currently popular, though more for homes; churches haven’t traditionally celebrated the idea of a fiery pit.

So we’ll return indoors, especially with the nights drawing in. It’s odd: as a comedian, I’m eager to get back to live performing full time, yet I’m reluctant to venture inside too freely. My 2019 self spent three nights a week in pub basement function rooms for crammed-in comedy shows. But my 2021 self is a little nervy. Am I halfway to becoming a claustrophobe, fearing confined spaces? Or am I an agoraphobe, fearing crowded spaces? Perhaps I’m becoming a germophobe… or is it all just sensible caution?

At the venues I visit, from cafes to comedy clubs to churches, I’ll be looking for reassurance that they’re still taking Covid seriously. I’ve grown used to my own space, and I’m not ready to give it up yet. For a while yet I anticipate throwing my coat over several chairs: ‘Sorry, this seat’s taken. And those ones.’

At communion, we now have hand-delivered bread but no wine. We exchange the peace, but on nodding terms. I recall this even worried me pre-Covid: often the snottiest chap in church would meander my way, wipe his hand across his nose, then offer it to shake. Politely, I’d accept, then regret it as I spent the next few days sniffling.

I’m sure I’m not alone. My church has returned to in-person worship now, with nothing online. Some churches are hosting hybrid services. Now we’ve learnt to livestream, should we persist or hang up our webcams?

Many churches don’t have the resources to continue online services though. So I don’t have a solution. I just ask us to consider that as we move back indoors, some won’t follow us in.

So may we look out for such people, finding new ways of including them, or we run the risk of being a two-tier church – those eager to return and those less willing or able.

I’m all for a big bounce-back, but perhaps September’s big return could be a chance to rethink a few aspects of church life before we stampede back in.

And hey, if you’ve got a raging cold, maybe stay home for a week? I’d rather have YouTube streaming than my nose streaming any day of the week – and that includes Sundays.

Paul Kerensa is a writer, comedian and broadcaster, available for live comedy shows, indoors, outdoors, in person or online. Visit paulkerensa.com

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This article was published in the September 2021 edition of Reform

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