CHURCH services have been suspended for the foreseeable future, but people who rely on Sunday services for contact with others, and with God, need not despair.
For those with unreliable broadband connections, or who may lack the IT skills needed to be part of a virtual church, there are other ways of belonging to a worshipping community, or the communion of saints, as it is also called.
The communion of saints consists of the members of our own parish church, along with all those who have lived their lives in and through God throughout the ages. As members of the communion of saints, we also belong with all who have worshipped in our parish church since it was first built. We connect and identify with them, especially with those periods of that church’s life when its people may have known enforced isolation or closure.
The Covid-19 pandemic that we are currently experiencing connects us with the plagues endured by previous generations, so reinforcing a kind of trans-generational familial bond. More importantly, our own isolation, whether it is self-selected or enforced, as well as social distancing, opens us to a new kind of freedom in relation to God and how we can continue to worship together.
WE FIND this freedom in applying the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Here there is a paradox. We love ourselves to the extent that we can love our neighbour enough to keep our distance from them, even when we are lonely. Older people do this in the knowledge that hospital beds and medical equipment are most needed by younger people who will have to run the country after they are gone. Self-isolating older people are doing sacrificial work.
For those who are self-isolating, setting aside a time of the day for being with God, even if they haven’t met God in this way before, fulfils the great commandment to love the neighbour, because it also involves companionship. Time set aside to be with God is probably best done with a cup of tea, and, perhaps, a cat or dog close by. Animals understand what it means to keep company with another person without feeling the need to say something.
While this one-on-one meeting with God might feel awkward at first for those who are not used to praying on their own, it will not feel lonely, because it connects us with all those who have ever prayed, in church or out of it. It also gives the day a shape and purpose, especially if these times of attention to God can serve as markers by dividing the otherwise lonely day into manageable portions.
CONNECTING in a wordless way with God will also enable us to connect more deeply with our immediate neighbours and with the wider church community. Instead of using words, or praying for them in a formal way, we simply hold them in the companionable silence that we experience with God, in which nobody is under any obligation to say anything, or even to think particularly spiritual thoughts. We do this from within our own inner space.
Companionship is often found where we least expect it, in that part of us that is most vulnerable and fragile, among the memories and secrets that we are most afraid of allowing others to see or know about.
In allowing God into that perhaps hitherto unvisited space, we are suddenly free to embrace others in their private fears and longings, beginning with those pertaining to the Covid-19 virus. By doing this, we are resisting the virus in the way the enemy is resisted in war time situations. It is subversive work, because it is done in a hidden place and out of a determination not to be defeated by fear, but to be governed by love.
The Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh is a priest in the Church in Wales and the author of In Such Times: Reflections on living with fear (Wipf & Stock, 2018).