Active Fellowship

  THE REV. 

  DEBRA BLAIR

  looks at the

  things we've missed

  during lockdown 

 

 

Over the past 15 months the style of church services and ‘live’ acts of worship has been changed due to Covid restrictions. Can you list what you have missed most? I would say (and your list may be different) it's been singing - the full Eucharist shared with all - and active fellowship. This article is about active fellowship. 

Since time began humans have formed relationships with other humans: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone’. (Genesis 2:18)

Humans are naturally sociable beings. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters from Prison, wrote: “There is hardly anything that can make one happier than to feel that one counts for something with other people. What matters here is not numbers, but intensity. In the long run, human relationships are the most important thing in life.”

When lockdown first began and very strict rules came into force across the nation, human contact was very restricted and tightly controlled. Some individuals received letters advising them that they were very vulnerable to the virus and must isolate. Even if not isolating, going out of the home was only allowed for essential work, shopping for food and exercise. Human contact became a memory only for some people. People would communicate by phone, electronic devices and letter. Some good things did occur. On the road where I live a leaflet was produced which people could put in their windows if they needed help with shopping or essential needs. A local street Foodbank collection point was established in someone’s garden. On VE Day a socially distanced street party was held. I got to speak to people I had only ever seen in passing, following Jesus' advice - “If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5:47). Also reflecting his teaching on kindred, take a look at Matthew 12: 46-50. Who do you consider are your brothers and sisters?

It was a very challenging time. People utilised whatever means they could to try and maintain ‘human’ contact.

Initially the church buildings were closed. Then opened, then closed. Even when services were permitted, services were tightly governed by national and Church of England advice and regulations. Numbers were limited, services were shortened, masks had to be - and are still advised to be - worn. Fellowship within the church building was limited, but not amongst the family of God!

Although now services are returning to a modicum of normal, some of the ‘fellowship’ aspects have still not returned:

The sharing of the Peace by touch. Some people loved this, and others loathed it! Opinions vary – what do you think? Jesus, when he was leaving his earthly ministry, left us his peace. John 14:27 - “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” It was adopted into our liturgy and services. Initially it was symbolised by shaking hands with just the people sat near to you. Then in some churches it grew to shaking hands with everyone, hugging, embracing and kissing. Some people even used it as a time to have a ‘quick word’ with someone they wanted to ‘give a message to’ - an opportunity for a chat! For some people, it was the only form of human physical contact they ever had in their week.

The cessation of the ‘handshake’ is welcome, but for many it is has created a sadness. Will it ever return? What do you think? Has it lost its true meaning somewhere along the way?

Refreshments/social time. Part of the joy of a service of worship was the opportunity afterwards to have refreshments and engage in some social time with fellow Christians. It created an opportunity to talk, to meet new people, catch up on news or even to discuss the sermon! Initially any type of socialising after a service was discouraged. All of the guidance said it was a risk, we needed to socially distance, and droplets were known to spread the virus.

At present conversations do occur between people after the service in the garden, the car park and even within the church building. Slowly and tentatively we are re-engaging with other people. Discussions have taken place regarding re-introducing refreshments and utilising the church hall. This area is bigger than the Meeting Room that was previously used for post-service refreshments, and easy to ventilate. It is thought this area could be utilised after the Sunday 10.30am service for people to gather in and chat. However, this will need to be Risk Assessed, and the logistics of it happening safely need to be examined. It is a hope, especially with the seasons moving on and, looking ahead for when changes in the weather will occur.

We are moving forwards, rebuilding relationships and forming new ones, as we humans are naturally social beings and relationships are vital to our existence.

D.H. Lawrence wrote in The Phoenix:

“If we think about it, we find our life consists in this achieving of a pure relationship between ourselves and the living universe about us. This is how I ‘ save my soul’ by accomplishing a pure relationship between me and another person, me and other people, me and a nation, me and a race of men, me and the animals, me and the trees or flowers, me and the earth, me and the skies and sun and stars, me and the moon: an infinity of pure relations, big and little, like the stars of the sky: that makes our eternity, for each one of us, me and the timber I am sawing, the lines of force I follow: the dough I knead for bread, me and the very motion with which I write, me and the bit of Gold I have got.”

We all have a ‘bit of Gold’ in us, given to us by God. Interacting with others helps us share our Gold and reveals their Gold to us. Human relationships matter, but our relationship with God is the one that matters the most. Throughout the pandemic we have all maintained our relationship with the Lord in different ways, and we are now so glad to join together again as God’s family. Relationships are being re-established, new ones are also being made. We move together as God’s people and at last are able to physically reach out to the wider community around us.

So active fellowship is alive and well. Do your best to contribute to it, in any and every way that you are able. The handshake and refreshments may yet return, but they are incidental - it is the love of God and our fellow humans that counts!

 

 

 

 

 


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