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Do I have to go back to church?

As many churches around England start to re-open for limited acts of worship, Andy Bryant explains why this is, for him, such an important stage in the return to normality.

If I am honest – and surely now is a time for honesty – I feel closest to God walking in the hills, standing by a babbling brook or sitting in a beautiful garden – ideally one looked after by someone else. 

And I have enjoyed Sundays in lockdown.  They have been less busy, more relaxed, and with more time for me.  I can pray where and whenever I want, and I can plug in to whatever online offering I fancy.  I can fast forward past hymns I do not like, and I can move the preacher on when I feel they have lost their way.
For the first time, in a long time, I have felt I am in charge of Sunday rather than Sunday be in charge of me.  So, do I have to go back to church?
In those pre-lockdown days I can remember sitting watching everyone coming forward to receive Holy Communion, watching this great procession of humanity, and thinking how did I end up amongst these people?  They are not necessarily the kind of people I would normally seek out to spend my time with, we live such different lives and have such different approaches to life.
In lockdown I have not had to mix in such company – and I have really missed them.  For all our differences they are people I am deeply fond of, they matter to me and they feel like family.  I want to be with them again. These people matter to me and lockdown has shown me that without them I am the poorer.
I know online has been important through these strange months.  It has helped keep connections, and made new connections, but, forgive me, I will always value real, physical encounter over a virtual connection.  I want the vibrancy of real presence, of being face to face, even if at 2 metre distance.
Lockdown Sundays have had their appeal, but it has been all about me and my needs.  But Christianity is not about me: it is about you and about us.  It is all about relationship.  God, our Triune God, is in essence relationship.  Our faith is about the relationship within the God-head, God’s relationship with us, and our relationship one with another.  We speak of being members of the Body of Christ, our inter connectedness one with another.  Much as I might want it otherwise, I cannot be a Christian in isolation.  Christian faith is born out of relationship.
And we come together to support and encourage one another, we come to be fed.  Our central act of worship is a meal, the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine.  Yes, we are fed by listening to the Word of God, but we also need to be fed sacramentally, to share in the very body and blood of Christ.  Lockdown has deprived us of this true and living nourishment, of being caught up in this profoundest of all mysteries.
Some will say we have survived without it, but then there has been no choice about that.  It is amazing how long we can survive without a balanced diet; it is only longer term that the consequences show.  It is many months since I had a hug from my daughter and I have survived, but that does not mean that when can meet, and can hug, that hug will not in some way be profoundly life enhancing and transformative.
The sharing in Holy Communion expresses in ways beyond words our connection with God and with one another.  This sacramental act feeds and sustains me in ways I cannot express but which I know is real in the very depth of my being.  It shapes and enriches me in ways without which I know my life to be poorer and less fulfilled, which would leave me less fully the person I am called to be.
I cannot pretend that every week I feel the joy and the sense of connection.  Some weeks it will be more about duty. But faith is about both duty and joy.  It is about what I owe to God and to my fellow members of the Body of Christ as much as the joy I gain from both worship and fellowship.  It is not all about me; it is about you and us. 
So farewell lockdown Sundays; I will be back in church.  I need to be with my fellow Christians.  I need to be in their presence, and in their presence to be with God. I need to be fed by their company, and in their company to be fed by God.  To still need to be socially distanced will be profoundly painful but at least, and at last, we shall be together again.  It is the first flickering of the eyelids in waking out of a nightmare.  There is a long road ahead, but the next steps will be taken in good company.
For details of services at Norwich cathedral, click here.
The image above is courtesy of J F from Pixabay.com

Andrew BryantCFThe Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry
here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.

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