We are only at the beginning of learning news ways to be church in the current pandemic. We will experiment, get things wrong, enjoy the novelty of some things, horribly miss collective worship and still remain part of something bigger than ourselves. Inevitably this experience will transform us and change how we exist as the church in the future. Over the past few days I have been pondering on what it means to be church in the time of lockdown and am concluding the building has ceased to be important. There is a difference between saying it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t matter at all, but our community of faith exists for the people and not for the building.
There is a church in Atlanta called the Church of the Common Ground. The website reads, “We’re like any other church—we just don’t have a building.” They meet in a public park where worship is conducted, encouraging those on the margins. The Birmingham District of the Methodist Church has run an initiative called ‘Church Without Walls’, but this takes no walls to a whole new level. They are both host and guest within a shared space.
This current lockdown will have severe and negative implications for many people. But maybe not for the church. Maybe, in time, after many discussions and heartfelt prayer and theological reflection, maybe at some point in the future we will be able to look back at this time of isolation and claim the church was with us because we are the church. Maybe we will see the church with fresh eyes. G.K. Chesterton wrote, ‘Your religion is not the church you belong to, but the cosmos you live inside of.’ I pray that during this time, despite not being able to physically gather in our church buildings, that you may feel connected to your faith community like never before. Because for now, the church has left the building.