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In pursuit of prayer – where do we go when the church is shut?

In this guest blog, Nathan Goldsmith issues a reminder about the challenge of keeping church buildings open during the week, and how lockdowns may have helped our devotional life take wings wherever we are …

According to the Bible, the church is not a building or a denomination, but is the Body of Christ, of which Jesus is the head. But, what do you do when the Body of Christ is locked away from you – physically and in building form – behind mighty medieval doors or now the more elegant frameless window doors?

Up and down the country, churches of all denominations (and, for the avoidance of any doubt, I will speak as though churches are buildings for the purpose of this piece), run as best they can with support from those you might not hear about. With parish priests and deacons stretched thin across their parishes and dioceses, a lot of church duties fall to lay people outside of service time, including ‘manning’ the church building for any roaming visitors. 

It is likely if you’ve visited a church that you’ve met the volunteers long before you’ve met the priest or deacon (though arranging this can be rather prompt). But what happens to these beautiful buildings – that roaming visitors may be wanting to pay a visit, that a parishioner in need of quiet prayer time desperately needs to get to – when the lay people can’t be there either?

Simply, they remain shut. The Body of Christ refused to the sinner, the wanderer, the person who just needs to sit and be for a while. Of course, nobody wants it to be like this. The chance to frequent your own parish church was once something not so bizarre. Not least because keeping the church open meant inviting fewer opportunities for theft and vandalism. But keeping it open also meant further resource-stretching for the priest or deacon. 

Lockdown – through all of its problems – allowed us all to see, perhaps for the first time, that prayer is possible anywhere, even as a community. People came together over live streams and Zoom meetings, celebrating and sharing in the Eucharist and prayer sessions. These were hugely beneficial for a lot of people – including me. 

Lockdown also allowed me to realise – more than at any other time – that having a quiet prayer space that the church usually offers, that is not a church, is hugely important. Fields, forests, being in the fauna and flora of our surroundings, is where I feel most connected to God in prayer. When I can sit, be still, hearing nothing around me but the trees gently shaking, the bees softly chirping, I am reminded not only of just how small in the world I am, but how much I appreciate being here. A perfect beginning to giving thanks and prayer. 

Theologically, this isn’t peculiar and is a bit of a running theme. Moses went up the mountain to be closer to God, and to receive the Ten Commandments; Elijah first heard God in the mountain; Jesus himself teaches from the mount of Beatitude. 

If it’s good enough for them…

In prayer, I have learned, we can turn to God anywhere. In a home chapel, a bustling cathedral, in the trees and in the air, God is there. Looking around at just what he made for us, and considering it in prayer, helps us not just spiritually but physically and mentally too. 

‘God looked at everything that he had made, and called it very good’ (Genesis 1:31)

  • I'm an Anglo-Catholic in the Church of England, under the Diocese of Winchester. I came to faith some five years ago, and have been lucky to serve in churches across Hampshire. I've previously been a Foundation School Governor in my local CofE school, maintaining the religious ethos and character of the school. I write part-time about my explorations, my church visits, and other faith-based initiatives, and I very much hope you enjoy reading these. 


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