However, whilst we have been closed for congregational worship, our churches have never been busier providing pastoral, spiritual and practical support to those in need in our communities.
I suspect that might be much agreement with that statement -- across the broad spectrum of denominations and congregations facing limitations on their assemblies for worship due to the pandemic. It sounds noble. But is such a statement viable? Can the Church live without the in person gathering of God's people around the Word and Table of the Lord? If so, for how long before the cracks in the foundation of the Church cause it to weaken or die?
We all know from this pandemic that short-term temporary adjustments had to be made. While they might differ in severity from place to place, every congregation and every church body has had to wrestle with this reality. However, the idea that after one long year the Church must continue to forego or cycle through periods in which public worship must be sacrificed for a greater good or to satisfy government regulation remains an open question. In the US churches have sued for the same rights to operate as Wal-Mart, liquor stores, etc... and been rather successful in turning back the threats by the state to close their doors or suffer the consequences. Apparently in Britain this has either not been tried or had less beneficial returns.
The challenge remains. How long can the Church be closed for congregational worship and continue to provide pastoral spiritual, and practical support to their communities? How long can the faithful go with distance worship and learning, without the benefit of people receiving the Sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood and hearing in person the Word preached? It has been a year. In some parts of the US congregations remain under more severe restrictions than others -- some limited to but 25% of capacity. In spite of the fact that churches have proven to be careful, generally safer than other public areas, and intentional in their work to provide in person worship while respecting guidelines and regulations as much as possible, churches still are seen in a negative light by governmental leaders and rule makers.
At some point we will have to assert both to the authorities and to our people that worship IS our central ministry and that one cannot do ministry apart from worship without having worship as the beating heart of the Church's life and the people's faith.