“The problem with the Church of England, today” said a recent (lay) guest speaker at one of our Zoom discussions, “is not the parishes, or the parish clergy, its the hierarchy and their church officials.” The discussion was around the welcome of LGBT people in churches, and I suspect many lay people would agree with the point made.
However, to focus on the positive side of the comment – parishes and the parish clergy. I have been very impressed at the hard work of so many parish clergy and laity in these lockdown days. Clergy have worked, prayed and encouraged to the point of exhaustion, and in some cases beyond. Some have done this while home schooling has been going on, or amidst illness, including mental illness in their own homes or families.
I have been reflecting on our own deanery – one of the most deprived deaneries in the Church of England. In their different styles and ways the clergy of our deanery have been working and praying so hard. We are a small deanery, but the more friendly and supportive for that. We understand one another’s ways, and we encourage and listen to one another as best we can.
In one parish the vicar has been shielding for most of the lockdown, and yet from the confines of her house she has managed to hold together the Christian community around her church, to contact people, especially those not on the internet, and send out regular supportive mailings.
In another parish heroic work is being done to feed the marginalised and needy of the area. Literally hundreds of meals have been served through an inspiring partnership of local charities and volunteers coordinated and led by the outstanding parish priest, who has worked so self sacrificially.
A priest in another parish works hard to deliver food to people in the form of food packages, and coordinates that work in his area, he has also volunteered at a vaccine centre. In addition he tells me he tries to visibly work around his parish, wearing his clerical collar. He walks in different areas twice a day to be seen and to allow himself to be approached by anyone who wishes to talk. What a lovely thing to do.
In our own parish during the pandemic period we have seen the founding and growth of our Chi Rho branch – a community of lay and ordained people sharing a common rule of life. Several of our church members, significantly four of whom are BAME members, have begun training to be lay ministers. Our informal and active Maranatha Prayer Group has begun, joining volunteers in regular prayer.
These are only a few examples. Much has been done by lay people as well as priests, and it must be pointed out, several of those, lay and ordained, supporting these varied ministries in the parish have themselves being doing so while isolating or shielding. Interestingly much has been initiated and developed at grassroots level, raising questions about the need for some aspects of Church bureaucracy and management in the post pandemic days.
Whatever, in Eastertide, these are inspiring and encouraging signs of new life, faith and hope in our local parishes, and for these signs I thank God.