2020… the year that churches all over the country had to close the doors on its buildings. But 2020 was also the year that we were introduced to new ways to worship, with the surge in the provision of online and telephone services. For many who find leaving the house difficult due to poor physical or mental health, this abundance of new services has meant less isolation in a time when many others were, for the first time, feeling cut off from the rest of their world.
As one in the Enabling Church network in the diocese said recently:
“The availability of online prayer, worship and study has been life changing for me and no doubt thousands of housebound people like me. I've been able to join morning prayer, evening prayer and Sunday worship once again, and am also a member of an online Christian discussion group. I’m sure that they have helped me overcome feelings of isolation and estrangement, connecting me once again with the church community which I've missed and within which I can fulfil our purpose and give and receive love.”
In a year that was different to any other, life was different, church was different, worship was different. Although the physical doors on our church buildings were shut for many months, for many Christians new doors were opening as much of the church’s life moved online; many people who are housebound, both recently and more long term, have been delighted to have access to the worship and community of the Church again. Much energy from ministers has been put into establishing practices, developing resources and raising skill levels; and in some churches, new volunteers have come forward to resource online worship and ministry. Virtual worship has worked well for many Christians with statistics showing that one quarter of the UK population has taken part in online worship during the last year.
A survey in our own diocese in the middle of last year showed that over 60% of parishes were able to make provision for online worship during the first lockdown. And our own cathedral in Lichfield is now live-streaming services three times per day, and regularly has online congregations at morning prayer that are up to ten times the number that used to attend in person.
For many, the lockdown and the provision of online prayer and worship which have come out of it have been a major boost to spiritual life. Of course, virtual church will never replace Church but the two do sit side by side.
It’s good for the church that we now know that online discipleship and fellowship is part of our life. It’s good for the church that we can reach people again that we had too easily let go of. Perhaps the challenge to pose is not one of inclusion but of integration: how will our online and offline lives fit together?
Zoe Corney is part of the diocesan Enabling Church team, who also lives with ME. The Enabling Church team is part of Transforming Communities Together, a charity formed and supported by Lichfield Diocese and Church Urban Fund, delegated to support people and communities to thrive and flourish tctogether.org.uk