Locked Down or Locked In?

Added about a year ago by John Marsh

GUEST BLOG: As part of our #ThemeOfTheMonth focus on the after effects of lockdown John Marsh, author of Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land, challenges us to bravely embrace change in this new era.

Now that we have been out of COVID lockdown for some time, we are beginning to see evidence of the long-term effects. Amongst other industries, hospitality and transport have clearly not fully recovered from the effects of COVID; parts of the retail world are struggling to keep their heads above financial waters as customers have changed their shopping habits; and COVID is still contributing to the incredible pressure the NHS is experiencing. There are other signs of the pandemic still lingering: continued encouragement in some places to sanitise our hands and to keep our distance from each other, tables in restaurants being more thoroughly cleaned between customers. In a variety of ways, both negatively and positively, the experience of lockdown has left its mark on our lives. However, it seems to me that those activities and organisations that have learned new ways of doing what they do – new structures, new priorities, new logistical solutions – have often fared better and come out of lockdown stronger.John Marsh

But what of the Church? Up and down the land many churches have lost members who have, as yet, not returned after lockdown, particularly older members of the congregation who are not sure if it’s safe to come back. The church in lockdown has been likened to the experience of God’s people in the Babylonian exile. Tom Wright references Psalm 137: 4 in his book God and the Pandemic

We find ourselves ‘by the waters of Babylon’, thoroughly confused and grieving for the loss of our normal life.”

In this insightful observation Tom offers us a direct link from the Church of the twentieth century AD back to God’s people of the 6th century BC. I write about this link in my book Singing the Lord’s song in a Strange Land, suggesting that although our situation is very different from theirs, there are principles that can be drawn from their experience of exile – their lockdown – and their response to it, which could be embraced and helpfully applied to our post-lockdown situation.

Led by key leaders in their community, they went “back to basics”. They re-examined their roots, their story; they revisited their history, some of which they had forgotten, and re-committed themselves to live in the light of it. Early in their history a covenant had been agreed between God and his community, a covenant which both sides were supposed to keep. When they rediscovered the terms of this covenant they realised how much and how often they had strayed from its terms, repented of their failure, and agreed to adjust their behaviour accordingly. Being a religious community, the worship of God was a key activity which was central to their communal life. However, the centrepiece of their worship, the place where the most important things happened, the Temple, was now in ruins as a result of the pre-exile destruction of their city, Jerusalem. If their worship of God was of prime importance, they had no choice but to find new ways of enabling it to happen, which they did: they began to worship God in small local groups wherever they were.

Most significant of all, having made these discoveries in exile/lockdown, when the time came to be released and to return to some kind of normal living, they brought these new insights with them, seeking to live in the spirit of their history and the terms of the rediscovered covenant (not entirely successfully it must be said). And they continued to worship God in their new style, in small local groups wherever they were. Thus to this day, all over the world, we can find local worshiping communities with their roots from this significant event in history, worship which is located in the local synagogue.

Possibly the hardest aspect of the exile experience for many to take on today is the possibility of doing things differently. All too often we find change difficult to embrace, but I think post-lockdown has already shown that where there is a willingness to change what we do and the way we do things new life is brought to our activities.

The Church has not always been good at embracing these principles. How many churches have gone “back to basics” during lockdown, and dared to ask if there are ways in which we ought to consider being and doing church differently? I fear that many local churches have simply slipped back into being and doing church as they always have. The challenge to all organisations, religious or other, is this: you may be out of lockdown, but are you locked into things as they always have been?

John Marsh is a retired Church of England priest and has been involved in the life and ministry of the Church in a variety of different and contrasting environments. His book, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land, is being featured as part of our #ThemeOfTheMonth. You can get your copy here!

More from this category: Coronavirus

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

Never miss a beat.

Be the first to know when we publish new books! Join our mailing list for exclusive discounts, author interviews, and more...