France is a favourite country of ours. Over the years there have been many excellent holidays in the country. Brittany, Paris, Chartres, Carcassonne, Bourges, Toulouse, Poitiers, Tours, Avignon, Annecy – each has provided (some more than once) the centre for touring surrounding towns and countryside. We have close friends who live in a small town outside Toulouse, so some of our visits have been close to living like locals – which is always a different experience.
Sadly, in many country villages visited, a visit to the local church has proved sad and depressing. The sense of emptiness and abandonment is sometimes very tangible. Like a rose well past its full bloom, gently decaying while still giving glimpses of its former glory, the church will stand in a village square, bypassed and feeling forgotten. An occasional funeral may come to the churchyard, and bring a crowd, but on a Sunday worshippers are few, and the interior seems always dark and musty.
Historians could sketch for us the reason why the Church in rural France has come to this. Why church attendance is dying out.
There are parts of Scotland, where there are similar concerns. Many of our rural Borders churches labour under the same sense of becoming meaningless to the general population. Not all of them by any means, but we do detect signs of disconnect. How many children and grandchildren no longer are to be found in the pews where their grandparents sit?
It’s part of the task ahead of us, looking towards days when Covid-19 is under some degree of control, to encourage people to take up again the habit of church going. After all, several months of no church for some will lead to a breakdown in a life-long habit. And yet, the congregation gathered in worship is a powerful factor in the nurturing of faith. Our religion has always recognised that worship is best done together. The cry of the people of Israel by the waters of Babylon could well be our cry – “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land”. In other words, can we really truly worship God in a society where church attendance is falling away?
The answer in ancient Babylon was the emergence of synagogue worship. Although far from the Temple in Jerusalem, the faithful could approach God in prayer and praise.
As you’ll read elsewhere, for the very best of reasons neither the Old Parish Church or Edddleston are likely to open for Sunday worship for a time yet. But as soon as it is wise and careful of the health of our people to reassemble we assuredly will.
If that is going to be a joyful moment, then think on these things. How can each one of you contribute to a good return? Think on that question. Pray about it. What can you say to your friends and neighbours to perhaps get them thinking about it too. We need a feeling of calling, and an intentionality about our return. Just to drift in and think that things will carry on as before, well that may be too weak a response as, together, we seek to reboot church! For the glory of God, and the spiritual sustenance of the people.
Grace and peace,