Today is a landmark day.
Today I went to a service IN the building of St Nicolas Earley, the church to which I'm licenced.
This may not seem like much for a Lay Pioneer Minister, but it's the first service I've been to IN a church BUILDING since before the pandemic, that's 2.5 years.
This is also the 3rd of the 3 things I've decided to take up since the nest is empty.
But when I say "decided", I mean much more than that...
It was a pull, a need, a deep longing to be in the church building.
It was something that I just knew I had to do.
God wanted me in the church building, as strongly as God wanted me to train for ministry all those years ago.
And do you know how I felt?
I was terrified
Even knowing this was meant to be, and knowing I was going back to worship in a church building I love, with a congregation that is family; I was full of fear.
It wasn't a fear of catching covid, I'm fully vaccinated.
It wasn't a fear of being around lots of people, I know the building inside out and so knew I could get space if I needed.
It wasn't a fear of a strange service: the church has been live streaming every week so I knew the service structure and liturgy.
So what was this fear?
I think it was a fear of overwhelm; of being greeted after so much time and of being in the building and feeling something I might have been missing.
But guess what, as I wheeled through the doors the fear vanished. I was home and I felt at peace.
I was greeted by a friend who was thrilled to see me, then another friend offered to remove a seat for my chair and we chatted, then another friend and another… gently and lovingly and not more than I could handle.
And the service, well it was just what I needed.
I felt safe and loved and deeply restful.
Receiving communion was the blessing it always is.
There was a baptism which allowed me to renew my own baptismal vows
It was harvest and we prayed in thanks for blessings in our lives and for guidance in our role caring for creation.
After the service I received prayer and then I i caught up with friends who aren't online much.
It wasn't any better or worse than worshipping online or praying by the sea, or painting in prayer, or Bible study online or any of the other ways I live out my life of faith.
Being in the church building for a service is just one part of the jigsaw of my life with and for God.
Will I be back?
I don't know how often or when because, as with everything in life, it will be energy and health dependent, but it will now be part of my life of faith again.
This has turned into a spiritual reflection of sorts which I'm sharing for two reasons:
It struck me that if I felt fear going through those open doors on a Sunday morning, welcomed by people I know; how much fear must anyone who's never been to a specific church, or any church, feel? It must be a huge feeling of uncertainty, if not anxiety and fear. This is why offering invitations to friends and family is so important, so that the fear of the unknown is alleviated by love and friendship.
2. I am not the only person who hasn't gone back to a service in a church building since the pandemic. Perhaps that's you and you're reading this and wondering if you could go back to a church building; perhaps hearing my experience helps you take that step. Perhaps someone you know is in the same position as me, and perhaps you could share this with them offering to be with them if they want to go back to a building for a service. Perhaps you're a church leader and reading my experience helps you understand how it might be for those you haven't seen for a long time and leads to conversations that you might not otherwise have had.
I also want to acknowledge that there are many many people who are not physically or emotionally able to go back to a service in a church building. Please let's not forget these people. Do not take my experience as proof that "everyone should go back to services in church buildings" because it's not possible for everyone. The pandemic has blessed so many people who were forgotten and abandoned by churches because they could not get into buildings. Let's keep offering hybrid and online church provision, knowing that it is a blessing for so many and an important part of the jigsaw of faith.