Comments: Opinion - 5 May 2018

I find it very sad when churches are locked. Allowing people in only for services (or worse charging for entry) is for me a failure to understand how central universal and unrestricted access to the Presence of God and to his altars is to Christianity. I understand all the practical challenges and the risk to things we regard as costly or precious. The "sensible" thing is often to lock churches at night or even during the day. But Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey wasn't sensible. He didn't just risk something utterly precious (his life) but knew it would be destroyed. So for me the question is do we follow Jesus and leave God's temple open so that anyone may enter at any time or are we "sensible" and lock it to prevent damage to valuable earthly things.

Once one puts things in those terms we should never lock a church. If things get damaged of stolen I will cry with everyone else. We live in a wicked world. But if our response to that is to lock people out of God's temple, then evil has won.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 1:18pm BST

My only caution is that some churches in isolated situations don't have offices, and therefore staff members sometimes work in them on their own (whether youthworkers, administrators, musicians or others) - it's important that these people are not, or do not feel, unsafe.

Posted by andy gr at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 5:44pm BST

Martin Sewell's piece put into perspective for me the puzzling fact that lack of CDM statistics from York had not been questioned at Synod. I hope the oversight will be put right in July; judging by Martin's article, it will be.

But the response to my request for my clergy file from York doesn't lead me to hope that much transparency will be the result. Synod have got a job on their hands - and may the Lord give them strength, courage, and persistence.

Posted by Janet Fife at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 6:49pm BST

"My only caution is that some churches in isolated situations don't have offices, and therefore staff members sometimes work in them on their own (whether youthworkers, administrators, musicians or others) - it's important that these people are not, or do not feel, unsafe."

Oh how far Christianity has come. By repute (although admittedly the historical facts might not support it), almost all the Disciples were martyred; now we worry about people feeling unsafe because a door is unlocked.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 10:16pm BST

Why are some churches locked? Because if they weren't they would not be there. How is locking a church building equivalent to denying people access to the Presence of God? Since when was God confined within four walls and a roof?

I kept my first parish church in a very deprived and troubled community open between Morning and Evening Prayer. We had regular, minor vandalism and theft but we accepted it until one day coming in for Evening Prayer discovered damage and sacrilege I can't describe politely. We came close to closure through the cost of the repairs and clean up.

Our insurers refused cover from then on if the building was left unlocked, something we could not afford to ignore.

And what of the faithful members of the community who came for worship, who cleaned, maintained and cherished and loved their church and were distraught at what happened? What about their feelings?

How can we serve our communities, offering communion, baptisms, funerals and the occasional wedding if the church is a filthy mess when they turn up? Doh.

No, I don't accept it is somehow a failing or un-gospel to have to lock up when necessary. Ministry is about the art of the possible, not being idealistic or naive.

Would you leave your front door open so that anyone could help themselves to your things, or make it uninhabitable for you because Jesus had nowhere to lay his head so it must the thing to do?

Thought not.

Posted by Another FrDavid at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 10:39pm BST

Andy Salmon's piece is much more worthy of wide circulation than the one that inspired it. Jesus intended his message to spread and gain followers, the disciples were specifically commissioned to carry this out, and the closing words of 3 of the gospels clearly reinforce it. The CofE is in many places more at home in the closing words of Mark "they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

Posted by David Keen at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 10:43pm BST

Long ago I was a colleague of Andy Salmon's in inner city Salford, and sometimes took services for him. One morning I turned up at St. Ambrose and commented on the smell of burning. Overnight someone had pushed a wheelie bin against the rear door and set it on fire. What would have happened if they could have pushed the wheelie bin inside? The damage would have been much more extensive and the church might have been destroyed completely. There would have been no service that morning.

My next job took me to a very troubled Manchester overspill estate, where services were often conducted to the sound of bricks and stones hitting the reinforced windows. Sometimes we had to sweep up glass before we could start. Once or twice I arrived to find faeces smeared over the lock. And yes, we had a rule that the church was always kept locked unless there were two or more people inside.

The toll of all this on the congregation was substantial, and kept a lot of people away. The people who did come were heroes. Dealing with it used a lot of resources that could have been more usefully deployed on mission, outreach, and work in the community.

Kate, there is a big difference between being martyred for your faith, and being, stabbed, beaten up, or raped because someone was high on drugs or wanted to steal from the church. Attending or contributing to such a church is a kind of martyrdom in itself without taking sensible precautions. (Celtic Christians defined a number of different kinds of martyrdom, not only being killed.)

We are custodians of our churches and responsible for ensuring, as far as possible, that they are available when needed. It's very sad that that means they often can't be kept open and unattended, but that's the reality.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 9:43am BST

"Because if they weren't they would not be there. How is locking a church building equivalent to denying people access to the Presence of God?"

I am Anglo Catholic by training and inclination. Like many from that tradition I will always bow to the main altar of a church on entry and usually whenever I cross the centre line. I am also likely to bow to side altars. I do it because I can feel the Presence. God is everywhere but in some places the veil between human and divine is more porous.

Many Anglo-Catholics believe in the real Presence in reserved host. So far I personally haven't felt it, but I retain an open mind.

Ultimately I guess it comes down to whether one believes consecration of a church/altar effects an ontological change. If it does, then it is hard to argue that churches should ever be locked.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 12:11pm BST

"Would you leave your front door open so that anyone could help themselves to your things, or make it uninhabitable for you because Jesus had nowhere to lay his head so it must the thing to do?"

My view is that you should not dedicate/consecrate/bless an altar/church unless you are prepared to meet the full responsibilities of that action which includes allowing open access.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 12:42pm BST

Critics of Angela Tilby’s deploring of the ‘evangelical takeover’ need reminding of her comment some time ago, to the effect: “C of E . . doing a great job . . food banks . . good schools . . visiting sick . . building community . .”, though ending “but is it all *TRUE*?” My take is that it’s because evangelicals are not proclaiming the truth that she is critical. That’s not to doubt for one millisecond their energy, devotion and sincerity, but it may need some unpacking.

Today, there are only two recognised ‘wings’ of the C of E: catholic and (conservative) evangelical. But there used to be LibEvos as well as ConEvos. In the late 50’s, Ridley was a Liberal Evangelical college, whereas Ripon was just plain Liberal.

We LibEvos were firmly evangelical, believing that Christ sought to change hearts and minds. We didn’t think Anglo-Catholics were wrong, so much as complacent (will defend if challenged!).

It was said that LibEvos read books, whereas ConEvos only read pamphlets.That was as untrue as it was unkind, as there are many good pamphlets and bad books.

What was true was that we read ones with uncomfortable truths, whereas ConEvos preferred to stay in their echo chamber: ref. the recent discussion here about sin, their jingle was “the gospel must be bad news before it’s good news.” What a terrible guilt trip to lay on a new Christian!

So we absorbed Darwin, Bultmann, Feuerbach, Lampe, Freud, Niebuhr, Wren Lewis, Robinson et al, but when the Christian faith itself was in jeopardy (as distinct from mere orthodoxy), then Keith Sutton was the go-to person, rather than Michael Green, thoroughly nice fellow that he was.

We accepted that the gospels weren’t factual reporting, but faithfully represented Christ-like sayings and actions, rather than verifiable ‘facts’, which would thereby disqualify them as articles of faith. It’s the apocryphal stories about Churchill that convey his greatness, not literal accounts of how much brandy he drank.

Unfortunately, the gospel picture of Jesus was painted at a time when belief in the supernatural was assumed. Currently, quantum mechanics is the way we see the world – mostly cause & effect, with a dash of genuine randomness – and Jesus (whom I believe in, btw) needs to be re-presented in order to order to chime with that world-view.

It’s in that sense only that ConEvos are not telling the truth today.

Posted by Michael Skliros at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 2:02pm BST

I'm interested in Martin Sewell's piece. Synod is a bit cognate to Parliament, and the ABC to a Minister (or perhaps the Prime Minister), so if I may pursue the analogy a bit further:

1. Parliamentary questions are only part of the way that Ministers are held to account. There is also freedom of information legislation. So before asking a PQ, an MP will often have done a lot of homework and will know exactly what question to ask. Now, for good or ill the C of E is not subject to FOI, but wouldn't it be good if they would voluntarily follow the same practice?

2. MPs are themselves subject to election, and answerable to their own constituents. They are greatly influenced by their postbag (whether or not individual letter writers are their supporters). Indeed it's impressive how members right across the political spectrum take this very seriously. Leaving aside the method by which they are elected, do individual GS members really go out of their way to make themselves available to ordinary people in the pews (and those not in the pews)?

3. Another way that Ministers and Civil Servants are held to account is through parliamentary commmittees, which take their own independence very seriously. (And again, the members of select committees often don't behave in a partisan way at all.) It would be interesting to have the Synod equivalent of a select committee quizzing Bishops and senior officials in public on all sorts of topics.

These are only suggestions..but the key point is to move to a culture of much greater openness, where the institution and its leadership don't mind being challenged and are much less concerned to keep things quiet. The truth will set you free....

Posted by Bernard Silverman at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 4:07pm BST

"We are custodians of our churches and responsible for ensuring, as far as possible, that they are available when needed. It's very sad that that means they often can't be kept open and unattended, but that's the reality."

Then when you lock the church, move the altar to the porch and leave that unlocked.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 5:14pm BST

'Then when you lock the church, move the altar to the porch and leave that unlocked.'

Kate, that assumes a) that every church has a porch, and b) that every church has an altar that can easily be moved by whatever (possibly elderly) warden, sacristan, or priest who turns up to prepare the church for any service.

And even then, you'd have to be prepared to find knickers and used condoms on top of it; and joints, takeaway remains and broken bottles around it - if it hadn't been torched.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 7:22pm BST

"Kate, that assumes a) that every church has a porch, and b) that every church has an altar that can easily be moved by whatever (possibly elderly) warden, sacristan, or priest who turns up to prepare the church for any service."

You are raising practical objections to something which should be a matter of theology.

In the Old Testament only the High Priest come come into the Presence - the Holy of Holies and only once a year. Christ changed that. He walked among us. The Eucharist and the Spirit extend that Presence to all of us. It's one of the things Christ changed which receives less attention than it deserves. Locking churches so that the minister can use them for services but not everyone else whenever they want, rolls back those changes that Christ brought it. It makes the priest more important than the lay parishioner - the priest has access to the Presence at any time but denies it to lay parishioners. I know most people here will agree with you but, respectfully, I think that is conditioned thinking; I believe that what you are suggesting is counter to the intent of Christ's ministry.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 11:26pm BST

Dear Kate, any one who calls themselves Anglo-Catholic - in my long experience - would never doubt the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist - whether on the altar or Reserved in appropriate places. Needless to say, this does not guarantee freedom from acts of desecration or burglary if an unattended church building is left unlocked.

The living Jesus was not immune to acts of violence when among us in his Incarnate life, so why should his presence in the Sacrament be any different?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 12:24am BST

I don't doubt the Presence during the Eucharist - I only am unsure about reserved host. I am told it retains the Presence, and presume it does, but without touching I think it would be wrong for me to offer personal testimony.

But, anyway, I was taught that although the sacraments can be assaulted, the Presence protects them from desecration. "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty". By the Creed, the Presence in the Eucharist is almighty, omnipotent, inviolate. And I genuinely do not get why people on this thread believe the Presence to be some fragile thing.

And we don't respect it by locking it away to keep it safe. Christ showed us that was not his will. We respect it by making it freely available to anyone at any time.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 1:38pm BST

'Locking churches so that the minister can use them for services but not everyone else whenever they want, rolls back those changes that Christ brought it.'

Churches are not essential to Christianity. for our first three centuries we largely did without them. This did not stop people experiencing the presence of Christ in their hearts, and in their gatherings in living rooms and other places. That was another thing Christ changed. Because of him, every place is a holy place.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 4:53pm BST

Kate, Christ is indeed present in the Eucharist - but he is not confined to it. He is available to all of us, everywhere, all the time. St. Paul talks about Christ being formed in us; he also said that 'in him we live and move and have our being'. St. Peter, after his vision of being told to eat 'unclean' foods, went to Jaffa and preached to the Gentiles there, and they were filled by the Holy Spirit. They weren't in a place of worship at the time; they were in a private home.

No one is prevented from accessing Christ, or coming into the presence of God, by a church being locked. They might want to light a candle, or spend time in a quiet place, or pray before the aumbry, and it's a real shame that circumstances may make that impossible. But they can still be in the presence of Christ, and Christ is still within them.

In fact access to the building is not restricted to the clergy; there are many lay people who also hold keys. I realise that doesn't help you much if you're not one of the keyholders, but it's often possible to get someone to open up the church for you, or to find out when it's open (say, for organ or choir practice) and visit then.

I don't think the New Testament writers envisaged a situation where the sacrament was available at all times to all people. St. Paul, in his teaching on Holy Communion in 1 Cor. 11, tells the Christians at Corinth to prepare carefully for receiving the sacrament. Not doing so, he says, can actually be harmful. As far as I can recall, all the New Testament writers assumed the eucharist was to be shared when Christians met together. It wasn't for solitude. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.

It's lovely that you gain so much from the Sacrament and want to share it so freely with others. But many churches and the laypeople and clergy who keep them running already labour under near-impossible circumstances. Let's not make it even harder for them.


Posted by Janet Fife at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 6:49pm BST

Kate,
You seem to want to have your cake and eat it. Your argument for the special nature of Presence at the altar and in consecrated buildings is an Old Covenant argument. In your latest comment you observe some of the changes Christ brought, but stop short. In the New Covenant Christ redeems the curse on the earth in Genesis 3 so rather than nowhere being a holy place (the common evangelical mistake) the whole world becomes holy to the Lord. But in that case the bookies' shop is just as much a place of the Presence of Christ as the altar, so no-one is being excluded from anything by the church building being locked. Acts 17:24, he does not live in temples made by human hands.

Posted by NJ at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 8:25pm BST

The church porch and the bookies might become homes for machines dispensing the consecrated elements. Like candle stands where the "candle" comes on when you put money in the slot. It's always struck me that people who need the sacrament daily must either be extraordinarily wicked to require so frequent a spiritual top-up, or have uncommonly strong digestive juices that dispense with the body and blood so soon after ingestion.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 9:51pm BST

I am not a daily communicant nor these days even a weekly one (Matins, derived ultimately from our Lord's other own - synagogue - service, a personal favourite), but Stanley Monkhouse's comments I think are rather offensive. And I should just complement Kate's comment by noting that Jesus and his early Christian Jewish followers worshipped in the Temple as well as attending the synagogue, and that one of our Homilies is about the need for great reverence in what it calls the "house of God" and "temple of the Lord".

Posted by John Bunyan at Monday, 7 May 2018 at 11:22pm BST

«Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."»

Yes, God is omnipresent, but who here can see Him? Jesus understood that allowing Thomas to *experience* the reality of his risen body was experientially different to omnipresence. Similarly the real presence in the Eucharist is experientially different to omnipresence. A metaphor might be that the omnipresent God is 4 dimensions but in the Eucharist, He, as Christ, is projected onto 3 dimensions so that we can apprehend Him.

The point, however, is that the real presence in the Eucharist is a gift to the world, more tangible than omnipresence, and ministers should not limit that amazing gift by acting as gatekeepers or by locking the host away. I don't deny the practical difficulties but if the minister doesn't consume all of the host, s/he has obligations to ensure unrestricted access to any reserved host. Altars raise similar, if more complex, issues.

(Complex theology in 400 words is challenging!)

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 12:52am BST

Stanley Monkhouse, Re: "People who need the sacrament daily" -- what is the optimal dosage? Christmas & Easter?; once a month?; every Sunday?; daily? Is it a "need"? A longing? A comfort?

Posted by Richard at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 4:27am BST

Just to be clear I am mainly talking about the Biblical exhortation to "draw nigh to God" by physically approaching the reserved host or altar. Putting aside our own convenience is a fundamental of offering welcome. Telling people they can only approach the Presence of God at convenient times is NOT Christian welcome. Put another way, how would we feel if we prayed to God and He replied, "I am resting now but if you come back on Tuesday at 6pm I can fit you in"?

But people should be able to partake of the host too if they think that is appropriate. The objections to that are based on the doctrine of minister/church as gatekeeper that I see as profoundly un-Scriptural. For example if a member of my family died overnight I might want to take the host, perhaps alongside other members of the family, as a complement to praying for their passing.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 10:44am BST

'Similarly the real presence in the Eucharist is experientially different to omnipresence.'

Well since we're talking about experience, I have been a praying Christian for forty-six years. I have experienced the sense of the presence of God in times of prayer and worship (alone and in company of others). I have experienced 'my heart burning within me' (as the Emmaus story puts it) when the scriptures are opened up to me. I have experienced the closeness and majesty of God hiking in the mountains and under the vastness of a prairie sky. None of these experiences have been in any way inferior to receiving Holy Communion. And let's not forget his Real Presence in the poor and needy too (see the Sheep and the Goats).

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 3:37pm BST

Kate, God is always available and isn't limited to the consecrated host, as I said earlier. We can come into his presence anytime, anywhere we want to. Nor are the doctrinal objections based on the minister as gatekeeper, as I also said earlier. Holy Communion is supposed to be shared with other believers, and taken part in only after careful and thoughtful preparation. That's why we embed it in a service which includes opportunities for confession, absolution, and hearing the Word of God. You may not agree with this doctrine, but it is a proudly scriptural one. It's present in 1 Corinthians which is one of the earlier epistles, and Acts describes Christians taking communion 'when they came together.'.

What is 'profoundly unscriptural', if you don't mind my saying so, is saying that God's presence is in any way diminished by the absence of the consecrated host - or any other physical entity. Yes, we often feel a heightened sense of God's presence at Holy Communion, and some do before the reserved sacrament. As you said, we are physical beings and find physical manifestations helpful. That reverence is a good and holy thing. But if you, or someone else, find themselves unable to access the sacrament when you would like to, God does not then find himself unable to make himself present to you. In fact, he often uses spiritual deprivation to open us up to new spiritual experiences..

You've been arguing with quite a bit of passion and I'm wondering what lies behind it. Have you discussed the matter with your parish priest or Reader? I don't know where your church is, but maybe you could volunteer to organise a rota of people to keep the church open for at least some slots during the week?

Posted by Janet Fife at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 5:32pm BST

Just to be pragmatic, what about when someone is looking for a quiet space just to think/be/pray/come close to God/find some peace. If the church is locked what would people suggest? (It is an effort to track down keyholders for something that might be spur of the moment)

Posted by Sarah at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 5:34pm BST

Probably worth an article in its own right: fantastic piece by Martyn Percy.

http://modernchurch.org.uk/downloads/send/32-articles/897-the-church-of-england-mission-and-ministry-after-the-decade-of-evangelism

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 10:51pm BST

Sarah, outside the church (churchyard, garden porch) might be a possibility. Or another outside space such as a park or garden, or garden shed. Or take a long bath (very good for quiet reflection). Public library if you still have one. Sit in a parked car, preferably with a view if you can find one. Museums are often quiet.

I've done all these.

Posted by Janet Fife at Wednesday, 9 May 2018 at 9:26am BST

IO, the link doesn't work. Can you re-post the link?

ED: Link included in next TA article.

Posted by Janet Fife at Wednesday, 9 May 2018 at 9:26am BST

Janet, I've done quite a few of these as well, and many of them work for me (not sure about the public library!). However I would choose an open church over all of them. I think my own take is that so many people I know are looking for that kind of space and it is something that would be good for the church to offer. Even if it's only occasionally with the church open and manned...

Posted by Sarah at Wednesday, 9 May 2018 at 4:30pm BST

I really feel strongly about this. Had the local priory church not been open after school, I would probably have committed suicide decades ago. In times of crisis, I am sure that I am not alone in needing an open church. I wonder how many lives these locked churches cost?

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 10 May 2018 at 2:27am BST

Kate I'm sorry to hear t hat you had such a difficult time as a child, and so glad you could find an open church when you needed one.

I have a friend whose life was saved by his being accidentally locked into a church.

Ideally most churches could be kept open at least part of the time, with a couple of people keeping watch if need be. Sadly it isn't always possible.

Posted by Janet Fife at Thursday, 10 May 2018 at 9:35am BST

Re. Andy Salmon's piece, I find it interesting that while some are calling 'Thy Kingdom Come' an evangelical takeover plot, my Twitter feed is full of people praying it with icons, rosaries, candles, and crucifixes...!!!

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 11 May 2018 at 11:48pm BST
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