I have a friend – Marcus Green – who is a rector in the diocese of Oxford. His benefice, Steeple Aston with North Aston and Tackley, encompasses three church buildings.
His last service in one of these churches took place on 15 March. Whilst services moved online, Marcus ensured he stayed in touch with his parishioners via email and a regular newsletter.
A number of people within his village approached him, having never attended church before, and told him that they were enjoying watching the pre-recorded services.
Others had wanted to attend church services, but couldn’t because they are disabled, too frail or lack transport, which raises more questions about the potential to engage worshippers online.
There are two church schools within the benefice, one of which has a foodbank. This was an initiative of the school, and discussed in services and newsletters. As a consequence, donations came from across the entire benefice rather than just one parish. This shows Christianity at its best, bringing people together to help the most vulnerable in society.
From 12 July Marcus' churches were partially reopened for personal prayer. Marcus will be conducting services as well, but for the next few months these will be held, open air, in the historic churchyards, rather than indoors.
Weather permitting, I think this is an excellent way to worship, as it limits potential exposure to coronavirus, but also brings to mind the wonderful moments from the Bible where Jesus preaches outdoors.
Marcus will also be awarding a prize each week to the parishioner with the most creative or colourful face mask.
As we all seek to reset our lives in light of the pandemic, it is great to see Marcus responding in innovative ways to restore congregational worship. We are a family of Christians, who worship, cry, laugh and take delight in each other’s company. I rejoice that Marcus’ churches and many others across Oxfordshire are reopening.
Marcus is also a distinguished theologian and I recommend his book examining Christianity and LGBTQ identities – The Possibility of Difference.