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Lockdown spurs our Churches to consider better ways to pray better ways to pray

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Good cause: Newcastle parishioners have supported the food bank

Good cause: Newcastle parishioners have supported the food bank

PA

Good cause: Newcastle parishioners have supported the food bank

Church life during this time of the coronavirus has changed so much. For me, not being able to go to church in the usual way is a huge disappointment.

I miss the great joy of conducting worship in church and seeing everyone.

Yet, like so many others, I have tried to adapt to worship online and it has been good to see the numbers 'clicking in'. But there is quite a disconnect, and the sense of congregational gathering is definitely lacking.

However, I believe that in the future there will continue to be online worship complementing the usual churchgoing.

I certainly plan to continue to use the internet in this way.

Naturally, return to a more normal Sunday worship is probably going to be a gradual process, but I fully accept that it has to be so, because it is most important that worshipping together in church must actually be safe.

There are so many questions.

How easy will it be to be physically distanced from one another? How will that feel? How will we be able to share communion together? And so on.

I know that the Church of Ireland, centrally, is considering the procedures and no doubt will issue advice, as I'm sure other denominations will also.

Then again, while I have been able to keep in touch with parishioners by telephone, this has been made easier by the fact that I have been rector in Newcastle for 27 years and therefore have come to know my parishioners very well.

I imagine that telephone ministry would just not be at all as good if I had been here for only a more limited time.

One of the things I have been using this lockdown time for, personally, has been to draw up an index of the Church of Ireland Gazette during my years as editor, 2001-2017, with a view to a future memoir of that experience.

It was a weekly newspaper in those days, so this is very much a work in progress. This period of lockdown has spurred Churches generally to think about ways in which they can be of practical help to the community. In Newcastle, it has been very encouraging to see how well parishioners have done in supporting our local food bank, the Pantry.

I have read an American writer telling of the experience of his local church after the Spanish flu of 100 years ago.

He said that numbers attending had shown an increase over that prior to the flu, and he put this down as largely due to the fact that the local churches had been so caring while the people had been going through that terrible experience.

For many parishes, finance has been an issue, particularly as the traditional 'envelope' system is centred around parishioners bringing their offerings to church Sunday by Sunday.

Knowing this would be a problem, at the start of the lockdown my parish suggested to parishioners that they place their offering in their own envelopes each week and keep them at home for the time being.

With lockdown easing in recent days, we have been receiving bundles of offerings to be lodged.

I can well imagine that, when our team of counters add it all up, they will say, "If only it was like this every week!"

Canon Ian Ellis is rector of St John's Parish, Newcastle and a former editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette

Belfast Telegraph