Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Not Going into a Church for Private Prayer

Had a slightly sad experience today.

Out in the country, walking Arthur Smith, the Beaker hound. We got Arthur Smith a while back, when designer cross-breeds were very trendy. And he's an Alsatian/German Shepherd cross.

We were following the footpath through a church I visited years ago. On the front gate was a sign telling me that they were now open for services on Sunday mornings. On the south wall, a sign telling me it was closed till further notice. And the door was open. 

As I say, I'd not visited this church for a few years, so I was happy to see the door was open. I popped my head round the door. There were two people there on "watching private prayer" duty. Both fully masked. So I stayed there on the porch and chatted across to them.

I asked if they'd been there all afternoon. Yes. I asked if they had had any visitors. No. I asked what the point was them sitting there all afternoon, if they had no visitors. And wouldn't it be better to just leave the church open and leave people to follow their own common sense. And they said, no - they were there to make sure they knew where to clean, after their non-existent visitors had been for private prayer and left.

Now I don't know about you. But I don't like going into a church for private prayer, while being watched by two people. Feels less private, somehow. And I was only popping in from curiosity.  And they were of an age when they were both venerable and, likely, vulnerable. So I wasn't going to enter the church while they were there, in case I was unknowingly infected, and passed it on to them. 

But I asked them the question again before I left. Given that by being in the building to watch it, they were exposing themselves to risk of infection, what was the point of them being there? And they told me you can't be too careful. And what would be the alternative - locking the church up?

So I left them. I didn't rest awhile on the bench in the churchyard (which was not sealed off and, according to the logic used in the church, was a potentially contaminated surface which nobody was watching or cleaning). Instead I opened the gate that leads from the churchyard out into the field next door, where the footpath leads. I opened it with my hand so had to remember not to touch my face (since there were no masked guardians of the gate either), and sanitised when I returned to my car.

And I know they're doing what they think is for the best, and I know guidance has been terribly muddled. But I do think it's a shame two people gave up their afternoons to sit in masks, in an empty church, to put off the one visitor the church had in in all that time. I do think it's a shame that, due to their and my different perceptions of the concepts of "risk" and "private prayer", they were right - they might as well leave the church locked. And I'm not saying my view is right (though I think it probably is), but I'm just a little saddened that we're in this situation.

Please note for Sunday's worship in the Moot House, all Beaker People are now expected to sit in their bubbles, in the hastily-erected Georgian box pews we have "borrowed" from another church. I don't think they're planning to re-open for a while, so with any luck we can get them back before anyone notices. 

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  1. We thought about how to do this in two of our churches and we don’t supervise. Hand gel is provided, people are asked to take the precautions needed, and asked to remain in the aisle made available to them. We only open once a week now - used to be Sundays too until we started Sunday services again. We ask people to pick up a card with an X on when they enter, sit in a pew without an X card in it, and to leave their X card in the pew they used when they leave so that it’s clear someone has sat there. To avoid lots of cleaning of old pews, we lock up for 72 hours after opening. And that’s the best we can do. Like you, Archdruid, for me private prayer in a relatively small building isn’t private if there is a custodian (2 for safety) hanging around. It’s different in a cathedral where you are more anonymous anyway and there is lots of space and separation. My MA dissertation was on private prayer. The most important thing about private for those people I surveyed was privacy and little risk of being disturbed.

  2. I'm a Methodist, so our churches aren't sacred space and we've always kept them locked between meetings. So I've never understood why people would go into a public place (a church) for private prayer. I respect their different feelings/beliefs, but didn't Jesus say something about going into your own room and closing the door?

  3. We've got three options.
    1. Stay closed (except for a Sunday service).
    2. Open unsupervised. If you do this, you have to clean everything - cards with Xs notwithstanding because you can't be certain they are the only places where people have been), or leave the church closed for 72 hours before you can re-open.
    3. Open with sitter(s) who sanitise after each visitor.
    We've opted for opening with (very quiet) sitters in a corner and get a slow but steady trickle of people - whether they do believe that prayer only works in a church, or need 10 minutes to get the weight off their feet, or value the peace that they can't get at home, who knows? Not for us to judge, but the church is there for everyone.

  4. One of the ironies of the current situation is the fact it is easier to get into a redundant church than it is to access a working one. The CCT seem to have made a real effort to open their churches. Rather more impressive than Derby Cathedral which only opens the west end for two four hour sessions each week.


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