Thought for the Week: The Public House [of God]
Once upon a time, everyone used to go to the pub, and the visit to the pub was a weekly or even daily event for most people. Every community had a pub, and they were busy. But suddenly alcohol was available to buy in supermarkets, and people could drink at home, much more cheaply, and they wouldn’t even have to leave the house. But some people still went to the pub. They knew they could drink at home—the same beer, the same wine, but there was something about going to the pub which was special. They could share the experience with friends, and they would look forward to it. The pub wasn’t just a venue to drink in, it was something more. Being together was important; the atmosphere made the occasion more enjoyable, and it was almost impossible to just have one drink and leave! The Public House was special to the community, and special to the people that went there.
When the lockdown came, the pubs closed along with everything else, and even when other things started to open again, they remained closed. People everywhere, knowing that they could nevertheless drink at home, missed the pub, and looked forward to being there again.
[I hope you will forgive the elaborate analogy—but I hope you know where I’m going—I’ve always said that pub life and church life are more similar than people think!]
We can pray to the Father anywhere, we can meet Jesus anywhere, we can feel the Spirit anywhere, but it is still right to want to return to our church. God’s presence is not confined to the church building—we all agree, but there is something special about the place that we as a community have set aside for God. St Mary’s was built to serve a special purpose: to be the place where we would meet to worship God; where we would gather to celebrate and receive the Eucharist; where we would be baptised and married; where our friends would say farewell to us; where we would pray, and after we are gone, where people would pray for us.
The church is so much more than the sum of its parts, and it’s unwise to think of the building as merely a venue, saying “I don’t need the Church—I can be a Christian anywhere!” We can (and we should!), but we should not forget that the physical church—for us, St Mary’s—is a place of real significance in our life, and the lives of people who have been before us, and people who will come afterwards. So (now that the church is open twice a week), whether you are able to come into church or not, remember to pray for the place, and for its people.
The Parish Church is more than the House of God; the Home of the Community.
Revd Benjamin Jarvis