The church door was locked. Church doors seem locked most of the time now. Perhaps it is some restriction related to the virus, or perhaps the person who once opened and closed the church each day has had, through age or ill health, to give up their faithful duty.
In Ireland, I had a churchwarden who was said to pass down the lane which ended at his house at 9.20 am, an hour and forty minutes before the 11 o’clock service. After turning out of the lane, the journey to the church would have taken him around ten minutes, allowing him to arrive by 9.30. The early arrival was considered a piece of gentle eccentricity among other worshippers; what preparation for the morning service could there be that could take an hour and a half, a period of time twice that of the morning service, which generally lasted forty-five minutes? No-one would question him, though, the church building was an important part of his life; its internal and external well-being were treated with an importance that was equivalent to that with which he would treat his own personal health.
Here in England, the diligent care of a country church would be regarded as anachronistic by the evangelical leaders who now hold sway in the church. Voices from the urban centres would talk of the need to close such buildings, of how many more resources there would be for “mission” (generally employing people like themselves), if money was not spent on the upkeep of such places, of how much better everything would be if everyone gathered in a single church (under their style of leadership). Perhaps they are right, though empirical evidence shows that when such paths are pursued, many of those whose families have attended the church for generations simply disappear. They want nothing of the electric guitars, drums and media projectors.
However, there is a much deeper value in such rural places that is missed by those who perceive them as buildings to be measured in terms of fabric and funds. To men like that churchwarden, heading to church 9.20 am, the church to which he devoted so many hours was a place of holiness.
The places seen as a burden by the church strategists and administrators are places of holiness to people in the communities in which they stand. Even if people never attend, it matters to many of them that the building is there. If the Church of England is going to insist on being the established church, it must take seriously that duty to be present.