This week, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth has taken to social media to express disappointment that all the Catholic Churches in an area he visited were locked shut. Presumably, his concern is that this prevents casual visitors from dropping in. In contrast, the Church of England recommends that its churches keep their doors open outside service times (although apparently this is not universally applied).
Does this present a challenge, not just for Roman Catholic or Church of England parishes, but for independent, evangelical churches?
I was walking past St Wilfrid’s, my local parish church recently, (with its front door open) and reflected on the rather strange anomaly that our churches are more often locked, even though they probably contain less valuables than the average Anglican building. Perhaps there is some residual respect or superstition about grand old C of E places of worship that deters thieves from carting away their technology or iconography.
So how “open” is our church? I don’t mean in terms of access to our premises “out of hours”, but in the way the gospel calls us to be open?
At a very practical level, how are we doing publicising the church in the local media for people to be able to find out where and when we meet? And when they come to one of our meetings, do they know where to park, how to get in, and will someone show them where to sit and make them feel welcome? Following on from a first visit, is there a clear pathway for someone to find out more and get to know the church community? We are working hard at these things but always need to be ready to learn better ways of doing things.
And at a deeper level, how open are we to the lost, the marginalised and those who are not like us? How open are we to those who are confused about who they are? How friendly are we with those who have limited social skills?
We may choose to lock or unlock our gates out of hours, but our church need to be intentionally and visibly open to everyone. As God says in Isaiah 55:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.”