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I wonder what first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘church’. For some it may be the stereotypical image of an old biddy sat at an antique organ with the accompaniment of a warbling choir, for others it could perhaps evoke memories of Christmas and Easter services in which your parents force you into uncomfortable clothes and push you to bury your head in a prayer book and stay silent. However, for the majority of practising Christians around the UK these are not the images that spring to mind. Where before churches were characterised by organs, smart clothes and hymns, we are now seeing a rise in electric guitars, casual attire and upbeat music, and as society progresses, so do places of worship

The Royal Hippodrome Theatre, Eastbourne hosts Kings Church every Sunday. This year, it remains empty as services move online. Image by Jenny Bathurst.

The atmosphere of community, peace and togetherness that the church environment brings for Christians is a challenge to achieve in any other setting. And so when this year the government announced that due to the pandemic all places of worship would need to close to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, this became a major hurdle for many. Grace Ogunlola, an attendee at St Peter’s Church, Brighton speaks of her reaction on discovering the news of the church closures:

“I think you find such a sense of community in church and it’s a strong part of my identity, especially if you play a really active role so I was absolutely gutted.”

“However, I loved that the churches took services online which gave people an opportunity to see what it’s like because I think it could be really scary to go in person to a completely new environment but actually you have that safety of being behind a screen.”

Nevertheless, it is of course not only members of the congregation who have been affected by the halt in services, but those who serve also. Reverend Jon Haines acts as Curate at All Saints Church in Eastbourne. Jon reflects optimistically on the outcomes of the lockdown period on his faith and relationship with God

“If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we are not in control. It’s been a humbling time and it’s taught me that I can plan, work hard, and do the best that I can, but sometimes things are way beyond my control. It’s wonderful knowing that God hasn’t lost control though – he’s got this – and so I’ve learned to pray more and to trust things to him more.”

It is clear that the attitudes towards lockdown of many believers has in fact been a positive one, in which this period has opened doors to many opportunities such as exploring their faith deeper and even encouraging those who have never considered religion before to consider their own beliefs. Christianity is not defined by the structured and human process of church, although the fellowship it brings is irreplaceable. Christianity is centred around a deep relationship and love of God which can be achieved even in the darkest of times.

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March 2024