As 2021 draws to a close, with Covid mutations multiplying, millions isolating, thousands dying, gas prices soaring, inflation pressing, poverty increasing, Putin and Xi agitating, and the Church of England still closing its services, it is heartening to hear a voice in the wilderness; a humble parish priest saying what bishops and archbishops ought to have been saying all year and throughout the pandemic.
“We are not a cinema. We are not the O2 Arena. We are not a football match,” proclaimed the Rev’d Will Pearson-Gee, Rector of Buckingham Parish Church. “We are a family of brothers and sisters in Christ who come together on a Sunday to worship the living Jesus Christ. Not a football match, not a film; nothing like that. I am not going to close our services until I am ordered by law to do so, and even if that happens it will be screaming and kicking, because we are not an entertainment venue. We are here to worship the God who is sovereign over all of this mess, over all the ineptitude that the Government can throw at us, and it is all the more important that we gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ to worship God.”
He grasps the essence of Christianity, which is so rarely articulated or heard at the moment. Our task is to love and worship God first and foremost: loving one’s neighbour comes second. And yet we hear so much about the second from bishops and archbishops that we sometimes lose sight of the first. Getting jabbed against the latest Covid mutation is important as an expression of community solidarity, but worshipping God is the imperative witness of our faith.
The Government increasingly treats religion as theatre, rather than as a manifestation of incarnational theology. When the Church gathers, the Body of Christ meets in a union of heart and mind, of word and sacrament, of text and ceremonial. It isn’t an optional extra: the Church has to worship incarnationally, separated from the world by the Cross of Christ, but responding to the stirrings of the Spirit as we immerse in and grapple with the cultural context in all its complexity and diversity.
“I am not going to close our services,” the Rev’d Will Pearson-Gee proclaims, perhaps mindful of the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury did precisely that a year ago. Presumably, if the Bishop of Buckingham orders him to close his services, he will refuse to do so. You may castigate him for bowing to the secular law, but the Church of England is an erastian affair, and Caesear must be rendered to, and “screaming and kicking” is a witness in itself.
For those who have never heard of the Rev’d Will Pearson-Gee and wonder what has made him…
I lost my wife Anna and 23 month-old son James in a car crash in 1996. Our daughter survived unscathed and it was working though some big questions in the aftermath of that tragedy that helped me to turn a nominal Christian faith into one that had a relationship with Jesus at its heart. That dreadful event really did change my life in more ways that I could have imagined and illustrates the truth in Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” My story surrounding this tragedy is here if you’d like to read it – if you do, I hope you find it an encouragement.
And from his account of that tragedy:
…I helped to dig their grave, which was a cathartic experience, and the funeral passed in a blur. Days came when I ranted and shouted at God. ‘Why, God? Why? Why did you let this happen? They were so perfect, so lovely, so wonderful. If you’re the big God of love and mercy, why didn’t you just save them? You could have done it! You parted the Red Sea! You raised people from the dead! You changed water into wine! Why couldn’t you just have touched that steering wheel and stopped the collision happening?’ I called God names. I told him exactly what I thought of him.
And now the Rev’d Will Pearson-Gee is captivated by Jesus, witnessing to the nation and the world that death is not the end, bereavement is not forever, pain passes, and the deepest joy and happiness are to be found in the worship of God.
Death to 2021.
Richest blessings to all readers and communicants for the New Year.