We all miss our churches, but closing them for now is the sensible thing to do

The coronavirus lockdown has meant an end to public worship across the UK.Pixabay

I fully understand why Tory MP Jack Lopresti wrote to cabinet minister Robert Jenrick last week asking for a "temporary relaxation of restrictions" to allow people to attend church for private prayer while observing social distancing.

"If the Government allows me to go to an off-licence, a takeaway, or a local shop on Easter Sunday, providing I observe social distancing or take other necessary precautions," he said, "why can I not go to Church and say a prayer, providing I do the same?"

But understanding is not the same as agreeing, and I believe his request, although caring, was misguided.

I appreciate the role of what is often called "sacred space". My wife still finds it difficult to walk past the chapel where I once served as pastor. It's an antique shop now, but this was not the result of decline, rather the reverse is true. We experienced God's presence in some amazing ways there but had to move out when the listed building bureaucrats frustrated our plans for development.

The church does not need sacred buildings to flourish. The first Christians met in homes and their numbers grew at a phenomenal rate. No one understood this better than the first Christian martyr, Stephen. When charged with threatening the Temple in Jerusalem (by quoting Jesus), he put it as bluntly as anyone could.

"The Most High doesn't live in temples made by human hands," he said. "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that?"

Sadly, plain speaking cost him his life.

We naturally struggle when we can't visit those familiar places where we have encountered God in the past. That's why another New Testament writer told a group of struggling believers that they could do something only the Jewish High Priest had been able to do – they could enter into the very presence of God Himself wherever they were, whenever they wanted to.

The apostle Paul said something very similar when talking to his friends in Ephesus, a city dominated by the magnificent Temple of Diana: "We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord ... a dwelling where God lives by His Spirit."

Given all this then, I think I'd prefer to respect government advice and refrain from visiting places where I may touch door handles, seats and Bibles, thereby risking the danger of greater transmission. And in so doing, I'd like to think that I am loving my neighbour as myself.

I'll finish with a true story. I will never forget one of my church members telling me how her life had been ripped apart the day her husband suffered a heart attack and died while repairing the chapel roof.

"I felt so alone," she said, "But as I cried out to God it was as if a pair of arms embraced me, I heard God assuring me that He loves me. And I have never felt alone again."

That was the day she discovered that her front room could become a very sacred space, just as it can for each of us too.

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.