The re-opening of churches for private prayer is a pivotal moment for many people. Here is a collection of comments from both clergy and worshippers about what it means for them:

The Revd Canon Charles Patrick, Rector in the Horncastle Group said: “Our verger opened the church on Monday and people seem very pleased that St. Mary’s is open, once again, for private prayer.

“It has been lovely to see a some of our regular worshippers in person when I have been in the church and I have also seen two people unknown to me. One was a young man who was very determined to say a prayer, and just wanted to go to a space alone at the front to be able to do this and another was a carer looking for information for a young person who is new to the area and wanted information about key buildings in the town. It is wonderful that the church is touching people’s lives.

“One lady who I was talking to on the phone told me she went in on Monday and commented, ‘it’s just lovely isn’t it to be able to go back in?’. I think for a host of different reasons people are pleased that the building is open; perhaps primarily as a place where they can find comfort, refuge and strength.”

St Giles Church in Lincoln opened on Wednesday. The Revd Canon Nick Buck, Vicar at St Giles said: “We’ve been keeping in touch with folk by phone and email over the last three months or so. As time went on the question we were asked most often was: ‘when can we come back to church?’ This was as much about seeing one another in the flesh again as it was being in the familiar sacred space to pray. 

“Working out how to manage the space was interesting, not least as we reckon we can seat about 25 people safely in a space that could accommodate 300+ in more normal times. It was a joy to see the delight on people’s faces as they came through the door.”

Revd Rachel Beck, Assistant Curate at St Giles said: "There was a feeling of liberation and excitement when preparing to re-open the church building; re-lighting the sanctuary lamp, changing the altar frontals, and even through the use of the church keys again!  It was a joy and a privilege to be welcoming people into the building once again, and to be sitting quietly in one another’s presence, in that holy and sacred space.  

“Gazing on the recently restored bright and glorious font, I also felt a connection with all those who had been baptised in the church over the generations, all those who had been married there, the many coffins that had been carried in and out past that font, and the many faithful people over the years who have prayed in that building - such a great cloud of witnesses with us, the ten or so gathered this morning.  It felt like today was a significant day." 

One worshipper at St Giles said: “It was good to be amongst familiar surroundings but strange not being able to do what we usually do and with no external stimulation, hearing music, words of worship being spoken, seeing ministers and a congregation. We were separate persons at prayer, together, the only outward physical sign, apart from the sacred space of the building were lit candles. 

“That, and the care taken to prepare us for private prayer, the table with everything on it, sanitising soap and towels, and a place mat to sit on and the church prepared and cleaned beforehand. And the cleaning afterwards. It was good to be there.”

Another said: “I found myself heading to church singing 'I heard the voice of Jesus say come unto me and rest,' and as I walked into church this morning that's exactly how it felt. The busyness of family life 24/7 for the past months has been both a blessing and a challenge.

“God has certainly been in that busyness, but there hasn't been much time for rest at home. What a joy and a comfort to metaphorically 'lay down my weary head' and feel God's presence as I rested in the stillness and sanctuary of our church building.”

Here is another moving comment from a worshipper: “I went to St Giles church today for private prayer, after so long away, myself and my wife walked through the church doors we were greeted by our vicar and curate Nick Buck and Rachel Beck. The warmth shown was a Christian welcome as ever. When we sat in one of the pews the emotion was like a personal greeting from God it was difficult for prayer it was overwhelming to be in the house of the Lord. Today is never to be forgotten.”

Another wrote: “It was lovely to see you all in the flesh. It was a really good feeling to be in church again and to spend that time quietly sitting and praying. Although we were physically apart we were all together in spirit!

“A big thank you to all who set out the church, it must have taken some time to do the pew end and floor notices etc. It all worked well.”

And here is a longer reflection from another worshipper at St Giles: “On Monday 23rd March the Prime Minister named places of worship as among the buildings that must shut, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I understood then the reasons but not the significances this would have on me over time.  I soon found out that I had lost the chance to be still; to breathe and to gather together just when such things were needed most. I lost the rhythm of my life. Going to church was not just that - going to church meant I was part of the parish family. It was a reminder that I was not alone, reminding me that I had a supportive community by my side.

“With the church being closed other methods of getting together to pray were quickly put into place - evening prayer and social events on Zoom. So I still had the church community and I did take part in a few of these sessions but still felt spiritually empty. It was great to see some of the congregation on my laptop but I just did not get the same peace you get from the church.

“The closure forced me to really ask myself some deeper spiritual questions, “What is the church? I was feeling the loss of the physical space; a time of relaxation, prayer, and reflection, time to listen, to give thanks, to forgive and to worship. Ultimately it bought me inner peace.

“But surely I could get this same release from prayer at home? No! I tried and I quickly found out that Prayer is a discipline and it was difficult with so many distractions at home. I soon gave up trying.

“On the 17th June our church opened for private prayer. Leading up to this I was involved in the practical preparations such as cleaning, taping off areas and getting hand gel and signs organized. All the time I worried that I had lost my spirituality as I was not able to successfully pray at home, that I had lost the connection with God.

“On the evening before we opened I wondered what I would do in church for one hour for private prayer when I had not been disciplined enough to pray at home. Well I did not have to worry. I sat I prayed and I connected with God. I was not a failure. My heart was still warm with his love. I had missed this feeling so much. 

“I have subsequently learnt from this pandemic that the church community is very important to me, but the church, the space, is also important and for me it is a vessel that helps me channel my love of God.”

This story was published on Thursday 18th June 2020.

The image is courtesy of Revd Julie Donn and is taken in St Andrew's in Immingham.