You may have seen some of this BBC 2 series in which a family is transported back in time to discover what life was like in previous decades. In the first programme of this series (Back in Time for the Weekend), the family home is transformed into a 1950s house. Deprived of all their 21st century technology, what will the family do for a whole weekend? How will the children entertain themselves without their smart phones and computer games? How will mum and dad cope with spending their leisure time learning how to ‘make do and mend’?
As well as learning to sew, ballroom dance and cook spam fritters in the open air, the family is exposed to one particular shock: on Sunday morning, they had to go to church! Why? Because that’s what families did in the 1950s and, to be honest, there wasn’t really anything else to do. The children attended Sunday school, where they learned the lesson of the Good Samaritan (from former Sunday School teacher, Anne Widdicombe, no less). In 1951, we learned, over half of children in the UK went to Sunday school each week, compared with 5% today. The experience seemed most difficult for mum, Steph. She couldn’t stay for the whole church service but had to walk out. She wasn’t against religion, she said, if that’s what people wanted to do with their time, but she struggled with the idea of having to do something she wasn’t comfortable with, in order to appear ‘respectable’. Sadly, in many ways, church culture hasn’t changed that much since the 1950s, even though the world around us has changed massively.
Each year in September, there is an initiative called ‘Back to Church Sunday’, aimed at encouraging people who have fallen away from church to attend a service. On Facebook, I jokingly put the question: “Does anyone know when ‘Back to Church Sunday is this year?’ Church attendance is something we have all had to give up and none of us yet knows when we will be able to go back to church.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on all of us, not least the church. Who knows what the long-term effect will be or what church will look like in the future?
Here’s the challenge: how will we encourage members of our communities to come back to church without requiring them to go back in time?