20th November 2020

The main families that make up the Christian church are often designated by a single word: Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Congregational. Baptists, without denying the marks so valued by other churches, belong to this last family. Central to their life is the coming together of those committed to Christ in the assembly (‘ecclesia’) of the faithful, and so for them there is a particular problem when this is denied. Another description is to speak of ‘the gathered church’, the church of the believers, who by faith and grace are called to constitute the body of Christ here on earth. Their life together is often spelt out by another Greek word – ‘koinonia’ – which signifies partnership and participation, communion and community, caring and sharing. And here lies the problem for Congregational Christians – how can we do all this, be what we are meant to be, when we are prevented from coming together, and, even when allowed so to do, not permitted to sing or engage in conversation or share peace? Because of this the rhythm of discipleship is disturbed, for how can we disperse, go out into the world in mission, when we have not properly gathered in the first place? Such difficulties put a premium on the devotional life of all of us, upholding each other in prayer and using such opportunities that are available to ensure that we keep in touch. This, I guess, will give a new meaning to Advent: whilst society waits with concern for December 2nd and the possible end of lock-down, we look ahead to the time when we can again be together, and, as always, to celebrate the coming of Christ – Emmanuel – God with us.

John Briggs