Sunday, 1 August 2021 was a red-letter day for our church. It was the first time we held our worship service outside in the church garden. Some of those who had been reluctant to attend indoor services were happy to sit in the open air, including the young families we’d missed so much. Passers-by stopped and chatted. And above all, we could sing.

There was something else noticeable, too. About a quarter of those present were newcomers. We are used to welcoming around one or two new people into our church per month, so it was as if we were catching up on the backlog caused by coronavirus. Most of these newcomers have stayed with us, including several with disabilities and three families that recently arrived from Hong Kong on the government’s special visa programme. We’ve moved back inside the building now, and our new congregation includes about 30 recent arrivals.

At the same time, of course, we have lost people. During the pandemic some have died and others have moved away. Others have still not found the confidence to return to church in person or have simply got out of the habit of coming. I have to admit this had me worried for a while: all these new people arriving, some core members avoiding church almost completely and the strain this put on those of us trying to keep in contact with everyone.

Much work to do

Back in June I broke an ornament at home that we had inherited from my late mother-in-law. Fortunately, I was able to repair it to something like its original condition. Inspired by this and The Repair Shop TV programme, I encouraged our church to think of our task following coronavirus as the great repair job’. However, what I hadn’t factored in then was that we’d be rebuilding our church without all of the original pieces as well as some different parts.

So, in our church there’s now a lot of adjustment going on. Because of the sheer amount of change we’ve experienced, we have a great deal of community building to do. Each of us has a large number of other people we need to get to know if the church is to function well. This may be exciting for an extrovert like me, but for those who find meeting new people daunting it presents a big challenge.

Because of the sheer amount of change we’ve experienced, we have a great deal of community building to do. Each of us has a large number of other people we need to get to know if the church is to function well.

In addressing this situation, one of the keys seems to be simple hospitality. The Bible contains so many good examples of this, doesn’t it? From Abraham entertaining angels unawares to Paul’s friend Gaius hosting a whole church, God’s people are hospitable people. Both Peter and Paul make a point of encouraging this in the church. And Jesus Himself shows us how to be the perfect guest, bringing the presence and blessing of God into every home He entered.

I’ll never forget someone explaining to me the difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining often means smart clothes, the best china and a three-course meal. Hospitality can be as simple as a cup of tea and a chat. This was fairly easy to do in the warm weather when we could meet up with people outside. Certainly, we saw some beautiful examples of it in our own church. But now that winter is here, it may be different.

Coronavirus has turned homes into castles for all of us, not just Englishmen, with the drawbridge well and truly up. This mindset so easily persists as we move on and, hopefully, out of the pandemic. My wife recently commented that when meeting other people it’s easy to forget you’ve been vaccinated. But if we want to welcome the stranger who turns up on a Sunday, we need to overcome our fears and invite people into our homes once again.

So may the Lord give us all patience, imagination and large dose of His grace as we seek to build Jesus-shaped community out of the pieces broken by coronavirus; and may the vessels that emerge shine all the more brightly with His glory.