About two weeks ago, I read a simple plea that brought a wry smile to my lips. It said simply, “Will whoever is playing Jumanji please put it away?”
I trust that some of you will recognise the reference. I imagine you are smiling wryly, too. To those of you who don’t get it… sorry, there’s not enough space for me to explain here. You can look it up on the internet if you’re curious enough to know more. Except that some of you will struggle to do that, won’t you? So not only have I used a reference from popular culture that excludes you, but my proposed solution to your ignorance also excludes you. And herein lies a problem. This is a problem I’ve had to face in practical terms over the last twelve weeks of lockdown, but it has deeper significance for us all. Let me explain.
As soon as the instruction came to close church buildings, I had to work out how I was going to be able to provide some kind of opportunity for worship and learning for the Christian communities within the three villages of this benefice. The best way forward was for those who would normally gather to use a common set of prayers, Bible readings and other resources in their own homes. We would express our unity by using the same liturgy, singing the same hymns and listening to the same teaching (same sermon).
This was all possible thanks to the internet. I could upload information to the church’s website and others could read it from there. I could video myself preaching and put it on “YouTube” so others could watch from the comfort of their own homes. I trust you can now see the practical problem I faced – what about those without computers or tablets or smartphones or any kind of internet connectivity? To overcome this, I created a dial-a-sermon phoneline and delivered “old-school” hard-copy orders of service to those who would like them. It’s been important to include my technologically-challenged brothers and sisters in this way, and I have been pleased to do it. But it is impossible to avoid the fact that these people cannot get the same experience as those who can “surf the web”. The only way to provide a truly common experience for everyone would be to circulate hard copies and not use the internet at all – and this doesn’t seem right either.
So twelve weeks on, I’m running three models of Sunday service, trying my best to cater for different preferences and capabilities. And I note this is not normal. Normally, decisions are made on the basis of what has maximum appeal with the result that minority wishes are often disregarded. Those who don’t have the right equipment or skills are overlooked. Those who don’t share the culture or views of the majority find themselves side-lined. I would suggest there’s rarely malice behind decisions which exclude – simply an impersonal pragmatism that determines winners and losers. But maybe we need to revisit our impersonal pragmatism and consider the people it affects. You see, the people who know about Jumanji are neither better nor worse than those who do not. Their ignorance is just an accident of history. It’s time for those of us in the know to help them. And no excuses… Jesus gave his life for us – why would we be any less generous?
May God, who loves the whole world, help you to love like him.