Isaiah 56: 7b … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Slowly, our churches are opening up again: some for private prayer, others also for
spoken worship but with careful distancing and new rules. These moves are in
addition to continuing services on Zoom and Youtube, offering a rich choice of styles
and settings. However you are worshipping at present, Isaiah’s words are an inspiring
prophetic vision – and a challenging one.
‘For all peoples’? The invitation comes from God; it is not ‘us’ inviting ‘them’ into a
holy group. His doors are open wide and the parable of the sheep and goats suggests
that we may be surprised at who goes into his house of prayer. Have you caught a
glimpse of this, perhaps as part of a congregation encompassing a variety of ages,
nationalities and denominations? I have found it heartening that online worship is
attracting more people and from many places and backgrounds. Zoom offers access
by digital means or telephone with no pressures and you choose how much you
participate. The technology ensures a degree of informality and you can see the
names of participants instead of trying to remember them! Although not the same as
the direct fellowship that we miss, such open equal access (albeit still limited) is
Yet we live in a society which does not give equal open access to all. Although it is
hard to admit it, ‘white, male, heterosexual’ is still regarded by most people in the
UK as the norm or even the best; we have unconscious bias. To face up to this AND
act upon it is not easy. Even in the churches, we produce reports and make rules but
the actual patterns of behaviour and networking do not alter much. I was heartened
to see that of the 15 Methodist ordinands this year, 8 are women and three are
Malay, Nigerian and Chinese.
Lockdown changed our view of society and perhaps of God: some found God in
nature, others saw the Holy Spirit at work in the kindness of neighbours, the
dedication of carers and the cheerfulness of those delivering essential services. Many
of these people did not fit that ‘norm’ and I pray that having acknowledged their
selflessness, we will continue to value them.
As Christians we are called to act justly and ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’. We are
good at helping others: foodbanks, support for asylum seekers, apps to detect
exploitation. It is much harder to truly accept everyone as our equal but with
differing abilities and views. We do well to remember that God chose to come to us
as a Palestinian Jew, a refugee who worked with his hands and died a shameful