“‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:34-35)
We had a family holiday this month in Aultgowrie, a few miles out of Muir of Ord. As my daughter is an Archaeologist, we spent some time following the trail of standing stones and circles across the area. One is in the graveyard of Edderton Kirk where there is a Pictish carved stone. After viewing the stone, our eyes were drawn to a curious structure beside the Kirk: a 19th century ‘Preaching Ark.’
We had never seen or heard of such a thing before. It’s a wheeled wooden hut with hood and with shutters that could be opened on every side. It could be disassembled and flat-packed on a cart for ease of transport. It included benches (for the beadle and elders) and a table (to hold and serve communion from). They were used as a way to take communion to, and to hold services for, those rural communities of the area that did not have their own church buildings. The minister conducted open-air services from the ark for seasonal workers, rural labourers and remote communities.
In the Great Disruption of 1843, when 450 evangelical ministers broke away from the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church of Scotland, and lost their manses and access to their pulpits, such arks really came into their own. Entire ministries, whole congregations, entire fellowships, new initiatives, were maintained and begun and indeed strengthened by using these arks. Denied buildings, the Free Church moved out – literally – into fields ripe for harvest. The arks were a creative, imaginative, entrepreneurial, easily replicated and multiplied solution that caught a moment and saw the Kingdom of God flourish.
I couldn’t help but reflect on some of the parallels in recent months. While the pandemic, with its initial closure of church buildings and disruption of services, had a huge impact, it also forced us into finding creative solutions. Has Zoom become our ‘preaching ark’?! We have found fields ripe for harvest and have reached new audiences beyond our four walls. There are many of us longing for a return to ‘normal’, to the familiar forms and routines of what we had before. But perhaps we also need to embrace those new opportunities that have opened up in the digital field.