Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Dear Church Family,
One of the apostle Paul’s most frequent openings in writing to the churches is ‘grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’; these words seem particularly appropriate in days where we find ourselves living in challenging times of lockdown and potentially anxious about what the future might hold so, dear church family, may grace and peace be yours in abundance!
We are half-way through the year already and usually, at this time of year, the talk is of holiday plans for the summer or actual holidays for those of you not confined to a school timetable; I guess more than anything this last period has taught us to live in, and be grateful for, the present; it has shown what we do and don’t need in order to live well, it has re-ordered our priorities and reminded us of what we previously maybe took for granted. In the midst of change and uncertainty and a sense of real powerlessness and control over our own lives as Chris shared so honestly last Sunday, we are reminded from our studies in Esther that God is sovereign and ‘even when we don’t see Him, He’s working’. I suspect that singing that worship song together in future is going to have a very different meaning!
Julie and I are continuing with our thankfulness jar and, as the coloured slips of paper mount up in our bowl, we are thankful for the numerous times we have seen God at work in these last weeks, for that spirit of enquiry and openness of heart and mind, those frequent opportunities to talk and connect, albeit on line, with strangers asking questions about faith. The stories of prodigals coming home are beautiful to hear and how we long for the time when we will be together face to face! Never doubt that God is at work! Do pray for our online Alpha course due to start shortly that this may be a safe space for individuals and households to ask questions and know more of God’s love for each of them. If anyone is interested in joining in regardless of how long you have been a Christian do please contact me in the next fortnight or so to express an interest.
I am also thankful for those who have volunteered doing acts of kindness for those in the community as well as the church family; those of you who have done endless shopping and made telephone calls keeping in touch with the lonely, the isolated and housebound; those who have collected and delivered foodstuffs, knitted hearts for ICU patients, given supermarket vouchers; faithfully prayed and cared and looked out for your neighbour, you have truly been the arms and feet of Jesus in these days and I do believe that the community sits and watches and wonders at this love of God in action. Our Community Compassion fund, which was set up late last year, has truly proved to be God's kindly provision for many in our community and we had no idea when it was conceived, that the need would be so great. Your generosity and that of our communities in contributing to this fund has been truly humbling and is a testament to the timing and provision of God .
I’m also thankful to those of you who have taken part in the services on Sundays, praying, reading, playing, singing, preaching, and telling stories of everyday faith for both adults and children – who will ever forget Kevin Wren doing gardening jobs to the tune of ‘Hi Ho. Hi Ho’, Harry's exceedingly witty and engaging content, or our very own Monty Don aka Andy B? We have discovered gifts and talents that maybe we did not know that we have and, as Chris W reminded us recently one trumpet note, or one simple offering of what we have in our hand can be taken and used by God to bless others. May we all grow in courage in these days to speak up honestly when asked to give account! If you'd like to share your 'Everyday faith' moment briefly for Sunday sharing, we'd love to make this possible: do message me about this.
COVID19 has given us many opportunities to press forward with Gods work here in the parish – the reach of our online Sunday services is truly significant as our numbers consistently show in excess of 1100 regularly watching and engaging for the whole Sunday online offering. The daily mid-day walk through Ephesians has also been well received; how good is it to get small bite size chunks of scripture into peoples homes and lives on a daily basis! I have just started a next series in John’s gospel after many enquiries as to the nine day pause. Do please join me so that we can discover Jesus afresh together. For those of you who walk past the church in College Road you will have seen that builders are in the church building and are doing the work to re-order the stage area and build the new entrance and smaller spaces which will be available for community use. This minor re-ordering has been able to happen, in the circumstances, without the disruption to church life that we might previously have experienced. All will be completed by the time we are allowed to safely gather together again.
Whilst there is much to be thankful for, difficult decisions have had to be made including placing Grace, our cleaner, and Emma-Jane our Children and Youth Ministry Leader on furlough. Another sadness has been not being able to mark the deaths and celebrate the lives of Bob Whyte, John King and Ron Castle; we will have a thanksgiving for each of these men up ahead and, in the meantime, remember their friends and family in our prayers. There are financial challenges as we have lost the revenue from the hire of our premises and the weekly giving via the collection on Sunday; for those of you who have continued to give we are grateful for your generosity and faithfulness to God's work here. We recognise that situations are changing in relation to work and health for some and we pray for you and ask that you pray for us and the PCC that we might have wisdom to use what we have wisely.
Looking ahead I have been asked the question as to when we might meet as gathered church? We do appreciate the longing that many of us have to be together again because church is relational, it is family; however, as we have had to be with our own kith and kin, we need to be patient for longer. Present restrictions would mean that at St Peter's we'd only be able to welcome 17 persons at a time, or at St Paul's only 10 persons. As detailed in the buildings blog we are bound by government, national church and diocesan guidelines to ensure that when we are given permission, we are able to open the church building safely and that social distancing at church does not cause more difficulty particularly for those who are on their own. This will be consistently updated as this situation unfolds.
What we do know looking ahead is that we will always offer an online service in future; we are studying the book of Esther for the month of June, exploring her calling and courage, asking the Holy Spirit to apply this to our lives and their influence. We'll then do a six-part thematic exploration of 'Defiant Joy' and then possibly unpack the Psalms of Ascent which will take us through to the end of September. We also know that Adam would love to remain on team with us and the PCC are looking at how that might happen and my son Noah will be coming as a Pastoral Apprentice for the next year with the priority of media and comms from 1st July. Our nest at The Vicarage will be even fuller, as we're glad to have Julie’s son Jamie and his fiancee Kelsey also with us for the next eight months!
The months ahead are likely to be uncertain and unfamiliar as we get used to the 'new normal' both as a church and a community, but the foundations of our life with Jesus will hold us firm. So many of our older folk have compared this with their experience of the war when communities found strength in supporting each other. Should you know of a need or a difficulty within our parish where we can be of help, please let me know or contact Sue at email@example.com. Despite not being able to offer a cuppa and chat at the Vicarage, the virtual doors are always open. The offer of a phone call, video call or distance stand and talk is assured! May beautiful grace and unstealable peace be yours...