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Rector's June 2020 Pew Letter
Dear Church Member
It has been nearly 4 months since my last pew letter and little did I know back then what was about to unfold. I don’t really know where to start but I feel that as the light at the end of this tunnel grows brighter with each easing of the lockdown, I really should do better at communicating with you all.
It has been sad (to me at any rate) that at the one moment when the church should have been seen to be ‘stepping-up’ the CofE locked all of its buildings and shown itself to be far more concerned with Health & Safety than with the spiritual care of souls. The good news is that the timidity of our hierarchy has been in stark contrast to how the ‘troops on the ground’ have behaved. You – the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27) – have risen to the challenge. The building was closed but we’ve never been busier.
As Rick Warren put it recently: “Our buildings have been closed, but the church is not a building! We are a living, breathing body. The church is a family, not a fortress! We are a people, not a place! We’re an army of servants, not an event of attenders. You’ve been taught many times that a crowd is not a church, and that church is so much more than a weekend service. The church operates 168 hours a week!”
Our online services have been watched by many more people than would have attended in person and have literally had a global reach. Away from Sundays you have given sacrificially and played a vital part in meeting the needs in the community. The demands on our foodbank have multiplied a hundredfold and still the people donating and serving and delivering have kept on at it. We have (I believe) been successful in calling around everyone to make sure people are OK and that their needs are being met. Many of you are I know quietly continuing to shop for the housebound. This is as Jesus would have us do: loving our neighbours. There have been too many acts of kindness to mention and I am very proud of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Reflecting on our banishment from our building has caused me to think about how important meeting as the ‘body of Christ’ is. When I used to give the Alpha course talks I always used to encourage people to continue meeting by using the image of a burning lump of coal: when it falls out of the fire onto the hearth it goes out very quickly. Meeting online has had advantages but it is no substitute to seeing someone in the flesh – making eye contact.
Closing the building has perhaps been akin to putting us into exile. Just as the Jews were exiled to Babylon so we have been sent away from a precious place where we are used to worshipping as a family. The Jews were being punished; are we? I don’t know but we’ve certainly been shaken up! The Jews were told to make the most of their exile by marrying and working for the good of the nation that enslaved them and whilst they wept for Jerusalem (Ps 137) they made the most of it looking forward to the day of return.
So how should we respond?
We have certainly made the most of our exile. We have learnt new skills (livestreaming and Zoom amongst others) and the staff team has worked incredibly hard to keep the provision of high-quality services going. Most of us have had to learn new skills – for me running a sort of home recording studio – and others have had to master home-schooling. There have been many plusses (for me having my oldest daughter return to live at home) but also many real trials, especially the isolation for those shielding and unable to hold a beloved grandchild in their arms.
Five members of the staff team have been furloughed which has been tough but representative of what is going on in the world. The constant moving of the goalposts and resultant lack of a routine was exciting for the first couple of weeks as we ran on adrenaline but has then become immensely draining. I cannot remember a time where I’ve had to work so intensively and days off have been rare. But we’re alive and kicking and really our fatigue & problems pale into insignificance alongside those of our front-line carers.
We’ve had to let go of how we’ve done church in the last decade as we join in saying “Lord not my will but yours”. We have had to surrender our wills – to lay them down and go with the flow. It has been as if we have been emptied and so hopefully we can be refilled and something can be birthed in us afresh.
What next for the wider church?
I wonder what the narrative is: churches closing or will more come drawn in by a better mix of digital and physical services? Some dioceses are talking about making clergy redundant to save money in the face of a 40% drop in income. Oxford Diocese is fairly wealthy so we should be OK but Chelmsford Diocese is talking about cutting clergy by 25%. What is for sure is that God is reshaping our church and we need to be prayerfully attentive to what our response is and seeing what God is birthing in us.
My main thoughts on these are as follows:
What next for our church?
Our calling and identity in God does not change with circumstances.
Pastoral care has been at the heart of all the missionary enterprises and movements in the world. We need to keep that central by loving our neighbours.
Evangelism and pastoral care must go hand in hand.
We should consider that the main focus of a Sunday is a ‘shop window into faith’, and that we must find a different space for deeper discipleship during the week in our connect groups and other discipleship endeavours. We must grow deeper roots.
We’ve had to let go of how we’ve done church in the last decade. What do we take with us as we enter a new season and what should we leave behind?
As we await being able to sing in our meetings we must remember that one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience (Galatians 5:22).
The exile is almost over. We can go and pray inside church and by the time you read this I suspect 2m will have become 1m and by mid-July we’ll be allowed to hold services once again. Sadly I suspect that we’ll not be allowed to sing inside and we’ll probably have to wear face masks so I wonder whether people will prefer to stay watching online or come in for a ‘said’ service. Do we try an outside service? So we sent out a questionnaire …
Thank you for an amazing response to the questionnaire which will help us decide what to do. The 10am was split 50/50 between wanting to return to a said service against remaining watching online. The 5pm was happy to meet outside and to sing (assuming that is allowed) but 40% said they’d still watch from home. I didn’t ask the 10am if they’d like to meet outside but having chatted this through on Sunday’s zoom ‘tea and chat’ I can see it is an option.
So what I think we’ll aim to do is this:
I will expect to run live services back in church from mid-July for both midweek and Sunday 10am services. These will be said services but there will be some musical provision at the Sunday 10am. If the weather is set fair I will try an outdoor 10am with singing. Assuming we’re allowed to sing outside, we will hold the 5pm outdoors (weather permitting). All services will continue to be livestreamed so those who cannot come in to church or are shielding are not excluded. There will be an email every Saturday night publicizing the plan for the Sunday. We’ll have a cascade system for telephoning those who do not have email but who would appreciate knowing what the plans are. We’ll give it a go and see what your feedback is.
Kids & Youth.
The major challenge is with our kids (and to a lesser extent youth) work. I cannot see a way to run our usual kids groups even at a 1m social distance. To this end we expect our 5pm outdoor services will be short and family -friendly but dedicated kids & youth provision will remain online. The youth groups will transition to meeting outside for as long as the weather holds.
The whole issue of our service timings would have been something that we’d have had to have made a decision about had it not been for lockdown. I still need to pray for the wisdom of Solomon to know what pattern would suit us all best. For now we will continue with the ‘Summer Sundays’ pattern but at some stage we will need to embark on a revised pattern and that will be a challenge after we’ve all settled into the 10am ‘traditional’ and 5pm ‘contemporary’ routine.
Kate is Starting!
Our new curate Kate Pellereau starts on Saturday the 4th July which is very exciting. It will be a weird start to a curacy (to say the least) so do please pray for Kate as she navigates the church in lockdown and tries to get to know you all.
We have been making some progress on various issues and here is an update:
Production Livestream Assistance.
Side Chapel. The original stained glass window that was moved to the kitchen when the altar was installed is being reinstated. this will make a massive difference and create a stunning end to the South aisle as Gilbert Scott originally intended. A church in London is going to re-home the altar and the existing wooden panelling remodelled around the new space.
Clock. Our ancient clock is in Cumbria has now been restored and will I hope be reinstalled in July. Apart from having had a thorough refurbishment and being accurate, the clock chimes will be reactivated which I hope the wider community will really appreciate.
Subsidence. Investigations are being carried out at the NW end of church so see why the buttress appears to be moving away from the building. We need to pray that this is part of a previous problem (so just more ‘settling’) and not anything more sinister.
One aspect of lockdown church that we will definitely be taking with us into the future is the full livestreaming of all our services. We have the technology but we lack a large enough team to enable this. We need more help so if you can help do please let Ali Burt know (firstname.lastname@example.org
). We really need to beef up the production team if we are going to be able to livestream the traditional and midweek services.
with every blessing for the summer