When I originally started to write this letter, there was a great deal of fear and uncertainty around, due to the alarming spread of the Corona Virus and questions were already being asked about how far church life and worship could continue as normal and would we be able to celebrate Easter?
Now, having been given the option to edit my letter a week later, the level of fear is even higher and some of the uncertainty has now been replaced by certainty: we shall certainly not be celebrating Easter in our church building together. Our whole country is going into “lockdown” very fast. The uncertainty now lies in wondering who will fall victim to the virus, how fast it will spread, whether it can be contained or even defeated and how long it will go on for. Our lives and our very outlook on life have changed dramatically in the short space of a few weeks.
We are frequently reminded to look for the good that can come out of even the most difficult of circumstances and, as I now write this barely one week into the church lockdown, I have to pay tribute to our Church Secretaries, Elders and Youth Pastor- all of whom have worked tirelessly to ensure that every possible person who is linked in some way to our church congregation receives regular communication; who are still working to find as many ways of possible of keeping church life and witness going even when we are all at a distance from each other. I am also deeply thankful for our new website and for the technical expertise we have in Paul Gill and Steve Bebbington which has enabled Charlie and myself to record our first “online service.” (And let me assure you that those brief 16 minutes of worship time represent many hours of work on the part of our technicians.) Hopefully, as the weeks go by, we shall all become more confident with the system and a little more ambitious in what we present to you.
It is not for me to try to minimise the risks and the widespread disruption brought about by the spread of the Corona virus. All I can do is to remind you that St John’s Church does not consist of a set of buildings but of a community of people. And what holds us together is not only the regular gatherings for work and worship but our common faith in Jesus Christ.
As people of Jesus Christ, even if we are unable to meet together for a while:
We can still pray. We can hold each other in prayer; we can hold the life of our church in prayer; we can hold our nation and our world in prayer.
We can still worship God. As I have said, some form of regular church service from St John’s will be available online, plus you can look up and see what other churches are doing. You could probably spend most of every day in “virtual” worship if you wished!
We can still keep in touch with one another. Our wonderful new web-site will give you hours of browsing. Our facebook page is also a good opportunity to keep in touch. We can talk on the phone and it is amazing what a few minutes of lively chat can do to cheer up someone who is confined to the house.
We can still grow our faith. Professional preachers and ministers do not know everything! We can learn a lot about God and about life from our own Bible reading; from books and on-line material; from “secular” books and television that help us to think and inspire us to creative action. Why not start keeping a journal?
We can still be effective witnesses to the Gospel of Christ. Demonstrating kindness and good cheer; offering small ways of help; making an effort to reach those who might otherwise be forgotten are all part of “walking the way of Jesus.”
We can still plan hopefully. Our Church Meeting on 8th March has been described by more than one person as “one of the most positive and encouraging church meetings I have ever attended.” The combination of Charlie’s exciting and challenging ideas for his work with children, young people and their families and the enthusiastic reception of the proposed new plans for our worship programme left us all excited and enthusiastic. REMEMBER THAT NONE OF THIS WILL GO AWAY. Even if some things have to be temporarily suspended, the faith, love, courage and conviction of our church members will remain. And the guiding, inspiring leadership of Jesus Christ our Lord will lead us on.
So I do wish you a Happy Easter, in which we hold to the promise of new life and a walking the way into God’s future.
With my love and good wishes to you all,
May God hold you and keep you safe