Dearest St Thomas à Becket and St Matt’s family.
As I’m sure you have all now heard, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have taken the unprecedented decision to suspend all public worship in our churches. This difficult decision underlines the seriousness of the global challenge we all face and for many people it is a fearful and uncertain time. Many of the things we take for granted and perhaps hold fast to are indeed being shaken and so not gathering for worship, prayer and fellowship will be very hard.
However, today I am writing to you all to reassure you of both the goodness of God and remind you of the power of prayer and hope. In the words of our Archbishops yesterday;
“Being a part of the Church of England is going to look very different in the days ahead. Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day”.
Health officials rightly continue to offer common sense steps to contain, reduce, and prevent new infections of the coronavirus. We must take heed of their good advice. But in these days and weeks, it is also important to consider our spiritual response to this pandemic and how our hope in Christ can remain firm, as a solid foundation, as we walk through this dark valley with all its swirling storms.
Isaiah 40: 28–31 promises us, “God never grows tired or weary… He strengthens those who are weak and tired… Those who trust in the Lord for help, will find their strength renewed.“
We have a God who is not only for us, but truly with us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. God is the Father of all compassion and mercy. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, He is the One who comes alongside us to bring us the peace of God which passes all understanding, to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I have been thinking a lot about Psalm 23 over these days, and recognise that though globally we are perhaps passing through the valley of the shadow of death – may we, who quickly look to God, truly learn to fear no evil, for He is with us, His rod and His staff comfort us.
My prayer for you, is that over these days and weeks you may increasingly know the comfort, encouragement and saving presence of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, alongside you.
In practical matters, although all worship services are ceasing – myself, Jenny or other clergy alone will try, where possible, to be present at service times in St Thomas à Becket for a time of prayer for the church family, parish and nation. We will ring the bell at the beginning of this time to remind people of not only our presence, but the faithfulness and presence of God. You may wish to pray along with us at these times and it is hoped that some materials will soon be distributed by us online, through email – and where necessary through doors to facilitate parish participation. It is also possible that we may be able to occasionally open the church (which has been encouraged by the Archbishops) to allow silent individual prayer and reflection through this period – more details and times may follow.
One plan that we also have is that I and possibly others on the church team plan to record short video and audio reflections, inspirational Bible readings, prayers and intercessions that will either be uploaded onto our parish website or a dedicated online page for church members to feel connected and encouraged by. Again, more details will be sent out as soon as possible.
As you can imagine I, like many other leaders in our community, are very involved in trying to find ways of supporting those in great need and trying to reassure those who are fearful or isolated. I am very mindful of the families and schools within our parish and the incredible challenges that both staff and governors are facing as we seek to make wise and often very complicated decisions within daily changing circumstances. Please pray for them and us. With these things in mind, we as a church family are trying to find the best way to remain in contact through telephone, Zoom or FaceTime calls to support one another pastorally and practically. Thank you to all of you who have already been such a great comfort and help to others. As you can imagine, church administration is now truly very challenging and will have to be conducted ‘virtually’ through computers or by telephone – please be patient with us! Happily, the true church of Christ is not a building or an institution, but rather a body of faithful, hopeful and loving servants, bringing blessing, inspiration, help and hope to others.
Finally, I want to close with these last words from our Archbishops which include an invitation to prayer and a physical sign of the light and hope that we all share:
“We have called, along with our fellow church leaders, for a day of prayer and action this coming Sunday – Mothering Sunday (22nd March). Mothering Sunday has always been both a day of celebration for many and a sensitive and emotional day for some. Wherever you are this Sunday please do join in this day of prayer and action and remember especially those who are sick or anxious, and all involved in our Health Service. As one action, we are calling on everyone to place a lighted candle in their window at 7.00 p.m. as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished.
This is a defining moment for the Church of England. Are we truly a church for all, or just the church for ourselves? We urge you sisters and brothers to become a different sort of church in these coming months: hopeful and rooted in the offering of prayer and praise and overflowing in service to the world.
Please, therefore, join us in this great challenge; and pray for our Government and nation, for each other, and especially for those who work in our health and emergency services.”
Be assured of our prayers – we are here for you and with you, so please stay in contact. Phone, email or text me and we will do all we can to stand together in Christ for one-another and for our community.
Much love and prayers,
Tim, Sarah, The Wardens and church teams.