Letter to the Benefice

A letter in light of the changing circumstances of the covid-19 lockdown 11.05.2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I give thanks for you each day in my prayers. Thanks, that you know the love of Christ and that so many of you, in so many ways are sharing that love, bringing hope where there was none, bringing light into the darkness. I have heard amazing stories of people looking out for each other and how our communities have grown closer when one might be forgiven for assuming the opposite would happen. Each week, phoning or emailing, or messaging, or Zooming I continue to find our little part of the body of Christ going above and beyond in care for those around us, living as Easter people.

The fear the church has disappeared from the national scene could not be farther from the truth. Right now, nationally and in our benefice, the church is meeting at breakfast bars, living rooms, dining rooms, gardens, parks, stables and farms. Our digital life has brought people into worship who had left many years ago as well as connecting our churches through new relationships. I have spoken with some who have come to faith during this time as a result of our digital engagement. Jesus has left the tomb, Jesus has gone before us and we are growing as a result of following Him. Our Sunday service is now reaching toward 75 people with new people signing up each week. This number continues to grow in reach as the video is shared across Facebook, adding as many as another 100 people to those who have engaged with our worship and proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. This together with our evening prayer twice a week, our @7pm service and weekly audio reflection and prayer, weekly email threads of ‘News, Reflection and Fun,’ have not only increased our visibility but helped us to live more faithfully in our discipleship. The Good News of Christ is being proclaimed in a fresh way and is reaching further than if it had only been said behind the walls of our church buildings. There is a great deal to be thankful for in these strange days, most notably the raised profile of the church and her message of hope and love rooted in the person of Jesus.

It had been on my mind that our Prime Minister was to speak on Sunday (10.05.2020) and that this could bring changes to our current situation. Alongside this, our national church has now moved into a new phase of operation, giving greater responsibility to each diocese to act according to its context. Given this, I wanted to write to you about where we are up to as a benefice considering changes made on the national platform. At the risk of getting into a political minefield, all that can be said of the government’s information at this time is, there is little change. We are still encouraged to stay home and avoid unnecessary trips and not gather. This advice is to protect each other and to enable our NHS to do its best in tackling the virus which has brought the world to a halt. It is fair to say our emergency services, including our NHS, have done fantastic work under incredibly difficult conditions. They continue to work on the front line for our sake, keeping us alive and healthy while they are being stretched, tired, and under incredible pressure. They are a wonder and jewel in our country, saving many lives through their caring, compassionate, and important work. It is very humbling to see and should be a cause of thanksgiving in our daily prayers.

As a diocese, we have had some small changes to our policy regarding buildings. The most notable of these is the priest may pray in the church building or stream a service from there. Currently, there are no plans in our benefice for a change in our current practice. God is quite capable of hearing and answering my prayers and your prayers from wherever they may be said. Also, it is not possible to stream the service from any of our churches at this time. It has been noted that many people have found it more helpful and inclusive for their priest to be as they are, coming ‘live’ from their home; not exercising special privileges. I believe at a time of national crisis and perhaps more importantly as a church both local and national, I should be alongside my church family enduring the same sacrifice and hurt for the common good of those around us. I understand this is not where everyone will land on this subject and in a church as broad as the Church of England this is to be expected. I would also suggest celebrated!

I appreciate and share the hurt that some of you will feel around the prohibition on the use of our buildings, but we know we will return to them. We know that our buildings are in good condition and will still be there when the lockdown is lifted. We will, in due course, have a grand celebration, but, for now, the more pressing matter is staying safe and keeping others safe. As our government has asked the national church (and all heads of faith in our country), as the police have asked, as our bishops have asked, so I ask you – please do not enter the church buildings. You may think you are safe, you might be safe, but you cannot guarantee it, and so you put yourself at risk, and as a consequence, you risk the lives of others. It may not be through your actions but the reckless behaviour of others that puts you in harm’s way. Second to avoiding contracting and spreading the virus is the responsibility of being the national church in our local community. We are required to hold the line regarding the use of our buildings in a representative role. When one is seen entering the building, others soon start to question and then go against the advice and wishes of others. I am sure each of you can recall an occasion from the recent news where people have gathered, and soon that area has been full of people disregarding social distancing. This behaviour risks lives, undermines the tremendous work of our NHS, and the sacrifices already made by so many. Equally, it puts police officers’ lives at risk as they are then required to break up the gatherings. The line has been hard, to give no wiggle room which could be exploited, and cause upset and harm. We must always remember the words of Jesus and consider our neighbour and the love we have for them.

As we look ahead to the curve reducing and in time restrictions being lifted, we do so with hope as one family together in Jesus. We look forward to a time when we will raise our voices in song and praise when we can gather around Jesus’ table and share in the Lord’s supper again. We do so knowing this is not where we are now, knowing our privileges have been cut back, knowing the hurt, pain and sacrifice which has come, but trusting in a God who turns all things to his good purposes.

In these strange and uncertain days there is hope, there is growth and positive movement in the church. We have good stories to share and good acts to perform. I pray that we will continue to learn and grow from this experience as we continue to share the good news both in word and deed. I pray that we will hold up each other as we journey through this as a community knowing we have Jesus as our cornerstone.

Please stay safe, stay well and know that even this pandemic shall come to pass, and nothing can remove us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

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Rev. Jason Powell