Dear Friends …
May I say what a pleasure it has been to return, at long last, to worship in Church. Although we have not yet achieved normality (whatever that might be!), yet for the time being we are allowed something rather more akin to it. When we first re-opened St. John’s for private prayer, I was caught out by how emotional I felt standing at the south door, key in hand, ready to welcome back both the congregation and the general public to a church that had been shuttered for some 3 or 4 months. I know that many of you who are now attending have felt the same way. Sunday worship, to be sure, is not something that many of us take so easily for granted anymore; that might not actually be such a bad thing.
We are, however, also learning that our online presence continues to have significance. It’s worth remembering, even as we rejoice at being together once again, that some of our congregation still are shielding, whether by necessity or by choice. Others choose to join us from afar — even from abroad. There continues to be uptake for our YouTube channel. And so we continue to make our worship available to them. I hope that, moving forward, we all can keep conscious that our brothers and sisters of the parish include more than simply those who turn up on a Sunday or a Wednesday morning. In fact, this was always the case; it’s just more noticeable now. We all have a duty of care, and it will be worth giving them the space to feel that they are worshipping amongst us in some meaningful way.
Given the fragile state of things generally, and the forthcoming winter, it would probably be premature to say we’re headed out the other side now. But there is room to pause and thank you, as a congregation, not only for remaining faithful to Church in a very new and different form during the lockdown, but for participating and engaging, each in your own way — and working in new and different ways now that many of us are together again. Sally and I have been grateful, for example, for so many people who wrote or texted with comments, questions, and words of encouragement about the services online. Those kept us going rather more than you may realise. I have been amazed at the work done by John Granger, David Neale, and the choir and choir families, to provide us with music — not only online, but for in-person worship where singing is still off limits. (With everyone recording a part separately, to be pieced together, this is no small undertaking, I can assure you.) Phyl has kept us well-informed across the board, and the parish magazine has, for many, been a lifeline. Likewise, I have been thankful for wardens and other church leaders who have joined in with working the phones and keeping us in touch with the state of things amongst members of the congregation. (It’s not actually a job that priests can easily do alone.) Finally, of course, I am grateful for those who’ve helped us arrange the risk assessments and organise the physical spacing of the church building, and all who have taken on new roles to ensure we adhere to the various regulations that now apply.
The short version of that long paragraph is simply this: to get Church working again requires a genuinely collaborative effort amongst the clergy, the church leaders, and the general congregation, and that has been a pleasure to witness in adverse circumstances. Thank you all.
Whilst, of course, no one wishes a pandemic upon any individual or population, yet I hope that this experience has changed us all in some significant and permanent ways. We now know, for example, how deeply can run our gratitude for one another and for attending Church at all. We are now more aware than ever of the needs and the fragility of our neighbours — a point that scripture makes time and time again (but which, honestly, we don’t always believe so easily). We have an opportunity to recognise that our brothers and sisters are not just those who live near by or look and talk like us; but, rather, those who need our grace rather than our suspicion; those who tune in tentatively, perhaps only online, and need a message of hope. Crises will always happen eventually; 2000 years of Church history shows that. It’s how we deal with them that defines our character and our faith. If we emerge from this crisis more gracious, more sensitive, more willing to listen, more willing to be involved — if we allow the experience of struggling to change us in our bearings towards all of God’s children — then that will be a measure that we have followed the Lord who suffered for us. Let us pray that this will come to pass.