Update: Dispersed Church
The Church of England has just announced a new instruction to congregations, in response to the Government's updated advice. They are asking us to continue as Church in a new way for a while, without meeting together. That means a pause on gathering for Sunday and Wednesday services, but I have details below of our plans to continue worshipping together in a new way for a while. It also means a pause of midweek groups, but please don't let it be a pause on loving and praying for one another and our neighbours.
This is a big move, and although I'm not privy to those conversations, I am sure it will feel like the biggest decision they have ever made. Every blade of grass in this country belongs to a parish in which every Sunday the Bible is read, prayers are made, communion is shared and God's people gather. We simply do not know yet whether this is under-reaction, over-reaction or about right. But I for one am grateful, particularly on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society, if it turns out we have gone down the route of cautious compassion. I believe that is faithful to Jesus' call to love one another.
There will no doubt be some who may lose faith over this; let us not be among them. We can still trust that God is in control, we still trust that Jesus has conquered evil, sin and death and that we will know that for ever in his new creation. It is not unfaithful to make wise decisions for a time, in the same way it is not unfaithful to ignore good advice and drive with our eyes closed. Faithfulness is believing that God can, is, and will be at work through his people, even in unusual circumstances. Perhaps, especially in unusual circumstances as comforts are currently shaken!
For now we will need to adjust but we do not need to fear. As Jesus was about to go to the cross, he said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
So, here are some faithful and practical steps I encourage us each to take as a Church:
We believe in a Sovereign God who can 'work all things for the good of those who love him.' (Romans 8:28) Let us pray for ourselves, our communities, our nation and our world. Pray that there would be protection from the virus, and good recoveries. Pray that people would not give in to fear and panic. Perhaps pray above all, as we would anyway, that people would come to see that there is a God in whom they can put their trust. May the good that is brought out of this be many more who find new life through the good news of the risen Jesus! We are being encouraged to join a Day of Prayer on Sunday, including (safely!) lighting a candle at 7pm in a window to speak of the light of the world.
Please look after yourself as you also look out for others. Some people will feel isolated, and no doubt scared. It is a time of unknowns but we are able to bring our hope in the God who is known to us in Jesus. So please listen to the advice and act with love and wisdom. If you need any assistance, please let me know and if you can offer any, please also let me know - thank you to those who have already.
3. Keep the faith.
We have made a central page on the website with links to watch a weekly Sunday service that we hope to send out live, as well as downloads and online resources to encourage us to keep praying, keep reading our Bibles, perhaps even using this unusual time as an opportunity to draw closer to God. I'm calling it 'Dispersed Church' as a reminder that the Church is not the building we meet in, but the people God calls and sends with the love and truth of Jesus. In addition, we will have hard copies available and will distribute them to those we know are not online, and can do so for you too if you would like - just let me know.
Here is the link:
When the early Church in Jerusalem was scattered and dispersed, the Lord used it in a powerful way to take the gospel out. Let's pray that the same would be true in our generation. I will finish with the words of Psalm 46:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.