Rector’s Letter-Pentecost 2020

I felt it important to write as your Rector as we journey together during Covid-19 and as we get towards the end of May. We are about to celebrate the festival of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Church. The disciples were “all together” when the outpouring of the Spirit rested on them. They were changed people. They were united. They were empowered in proclaiming the good news of Jesus. The Spirit had been promised but they had to wait to experience him as Jesus was no longer with them. A new era. A new beginning. A journey into the unknown. They had to lean and depend on the Holy Spirit. They did not know what lay ahead but they had received promises from Jesus of this power. As we journey in these days, we are not alone. We value the fellowship built over years but must depend afresh on the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, dwell within us, guide us and allow us to be used by Him. He is “good news”.

It is still hard to comprehend that we have had 10 Sundays without you the people of Christ Church being present as well as our halls closed without the normal activities. I do miss the rhythm of worship and witness especially the interaction with parishioners and what we share together in the witness of Christ. I feel deeply for all who have lost a loved one, whose plans to go to Uganda won’t go ahead, whose wedding has been cancelled and who have not been able to have a baptism.

We have begun to see the first steps in our society of getting into a new routine but with many challenges. We have just opened the church for private prayer on Thursday 28th May. This is a first step. As yet we do not know when we will be able to open for public worship. However, when we open we must have your support to practise social distancing and all aspects to do with hygiene. I’m conscious some will not come initially because of shielding. We will take each step with prayerful consideration but as to when we can gather as we did like in early March, this will be some time away. When we open we may have to be limited in numbers and hence we would still have a pre-recorded service as well. Gathering together will be different initially.

We have had to learn to adapt to staying at home, social distancing of 2 metres and queuing to get into a shop to name but a few. However, many have been working on the frontline in the NHS, care homes or community, in the emergency services, from home, or homeschooling or shielding at home. I have chatted to some people who are busier than ever. Others have been put on furlough and maybe some have lost their job. Some are unsure as to job security. Those who are retired have experienced many different scenarios to adapt and cope with Covid-19. The tradegy is that we have seen over 600 people dying in our country with over 4500 being diagnosed as having Covid-19 and recovering. As a parish, I have conducted 14 funerals in this period and we have sought to support these families, with some losing a loved one because of Covid-19. I am grateful for the amazing courage, faith and adaptation by families to having a funeral at the graveside. Some families have found great comfort in having only close family present. We have had settled weather during this period and this has allowed these services to proceed in sunshine. We will explore ways in the autumn, if allowed, to allow families bereaved to gather for a bereavement service to remember their loved one.[1] We must continue to be people of prayer, reflecting our thanksgivings and petitions on behalf of those who suffer as well as those who govern over us at this time, to have that godly wisdom for the good of us all.

As I reflect on these challenging times, our faith continues to be lived out in the here and now as it has always meant to be. This has come into sharp focus as we deal with Covid-19 and where we cannot meet together. This period has been through Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension and now Pentecost. These seasons in the church year have brought great solace, reassurance, comfort and hope.

For me as your Rector, it has been deeply challenging on so many levels and yet we have seen God’s hand upon all we have adapted to. We have had to adapt and seek the Lord. There are things that we have “gained” and “lost” as well. We held our first parish Select Vestry meeting on zoom and I encouraged vestry members to reflect on these phrases and I encourage you to take time to reflect on your life as well as that of the parish. I believe it will be important that people will have an opportunity to tell their story and I encourage you to start writing your story in the context of faith. I know I have journaled more these past two months than for a long time and this has helped me to reflect, pray, ponder, question what is going on, keep focus, plan and lead as a disciple and as your rector. I have probably not read as much as I thought I would have but there have been new things I have done or learnt. Some days had a simple routine. Some days were more challenging. I know the good weather has been a blessing. I have valued time with my family. I would never have envisaged at watching myself so often on YouTube on a Sunday morning or on What’s App with daily devotions, having prepared the material and made a few mistakes in recording. All mistakes have been deleted! However, we have been able to speak hope through Holy Week, Easter and now into Pentecost, into so many more homes on a daily basis for these two months. I am grateful for all who have contributed to our church services and devotionals and especially a big tank you to Derek for putting it all together for the social platforms. We have had zoom meetings for staff, coffee mornings, Sunday night teaching, prayer times and a quiz. The addition of people being able to listen to the church service on their landline has been such a blessing and gain. The local number is 028 92 270130.

I’m grateful to Derek and John as we pastor people over the phone. This is so different but phone calls, letters or a text message have kept connections. We always encourage people to lift the phone if they want to chat, be prayed with or share information. It has been encouraging to know that parishioners are supporting each other and that parish groups continue to keep connected.

The Select Vestry value your continued support at this time. They are looking at the way forward through the Finance committee, a Communications committee and a Re-Shaping church committee to reflect, ponder and create a pathway forward for the parish. I would value our parish groups taking time now to ponder what their group might look like in the autumn and that we would have a leaders meeting when we see further guidance on meeting indoors.

Our community connections have been focused on the Foodbank which has been supported by many new community groups but it is a blessing that God’s church in Lisburn had been united in this witness. Other community agencies including the Council now see see the value of it at this crucial time. The success of getting a van for the Foodbank through a fund has been such an answer to prayer. Items can still be left at the Foodbank or the rectory. Some parishioners continue to support the Simon Community. We have also valued the continued connections with Crown Jesus Ministries and especially the clergy meetings to support each other in our city and planned events for women and men.

I have been struck by many verses and passages from Scripture. I have been drawn to the letters of Paul and especially those that were written from prison. He suffered for his faith in Jesus Christ. He was in lockdown, separated from his family and believers in cities and towns he had visited. He longed to be with them but he prayed for them as well as writing to them to continue in the faith, to challenge their witness, where they had sinned, the central truths of the faith and practical examples of living the faith. If you read Philippians, you see Paul’s faith shining through and he sees that his imprisonment has advanced the Gospel (Phil 1:12). On Sunday 15th March when we were moving to lockdown, our speaker was cancelled at 8.30 am that morning and I had a sermon to prepare. I was drawn to Psalm 91 and Jesus’ summary of the law to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). How timely to keep those readings to the fore of our lives at this time.

As we look ahead, our worship will continue to be pre-recorded for Sunday. We will have the church open for private prayer on a Tuesday morning and Thursday evening. We might be able to meet in small groups but outside as part of the next step. Groups could be creative in this matter. We will have daily devotions on Facebook and What’s App with a few guests from the wider church sharing in the week beginning Monday 8th June. During July, we may cut back on some of the video clips for each day but daily readings will be available. We are planning for the Kids Club in August but it will be online at this moment. The team not going to Uganda are walking each day and we are already half way there as we support the children of St Apollo and Uganda. Derek and I have been chatting with local schools and church leaders about a programme called “Transforming Lives for Good” to train coaches to commit to work with a child in a local school. Training would be provided and resources supplied. We would ask parishioners to reflect on this opportunity to partner with local schools and bring hope. Talk to Derek or I about this programme. Further details in late summer.

Continue to use the daily readings to reflect and be fed from Scripture. Use the daily prayer guide to keep a rhythm of prayer. Many have realised that each day can be the “same” but we must trust for God’s provision each day, to watch over us and enable our hearts and minds to be settled in Christ. Reading scripture brings a focus to our lives.

In my video clips, I have used the following 4 phrases which I find helpful in bringing a sense of reality in these difficult days, as we experience God’s blessing in the midst of these challenging days, that we need to exercise caution in terms of hygiene and social distancing, that as disciples of Jesus we must continue to demonstrate that love to each other and grow in our relationship with Him. So as the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, “Be Blessed, Stay Safe, Love one another and Stay close to the risen and ascended Jesus.”

Blessings in Christ

Paul