I wonder how Easter felt for you this year? It was strange, wasn’t it? Easter Sunday is my favourite of the year, I always love seeing a packed church, full of excitement and joy as we celebrate the risen Christ. This year was different, and it was tough, but we still had the same awesome truth to celebrate and I know that from each of your homes praises would have been resounding for our God who conquered death and banished fear forever. In our house we began preparations early, going through our new Sunday routine. We get up and have breakfast, then begin a series of sound checks with those participating in the service via Zoom, then we run through the hymns and try to iron out any technical problems, practice readings, prepare any props and try not to trip over any wires as we move around the room. On Easter Sunday we did manage a quick rendition of Thine Be The Glory from our doorstep (as encouraged by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) at 10am and we added the words ‘He is Risen’ to the rainbow in our window which you can see in the picture. We ‘go live’ from about 10.15am on Facebook (and shortly after from the church website) to allow people to gather and tune in and then spend the time until 10.30am telling each other to be quiet!
What has been so encouraging is the level of interaction we’ve had online, via email and phone messages. We’re finding that we are reaching many, many more people than we would usually on a Sunday morning, and that there seems to be a trend of people reconnecting with their faith. Having spoken to other clergy in the town I know that this is widespread and for that we give thanks to God. Our thoughts, however, are particularly with those who don’t have access to the technology required to view the services. I want to reiterate the point that if you have a CD player or a DVD player then we can provide the service in those forms and drop it off to you. Please let us know if that would work for you or if there is anything else we can do to help you stay connected.
I saw a version of this online the other day and it really struck me…
Devil: “Aha, I managed to shut down all your churches with this coronavirus”
God: “Far from it, I’ve opened a branch in every home”
As we reflect on how much has changed in the last month, it can be hard to take it all in. Our natural inclination to gather together for worship, encouragement and faith-building has been snatched away, and it’s left us all thinking more deeply about what the church actually is. We all know, and are reminded often, that the church is the people and not the building, but we also admit that we value the physical place which enables us to have contact with those we call our church family. This has got me thinking about the early church and, indeed, it is their Holy Habits which we have been learning about over the last period. They were a fragile community, spread out in homes, often fearful of persecution and trying to work out what it looked like to follow Jesus. For them there was no live streaming of worship, no newsletters, no phone calls but there was a gift and a power greater than any other – the Holy Spirit. It was the wind of the Spirit which grew that fragile bunch of people into a mighty movement of God. It was the fire of the Spirit which empowered them to be bold and share the Good News. It was the warmth of the Spirit which comforted and upheld them in times of struggle and doubt. And that same Spirit does the same for us, each in our own ‘home’ branch of the church.
I don’t know about you, but I can experience a whole range of emotions over the course of one day at the moment – joy, peace, anxiety, fear, worry, sadness, hope, loss, frustration. It’s natural to feel these things. They shouldn’t be pushed away or ignored, they should be acknowledged as part of this current experience we are sharing. But at the same time the troubling emotions do not overcome us and have no hold over us. The very same Spirit which was gifted to the early church is with us, it puts the wind in our sails when we feel dejected, the fire in our hearts when our motivation and compassion run low, the warmth in our souls when we need comfort and reassurance. The same Spirit compels us to be the church where we are.
Prayer and reading the Bible continue to be integral to all we do and are. Don’t forget to use this time to read scripture in lengthier sections. We are reading through the Gospel of John in our house at dinner times. Which books are you reading and how are they speaking to you? Our prayer wall is filling up with prayer requests, some of them particularly sad and troubling. Please do keep the requests coming as we uphold one another during this time. I’d also like to remind you that I send out regular prayer updates by email and if you would like to be added to this list, please email Morwenna on firstname.lastname@example.org
We don’t know how long this situation will last, and that is a particularly challenging factor in all this. So, I encourage you all to keep going, ask for help when you need it, uphold one another in prayer and trust in the God who has never let us down.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12 v1-2
With love from Lucy and all the Brierleys.
A prayer for uncertain times
As so much is re-shaped by Coronavirus Covid 19, let us pray with
people left unwell, beckoned by death or bereaved; people providing professional health care and advice, looking after loved ones at home or working to create treatments and cures; people shaping the response of nations and neighbourhoods, of commerce and industry, of service and voluntary organisations and of communities of faith; people who are anxious or afraid, alone or isolated.
Living, loving God,
we praise you,
and through times of peril we lean into you,
for in Jesus Christ
you have trodden paths as difficult as ours,
revealing there a love that nothing defeats,
a love that bears us through.
Even as we strive to behave responsibly,
and to care reliably,
so we feel after you
that in these uncertain times we might trust you are with us,
our refuge and strength,
and our faith, hope and love might be renewed,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Written by the Moderators of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (URC), the Revd Nigel Uden and Derek Estill.