…but Joy comes with the morning

Dear Friends,

Writing these letters for our newsletters has taken on much greater significance for me during this past year. As I don’t get to see you face to face, sharing these words for you to read feels all the more important.

This time I particularly want to say how much I miss that – seeing your faces. I’ve been reflecting on how much I took for granted the face-to-face ministry I practiced for so many years. Now I have to make do with pictures of you all in my mind. Yes, we have the phone, and email, and Zoom, and live streams but none of it makes up for a face to face, eye to eye conversation. I know that we will get that back and life will return to something of what we enjoyed before, but for now, I want to say how much I miss it, and how much I miss you all. As we explored in a recent Pause for Prayer based on the Psalms, there are plenty of examples in Scripture of hearts being poured out to God, and they serve as good reminders that it is ok to lament what we have lost and what we are missing.

But we are not a people without hope. As the writer of Psalm 30 puts it, ‘Weeping may linger in the night, but joy comes with the morning.’

As I’ve been pondering how much we all miss church life, the issue of next steps for us at WURC has been very much on my mind, not least following the government’s recent road map. There was no additional guidance in it for places of worship and, although it remains legal for churches to open for services, the majority have chosen not to during this recent lockdown.
At our recent Elders’ meeting we felt that we wanted to hear from you and ‘take the temperature’ of our church family at this time. Thank you to those of you have responded to the survey asking your views about returning to in-person worship.

As I write, over 80 responses (some individuals and some households) have been received with approximately 30% indicating a readiness to return asap and 70% not ready yet (with a variety of options ticked). Please do add your response if you haven’t done so already. It is very helpful for us to receive this feedback and we intend to repeat this exercise again in due course.

However, following the Elders’ meeting and the circulation of our survey, the URC has issued denomination wide guidance to churches urging caution against opening too soon for worship. They suggest that Pentecost, at the earliest, would be a sensible time to consider reopening, if certain conditions are met (such as a low rate of cases in the local area).
This is an extract from the guidance…

‘…we remind you of 1 Corinthians 10;23: All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial, and not all build up. Even though it may be lawful for church buildings to be open in the later season of this pandemic, it might not yet be the right time to open. Covid prevalence and consideration of local ‘hotspot’ information must take precedence over any date in the diary, which might mean further delay to opening up, with decisions being reversed at short notice.’

I’ve said before and I will repeat now that the Elders, Property Convenor and I take this kind of decision making very seriously. We are constantly striving to listen to feedback, assess the risks and take wise decisions to both protect our church family and be mindful of all that is lost while we are not meeting in person.

We will follow the guidance of our denomination, and therefore not
make any plans to open before Pentecost. We will keep a close eye on the local statistics in the coming weeks as well as listening to your views and feelings. We can’t promise that Pentecost will be the long-awaited date, but we will keep you informed and make that decision nearer the time.

In the service on 28th February, I began my sermon by quoting the phrase, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans’. It certainly feels like that at the moment, doesn’t it? It seems best to make the lightest of plans and to be fleet of foot, ready to respond to new circumstances.

Thankfully God does have it all in hand or, as one of our lovely church members keeps saying, ‘He’s got this’. Nothing could be more true. Our God does indeed hold each one of us, and our church community, in his hand. As Paul put it, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8: 31).

St Patrick’s Day is approaching so perhaps it’s appropriate to end with an Irish Blessing with those lovely words, which I pray for you: ‘until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand’.