Things continue to develop rapidly with the Coronavirus crisis and this is causing all kinds of questions and thoughts to come to mind. Here, I want to provide a few thoughts to encourage us and guide our prayers and to share how we are seeking to respond as a church family and community. This is quite a long communication, but I urge you to read it to the end.
This is a time of crisis that affects us all whether part of a church community or not. With the constant bombardment of news and updates in this ‘connected’ world, its easy to feel anxious. Time and time again, scripture urges us to ‘not be afraid’. The promise of God is that even in the face of great hardship we can know His peace (‘…let the peace of Christ Rule in your hearts…’ Col 3:15). This peace comes from the knowledge that Jesus is Lord – he is Lord of the earth and Lord over this crisis. We trust in the promise that God works good trough all circumstances, looking for the kingdom opportunity.
Choosing faith over fear is a choice we can make; But doing so doesn’t mean we live in denial or ignorance. We seek the best advice available and carefully plan the way ahead (‘Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise…’ Eph 5:15).
At St John’s, we are proactively planning for how we respond – see below.
The church has faced crises before! The early church faced persecution, the church throughout the ages has faced significant challenges. Today in many parts of the world the church faces serious hardship. In fact, crisis or persecution is often precedes revival and growth. There is a constant theme in scripture that hardship works like the refiners fire focusing us on what is truly important - in Iran the church only ever meets in very small groups due to risk of discovery and yet is the fastest growing church in the world. Hardship often leads to fervent prayer and fasting which leads to growth.
So with this in mind, what are the key challenges and what is truly important for us right now. Today our Archbishops have published the following guidance
In light of the Government guidance around non-essential contact, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued advice that public worship is suspended until further notice. Churches should be open where possible but with no public worship services taking place.
You can read more here: (https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches).
In addition to this, we have made the following decisions to suspend:
All mid-week youth groups
Foodbank will continue as normal. The leaders of each of the suspended activities are planning how to stay connected in different and creative ways. These changes in no way stop church, they simply change how we do church.
We need to get creative and look for the kingdom opportunity; we focus on what is truly important: we go on encouraging each other in our faith, becoming passionate in our worship and prayer, looking out for one another and caring for each other and being a witness to the world.
We are actively planning how to do church in different ways. Here is the current plan which will evolve:
We will ‘live-stream’ two services each Sunday: The 9am & The 1030. Further details to follow. These will be recorded and will remain online for you to view at later times.
Provide video based talk for children and young people each week that can be accessed online and viewed as a family.
Provide written service outline/liturgy for you to use if you are unable to access online.
Provide a short video based ‘thought for the day’ to guide daily prayer.
We encourage all of us to participate in these so that we have a sense of ‘togetherness’ at this time. And please let us know how these work for you and how we can improve.
Caring for One-Another
Our first priority as a church family is to care for the vulnerable in our church family – this means the over 60s especially if they live on their own, those with underlying medical conditions including Asthma, pregnant women and those who work in frontline roles for whom staying free of infection is really important. Caring for one another is a whole family responsibility, so please can you:
Be proactive in how we look out for one another – please do phone, text, email, drop round to people to make sure they are OK especially if they are vulnerable.
Let us know if you are unwell, are self-isolating or have any needs and how we can pray for you. Lets make a special effort to keep in touch.
We are looking for people who are willing to engage in a ‘ministry of helps’ whom we can point to people in need to provide practical help as appropriate and to pray – please let us know asap if you are willing to do this.
We centrally will do all we can to help and aid this, specifically this will include:
Making a special effort to contact all those in the more vulnerable groups.
Ensuring vulnerable people have others less vulnerable to contact if in need.
Coordinating help and support as required.
The specific guidance around homegroups from the C of E is yet to be published. We refer you back to the government guidance on maintaining social distance and gathering. People certainly should not gather in homegroups if you fall into one of the vulnerable categories above. Homegroups and other smaller groupings with in the church are great ways to stay connected, encourage one another and care for one another, so specifically we encourage small groups to:
If you are leader, please contact the members of the group to make sure they are ok.
Look out for one another.
Find creative ways to stay connected and encourage one another: WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.
Consider doing homegroup by conference call or video call https://zoom.us/.
Meet in small groups, 2s and threes as appropriate and safe to do so for prayer and encouragement.
Consider as a group what you can do to witness, serve and support friends, neighbours and people of peace.
Prayer and Witness
The archbishop’s have called us to a day of prayer this Sunday 22 March (more details to follow – we are hoping to open the church for personal prayer that day) and to light a candle in their window at 7.00 p.m. as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished.
Many people have been saying recently that they sense an increasing call to prayer and fasting – crisis drives us to prayer. Is this the kingdom opportunity in this crisis?... for some Coronavirus will mean we have more time as we work from home and as things slow down – can we give some of this time to prayer? One thing we are exploring is how we might keep the church open as a house of prayer – more on this to follow. But in the meantime, pray! Take authority in Jesus name and pray that this virus would stop! In addition, pray for:
All those in our own church family and whom we know who are vulnerable.
Key leaders in our nation and city who are managing the response to this crisis.
St John’s school as they manage staff shortages and care for the children. Also, anyone we know who are involved in education, especially those in our church family: Jill Carr, Rachel Lowe, Jess Renner, Helen Grimshaw, Claire Ambrose, Jason & Rachel Semeraro, Little John’s Pre-school, Friday Sparks leaders, and others.
NHS frontline workers, including those we know: Rachel Armstrong, Rachel Brindley, Emily Craft, Charlie Carr, Sab Tank, Huw Miles, Kate Aldridge, Kate Lindsey, Andrew Sharpe, Anne Dooley. Kelly Purnell, Lynn Snow and others.
Forgive me if I have not specifically mentioned you in the above lists, do let us know how we can pray for you. And how can we witness? People look to the church at this time, they look to how we respond. How can we as a church community seek to respond at this time?
Here’s some ideas:
Offer to pray for people, share your faith, witness to them.
Many have posted cards through doors offering to help neighbours if they self isolate, consider doing this. print out the card below.
Donate food to the foodbank – collection basket in church.
Finally, please, please, please share your stories of how you have helped people, stories of answered prayer, ideas of how others can help people.
Finally, please pray for church leadership (staff, PCC, Wardens, etc.) at this time – pray that we can respond wisely and lead us through this crisis well. Note that the staff team will have reduced presence in church as we follow advice to minimise contact and work virtually where we can. We will seek to communicate regularly via blogg, website and email – please check these for updates regularly. And please check our website and Social Media frequently:
Please share your comments, suggestions and thoughts below.
Finally some words from Colossians that seem particularly apt right now.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:12-17