As restrictions begin to ease, I think many of us were expecting to be able to ‘go back to normal’. That is certainly what I had been hoping for several weeks ago, not least in terms of re-starting public worship. I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to recognise that there isn’t a straightforward ‘going back’ for church or for everything else! What we have to do now is ‘go forward’. To balance keeping each other safe with finding ways to be together that go beyond the screen or the phone. None of us is made for that long term.
So re-starting public worship has come with a large side order of advice and restrictions. I know that some of these are frustrating, but please can I encourage you to re-read the advice and thank you for the changes you are making. This week please note that the second service is now at the earlier time of 11am. I also need to say thank you to everyone who responded to the worshipper survey. Your responses have helped to guide us forward. 66% of those who responded wanted to return to worship as soon as the church was open. Our worshipping community is around 100 (Electoral Role plus those who regularly attend who aren’t on it) but we can only safely seat 30 in church – hence there are two Sunday services. Meanwhile 61% of those who responded hope to continue to access worship online, so we are continuing to stream the 9.30am service. The results will continue to be useful as we reflect on the next steps forward.
My aim with all these changes isn’t just to be awkward(!) but to enable as many people to safely attend worship as would like to. This is why I’m asking you to attend at 9.30am if your surname is A-L and at 11am if your surname is M-Z (where possible), encouraging you to wear a face mask, and all the rest. By doing what you can, you are helping to keep others safe and giving other people an opportunity to come to church. After all, two of the Values on our Mission Action Plan are Caring and Prayer. Along with everyone else we are making sacrifices as part of a huge public act of solidarity and care for others.
It strikes me that our faith is about going forward, not going back. When God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt they don’t just return home, they have to build a new society and nation. When the Israelites return from exile in Babylon the country is not as they left it and they have to re-build city, Temple and community. The coming of Jesus is not a massive cosmic reset back to the Garden of Eden, but a cosmic catalyst to take us forward into God’s future. ‘Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert’ (Isaiah 43.18-19). On the beach after the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t say to Peter, ‘Go back to how you were before you denied me’, he says, ‘Feed my sheep, follow me’ (John 21. 15-22).
When we are baptised and confirmed, week by week in the Eucharist, we step forward on our walk with God. When we pray, when we read the Bible we don’t go back to some familiar place with God, we take new steps into his unfolding love. Jesus’ parables aren’t about returning to an original state of enlightenment, but growth, choice and journeying. Repent means ‘return’, for sure, but in order to go forward on the way.
Before the followers of Jesus were known as Christians, they called themselves ‘The Way’. The emphasis was on movement, journeying, following – on discipleship. The Way is forward, not back, in church and life in general. It won’t be the same, though some of it will be familiar. And we are called to support each other as we go forward on The Way.
With my love and prayers for you,
All Saints Vicarage,
Wednesday 22nd July 2020
This week at All Saints
Please note the time change of the second service
9.30am Family Eucharist (A-L if possible) live-streamed via the website and available afterwards via Facebook and YouTube
11.00am Family Eucharist (M-Z if possible)