Dear St Swithins friends
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you in the saving name of Jesus Christ.
If you’re reading this, please can I reassure you that I won’t be communicating as lengthily as this in the future. I am generally not a man who would chose 50 words where I think 1 suffices, but in the circumstances I hope you will appreciate the reasons why!
The shadow of Coronavirus
As Janet, James and I were praying on Wednesday morning, Janet reflected on the fact that the chandeliers in the building were casting a shadow on the floor of St Swithin’s that looked like the image of COVID-19. The shadow was dark and real, was affecting all of us, but it was still just a part of a much greater reality within the whole building.
At this time of crisis I would like to encourage you to reflect on what you think is the story of your life? What part does God have to play? Is your life defined by the shadow of Coronavirus? For some in our communities who have contracted the virus, who are literally suffering and dying, this may seem to be a true statement, but it’s not the whole truth, just a part truth. For two thousand years Christians have believed there is a bigger and more defining story than both our own suffering and the present circumstances of this world. The Christian story continues to be one of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. Persuading people that the fall is real and all encompassing is not difficult at this time (witness our approach to toilet rolls), helping people realise that redemption and restoration in and through Christ are available both now and eternally is still the opportunity for us.
So how do we live as God’s beloved in lockdown? Over the last few days many people have been sharing their own worries and concerns as well as concerns for other people in their families and communities. These concerns are real and painful and differ massively across a diverse community, but we have an amazing opportunity to walk lovingly and humbly with many people in this season. In my experience times of hardship and suffering have also been time of growth in which God has often done something new and beautiful. For those of you reading this unconvinced, maybe God will show us and teach us afresh what Paul says “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4. 11) and that a first step to that might be choosing to set our minds on things above and following Paul’s exhortation that “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4. 8)
One of my prayers for us in these testing and trying times is that as we renew our trust in Jesus Christ, God would come with fresh strength and fresh power that will help us shine brightly in both our words and actions.
I was chatting to a member of staff at St Andrews School this week and reflecting on the fact that most of us new that Coronavirus was coming, but somehow that has still not prepared us for when it’s hit our door. On receiving the archbishop’s announcement earlier this week, its taken me a bit longer than I would have hoped to absorb and respond to the suspension of the public gathering of God’s people in worship. Publicly gathering is suspended other than meeting to pray, while observing social distancing guidance.
Each of us will have verses of the Bible that have shaped your life, but Matthew 18.20 has always been an absolute bedrock for my life. “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them”. So when I’ve been on mission trips in small numbers abroad before, we gather around God’s word, we come into God’s presence together, we sing, speak, listen, pray, we share stories, we encourage one another - in community, however small and God is present. God promises to be present as his people come together.
When we did a series on discipleship in 2017 we looked at the fact that Christian discipleship is done together, we are a community. To be truly human, to be a christian is to be in the presence of the triune God and the presence of one another in God’s world. The presence of God is a defining narrative across the whole bible. God is present in the world at all times, but God’s manifest presence is celebrated (1 Sam 4-6, 2 Chron 5-7) and grieved as the glory departs (Ez 10). At Christmas we celebrate Jesus Emmanuel making himself present to our humanity. Pentecost celebrates that the Holy and glorious God making his home in our lives so that his presence - revealing Jesus, powering us to live and growing us into the holiness and likeness of Jesus - is a constant and on-going work that gives us the life, power and energy to live for God all times and seasons.
Why am I saying all this? God’s presence matters, our presence matters, physical presence matters, to be fully human means being present. The fact of our physical isolation with Coronavirus will hurt us and many in our communities will struggle. In our culture and at this time with the growth in the digital world, one of our greatest struggles is to be both present with God and the other. We so often appear incredibly restless and distracted, and there is a very real and growing struggle to build healthy lifelong relationships where we can be fully present with the other. So I’m registering this as a plea that the opportunities for phone conversations and digital meetings are amazing for us to keep connected, but please do not to lose sight of the joy of what it means to be fully physically present.
I have three other people in my house who I can gather together with, but many of you will not have that opportunity, so not meeting together on Sunday will be very costly for you. But, one of the opportunities ahead for all of us, is to ask God in this season to renew our personal walk with him, to take this opportunity to be honest and to ask for help from God and other Christian friends as we worship in a more isolated way. Maybe this season will help all of us as generations to cultivate a richer, more joyful and fruitful personal life of faith, worship, of prayer, of coming into his presence, of reading his word and exploring what God is calling each one of us to be and do and serving him.
Our communal worship will be “As One at 10” (see below) and will not be live-streaming ‘virtual worship’ on Sundays, so giving you the opportunity and resources to worship where you are and develop a new rhythm of life and worship where you are present.
The first word of our emerging vision is Connect and it seems appropriate to ask at this time when we are limited in connecting physically:
As a church family of people from different ages, stages, backgrounds, lifestyles and experiences the answers to that question may be very different. But this is our first task. Connection. We were created for connection and relationship with a relational God, one another and the world. Over the coming weeks I’d like us to keep these questions at the forefront of our minds, explore the opportunities to see whether together we can grow in our confidence in answering those questions
A number of years ago BT had the slogan “It’s good to talk”, maybe with less distractions we will make time to use our phones to talk and listen to each other. My expectation is that people from the church will be in contact by phone to check how everyone is doing and respond to the needs that arise . I’ve heard some lovely stories so far of people simply phoning others up and encouraging each other, fantastic!
We are encouraging you to access the church website as a great place to go to for information and resources http://www.stswithinswalcot.org.uk, the website will be updated each week at http://www.stswithinswalcot.org.uk/news with the latest details. I would also encourage you, particularly if you’ve never found them to following our social media accounts facebook | twitter | instagram which are regularly updated. We will continue to develop further resources over the coming weeks that we can access that will bless and encourage us at this time. We will also get paper copies to people without access to the internet. We are encouraging and exploring the use of virtual meetings for Life Groups and business meetings using the internet through websites like zoom.us and will be in touch about using this more over the coming weeks.
On connecting, if you are someone, who generally needs to be busy and active for your own and others wellbeing, then if you can find a way of walking with a friend while still observing the social distancing advice, then Bath is surrounded by magnificent countryside. The guidance may change, but walking with another safely in sparsely populated places does not seem impossible!
As One at 10
You are invited to join us to be ‘As One at 10’ on Sunday mornings……so that we continue keep time set aside for God in prayer, worship and by opening his Word- with the whole church family-but to do so at home on your own, with your household, or wherever you happen to be. We want to stay and grow in our connection with one another during this time.
We have created a resource for ‘As One at 10’, which includes a recording of the reading and a short talk, as well as a few questions, some music and creative ways to respond and pray. Hopefully you will find it simple to follow, yet rich in substance. We encourage everyone to use that time to engage with God and find his strength, hear His voice and to follow where he is leading.
You may want to wrestle with what comes up a bit more and we highly recommend talking to someone about it during the week, perhaps by picking up the phone and calling someone else from church, or by organising a communal electronic meeting with your life group.
Each week we will provide you the simple outline and the resources with it for you to use. We hope this will help to encourage and empower us (God’s people) to live and worship where we are, whilst still remaining part of Christ’s body, his beloved church of St Swithin’s.
Each week we will also provide a News Sheet, in which we’d love to hear any stories that you think would be good to share with the wider church. This would be an encouragement to a wider group of people than your own bit of the body. Please have the courage to share, however small or big!!! Janet would love to hear from you.
We are in an exciting but challenging season of prayer. Pretty much every Christian I meet would love to see their prayer life grow and develop. I have attached some beautiful and simple prayer cards below. This series of 9 prayer cards has been developed by Renew Wellbeing, one of our partners, to help people to pray. All of the cards are straightforward, easily accessible and repeatable. There is a suggested rhythm of prayer for the mornings, afternoons and evenings that is simple and beautiful and can take no more than five minutes. If you’re wanting to develop a new rhythm to your prayer life at home, please use these as a gift and get excited about the unique gift of prayer.
The church building is open to come and pray from 9.15 am to 4.30 pm Tues-Thurs and arranged so that we can socially distance ourselves and still pray. Do come and use the space to pray even if its for 15 minutes. As usual we will gather to pray at 9.15 am Tues to Thurs for up to half an hour and 7.30 am on Wednesdays for half an hour.
During this season, if you believe that God is speaking to you, or you have an answer to prayer, please have the courage to share it and e-mail this in, so that the whole church can benefit. email@example.com
St Swithin’s is God’s beloved and as His beloved, how do we love others? The answer of course is that we love others like God loves us. So, I think there is a unique opportunity to grow and demonstrate our love for others in this season. What does love in practice look like? That’s what Fran is helping us explore this Sunday.
If you’re struggling to find purpose in this season that has been stripped bare, and home decorating and gardening fill you with dread, then opportunities abound for us to shine brightly and respond to the needs of our time. Maybe as we learn to lay down our lives for the other, we will rediscover the delight and joy of God speaking our own name.
In the city there are still lots of opportunities to serve, Genesis http://genesistrust.org.uk are still looking for help to support the vulnerable and homeless in the city, especially with the soup run and a network of voluntary organisations across Bath and NE Somerset who are looking for volunteers to help https://www.3sg.org.uk
Once again, if you require help of any kind, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
We pray for all those who are suffering because of the coronavirus, may they know your healing power.
When we are afraid for ourselves and our loved ones,
give us your strength and courage.
When we feel alone and isolated,
reassure us with a sense of your presence.
Give wisdom to those in authority
and may our community work together for the good of all.
We give thanks for those who care for others
and ask you to bless them in all they do.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, healer and physician. Amen
With every blessing in The Name of Christ, the highest Name.
Tim and the staff team