Dear sisters and brothers,
‘And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it’. (John 1:5)
As we prepare for this second period of national lockdown Bishop Robert and I want to thank you for your persistent faithfulness and care in your many different contexts, not least in schools and chaplaincies.
We are deeply aware that life over the coming 28 days will impact people in many different ways. As well as the pain of sickness and death, the sense of loss and trauma runs deep, even beyond physical and economic health. The ongoing effect on mental and spiritual wellbeing, and the diminishing of social connection and what it means for us to be fully human, is a cause of concern. We were created to live in relationship.
Whilst we are deeply concerned that gathering together safely for public worship has been deemed to be non-essential by the government (and this has been strongly communicated to them and to local MPs), it is good news that our church buildings can be open for prayer and continue to be accessed as sacred spaces of peace and hope for people of all ages and backgrounds.
As has been said before, we fully appreciate that not all our buildings will be open for prayer, and different decisions will need to be taken locally. We do not want people to feel guilty or pressurised. Together we are part of the Body of Christ and the church buildings which are open, not least the Cathedral, are open for all and on behalf of all. Thank you for the mutual support that is being offered across deaneries.
Worship can continue to be broadcast from church buildings with participation from all who contribute to the leading of worship in different ways. Sadly, there can be no wider congregation present.
We are also grateful for the many ways worshipping communities are gathering online where that is possible, and for the use people are making of telephone services and what has been provided nationally.
Of course, our ‘gathering’ cannot be separated from our ‘sending out’ (and vice versa). The two are inextricably connected as we abide in Christ, and I hope that all our discourse over the coming days will not simply focus on our concerns around public worship restrictions. Thank you for all the ways you are living out Christ’s love and hope to the glory of God in your communities and everyday places. It is our prayer that we will keep our eyes and ears open to notice those with whom we are not connecting, those who are feeling marginalized and isolated; and those who continue to be the most severely impacted and disadvantaged…
And let us pray…
For 28 days starting this Thursday people across the country will be committing to pray every evening at 6pm (you might choose a different time and schools will be encouraged to pray during the day). User-friendly resources are being produced and there will be a different theme for each day of the week.
Cathedrals will ring their bells at 6pm as a call to prayer and if you have the capacity to ring a church bell at 6pm then please do join in. Phone alarms can also be effective! Children and adults alike might like to switch on a torch as prayer is offered – a reminder of the light shining in the darkness. Amid our lament and hope; longing and trust, we will proclaim that we are held in the unchanging love of God who hears our cries and walks with us through both our laughter and tears – God is with us.
.. And that message of ‘Immanuel – God with us’ is the message we will share as we journey through this season of remembrance and on into Advent and Christmas.
Amid all the media messaging about Christmas and the disillusionment about what it will look like, let us proclaim boldly that Christmas can never be cancelled. Jesus Christ came to earth as a tiny baby and nothing can undo that message of hope and love stronger than death.
In a place of struggle and at a time of uncertainty and political turbulence, God chose to come to earth, small and vulnerable, pointing to the Kingdom of God and all things being made new.
In advent there will be a national Church focus on ‘Comfort and Joy’ and again there will be national and local resources for you to use in whatever ways seem appropriate and helpful in your context. I am delighted to say that there will be a ‘comfort and joy’ communication coming soon, not least highlighting what is being offered to schools and households of all ages. One initiative which has already been highlighted is that of Feeding your Community this Christmas. There is still time to join in rather than having to reinvent something for yourself in your context.
And finally, there is a link here to the Guidance for Acts of Remembrance next week.
On Sunday I will preside and preach at a service of Remembrance at 10.15 in your cathedral. It will be live streamed and recorded – and my message will be for all people across the diocese.
In summary, these days are ones in which we continue to experience loss, and many are feeling dis-membered. May we as the Body of Christ live a message of hope and re-membering as we continue to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.
With my thanks and prayers as ever,