Sunday, 5 July 2020

One Hundred and Twelve Days of Being Closed - Reopening

So this week we have had all the regulations delivered to us that will allow us to re-open our church again. That is once we've made sure that the full risk assessment is complete, all the signs and sanitisers are in place, the seats spaced and the sides-people sufficiently trained. There's an awful lot of stuff that needs to get done.

We are therefore taking a cautious approach and will look to start small services next Sunday. One of the major reasons for this is that we won't be able to sing. To me that's a bit like a football match without the fans. Our sung worship creates the atmosphere in which we meet with God. It doesn't mean that we can't worship without singing. But our main service will be a very different beast, a wholly different experience, until we can return with the worship band and the volume turned up.

In the last four months we have developed an online service that helps us to meet together and stay connected to God as a church. The numbers attending have stayed settled at around 90 to 100 people which is a fair proportion of our regular main service congregation. This has been supported by a whole team of gifted and talented people. God has blessed us in being able to do this and we are likely to continue for at least another month.

The other complicating factor is that the church building is now filled with scaffolding as the painters move in to paint the nave area of the church for the first time for nearly fifty years. It makes sense to give the space over to them so that they can complete this work as efficiently as possible. This further month of enforced absence also gives us more time to plan and prepare.

Yet we do still have the chancel, a small area of already painted space, in which we can hold small services of Holy Communion. These will allow those who can't connect online to resume some pattern of worship for themselves. The services will be simple and small. Everyone will need to maintain their social distancing awareness. Hand washing on the way in an out will be compulsory and masks recommended.

This time away from the church building has reminded us of the vast difference between our relationship with God as Christians against than those of ancient Israel who worshipped in the great Temple in Jerusalem. For them it was all about a day spent in the courts of the Lord. This Covid crisis time has shown us that we have God with us in the form of His Holy Spirit wherever we are. We have this gift of grace because Jesus died so that we might know God's presence in every moment of our lives. As we begin to return to the church building may all that we do seek to bring glory to Him.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

One Hundred and Five Days of Being Closed - Hang On

In this last week I've heard about several people making major life changing decisions that have been provoked by lockdown. No one was making these changes earlier on this crisis yet now they feel able to recognise what isn't working and walk away.

There seems to be a general uneasiness about. Things are getting better but the anxiety and uncertainty are not going away. Perhaps it's just all the frustration of three months of severe restrictions on our lives that is making its way out.

Alongside this is a sense that we are almost there. The end could be in sight. We've seen other nations start to meet and make progress. But we still need to be careful and we don't want to see any more dying or death because we've all had enough. In amongst this, it seems that people have lost confidence in our government who send out ever more confusing messages about what we can and can't do and exactly when and how we are to do it. They try to control things with finely detailed regulations while relying on people's common sense when the risk assessments don't apply.

The frustration has bubbled over into two major stabbings, street parties that can't be broken up and city celebrations that will not heed the advice of local leaders. The hot weather hasn't helped. People get tired and grumpy when they can't sleep because of the heat.

It seems to me that we are now at the point of this rollercoaster ride of a pandemic where we hope that we've been through the last loop and just need to hold on tightly to get to the end. There's that sense of soon being able to get off and stand on solid ground again. As long as there isn't a hidden drop that they haven't told us about.

My hope is that the natural tendency to preserve ourselves will keep us cautious and alert. Who wants to catch the deadly virus now when the ride is nearly over? The number of people on the beach at Bournemouth this week would argue against this perhaps.

We are continuing to pray that God's hand will be upon our nation. That he will protect and guide us to the other side of this tie of trial. Now is the time to increase our prayers. Now is the time to be kind and generous, defusing tensions rather than adding to them. Now is the time when we must work even harder to overcome evil with good. May God be with us all.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Ninety Eight Days of Being Closed - Books to read in Lockdown

Ok this lockdown is getting frustrating. Everyone is getting fed up and the end does not yet seem to in sight. But there have been good things that this crisis has brought. A time to rest and recover from the endless cycle of busyness that abounds in normal life. The opportunity to reassess what is really important to us, what really matters. This has been surprising in its intensity. It's not been easy being stripped of all the distractions and trappings of our working identity.

There has been the chance to fiddle with the pieces of lots of jigsaws, go for long walks along the seafront and to binge watch box sets through the apps button. We've managed to get through a few series of classic TV shows. They've helped to create the routine that we have so desperately needed. There's the comfort factor of watching well loved characters in well worn plot lines.

There has also been the chance to read some books. This is my list of books read since lockdown started. They fall into three categories Church and leadership, non-fiction and novels to enjoy. This was helped by a trip to Waterstones with a big book token just before the shops closed.

The Power of Belonging by Will Will van der Hart & Rob Waller: discovering the the confidence to lead with vulnerability.
Reappearing Church by Mark Sayers: looking for hope for the church in our post-christian culture.
Story Bearer by Phil Knox: how to share your faith with friends by connecting up the stories of our lives with God's story.
Good to Great by Jim Collins: great read on how to turn the trajectory of an organisation around.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle: a look at the secrets of highly successful groups.
Passchendaele, A New History by Nick Lloyd: just after we visited the battlefields in Belgium pre corona crisis as a way to put our present crisis into context with 500,000 men killed or wounded.
Traflgar by Roy Adkins: a biography of the battle with which our city is so closely linked.
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf: the adventures of Alexander von Humbolt the lost hero of science.
A Fistful of Shells by Toby Green: a story of West Africa from the rise of the slave trade to 1850.
The Plague by Albert Camus: interesting account of a plague in a North African city, helpful in understanding some of the phases of lockdown.
Wilful Behaviour and also Uniform Justice by Dona Leone: wonderful relaxing reads as Inspector Brunetti solves crimes in the beautiful city of Venice.

But the book I've read the most is Bible. Every morning for around fifteen minutes to start the day. There is nothing that compares to God's word. I've been through John's gospel into Acts, the lives of Samuel, Saul and David and the psalms of the 60's and 70's. God's word will feed you and keep you on the right path. Make space in your day and see the benefits that result.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Eighty Nine Days of Being Closed - Popular?

We all need to feel loved. It's a deep desire set in the very heart of us. But there are times when we need to make hard choices.

At the start of this crisis there was very little recent experience of handling a serious virus outbreak in this country. Our expertise was limited to annual flu outbreaks. There'd been recent deadly epidemics in the far east. There had been ebola in Africa.

To be honest we were caught out. Too confident that we were in control. The family of corona viruses had not previously produced a lethal killer. Somehow we underestimated what this tiny virus could do. Now we are living with the consequences of decisions made in those early days of our reaction to the pandemic.

Obviously it's too soon to be concluding that we failed to respond as we should. Yet as we see the countries who acted decisively to keep the virus out and limit its spread start to re-open again, it's hard not to feel that we have messed up at least a little.

In Rwanda they had one case and they ordered a lockdown the next day. So far they've had 541 cases and two deaths. New Zealand went hard and fast and are now watching rugby matches in packed stadiums. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But we need to learn the lessons that this crisis has taught us.

It seems to me that where leaders wanted to remain popular the crisis has been handled less well. In the USA, in Brazil and in the UK leaders who wanted to protect the economy against short term pain have caused much longer term damage in the end. We kept our borders open for far too long. Trade came before the lives of ordinary people and the safety of the frontline workers. If our government had gone further with restrictions as they did in France, Spain and Italy we would be further down the back of the curve by now.

It didn't help that most of those making the decisions went down with the virus themselves. They failed to protect themselves just as in the end they've failed to protect us. There will be a huge inquiry and people are upset and angry. We see this anger and frustration spilling onto the streets in protests and demonstrations already.

In the end that anger will be turned on those who created the plans and the policies. They didn't act decisively but delayed and dithered. Sometimes you have to make hard choices as a leader. Choices that are not popular at all.

Many people criticise the God we seek to follow because of the hard choices that were made in the Old Testament when the impacts sin were corrupting the of whole creation. That same God made the choice to send his only son to die for us on a cross. Jesus chose to die in the most dreadful way, alone humiliated and the object of scorn. When the enemy is a deadly foe tough decisions need to be made. They won't always appear to be the right ones and they won't always be popular.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Eighty Two Days of Being Closed - Straight Back to Busy

Last night - a Saturday Night - it was announced for the 10 o'clock news that we will be able to reopen the church in just over a week's time. Open for public private prayer again. We knew that the shops were to open and finally the faith aspect of life was seen to be as important as access to greetings cards or body lotion. A grudging, reluctant admission that there is still a place for organised religion in our society.

This news only came after the announcement that Sunday trading laws are to be relaxed to help the economy recover. That might make some sense to those whose only aim it is to balance the nation's books but it fails to take into account what we've learnt in Lockdown. For if we've learnt anything we've discovered that people matter to us. Relationships and social interaction are important. We need to see each other face to face and enjoy the presence of other human beings.

It seems to me that we should have learnt that the one thing we don't need quite so much is the opportunity to go shopping.

By relaxing the Sunday trading laws more people have to work on Sundays. Fewer people are able to meet up with families and spend time together. It seems that at this point when more than anything else we need time to reconnect the government can only see pound signs.

In the end we only have so much cash that we can each spend. Most of us will find ways to spend that amount in six days just as easily as we can spend it in seven. The myth that Sunday trading helps us is destroyed when all other large economies on the continent survive supremely well with far stricter rules on which shops open on Sundays. Those countries can see that families and relationships matter more than the chasing after more money. There they see the need for people to be able to rest together and enjoy each other's company, to take a break from work so that they are refreshed and restored.

Before we rush back into ways of living that destroy us as a society we need to reflect. Surely this space to think should have shown us that our time together is precious and not to be taken for granted. Sending people out to fill shops on Sunday is not the way forwards. We need to build more resilient communities where strong relationships can hold things together in times of trial. This is what these last twelve weeks have shown us. Let's not miss this opportunity to change direction and follow a new path that leads to life. For our existence is made up of more than the sum of our possessions. Surely we've realised this in these last weeks!

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Seventy Days of Being Closed - Reset

It seems to me that new patterns are now falling into place. For us as a church, we have the systems set up to make things happen in the way that we want. The problem is that we recognise that however successful we are at this temporary existence we will need to gather strength to start again as restrictions are eased. We are busy getting on with what we are doing now and getting more used to being apart. Yet the real challenge still lies ahead as we finally fashion our new future.

The initial novelty of the crisis has long since passed. We thought that it might be a month at the most that we would be cooped up but this is now the day on which we mark ten weeks of church being closed. At first we hoped we might be able to meet in some way for Easter. Now we look forward to the next big festival of our year, that of Pentecost, in lockdown.

We have started new things and reached new people. There has been an increase in social get togethers in our church community, even if they are over the internet. We have been so encouraged by new people offering their thoughts on Bible passages each morning that we stream out across social media. The elderly and vulnerable have been supported with lots of good will. People are being nicer to one another and saying hello more, while also turning away just in case you share any microscopic virus laden droplets.

But we know that this is not how we are meant to live. We have to get back to somewhere more like what life should be. The schools are grappling with this as they prepare for pupils to return in a limited way. The shops are raring to go as soon as they get the permission they need.

We have all changed in the way that we act and interact. There will be less chance of the dreaded spread across communities because we've all been trained to behave differently.

Last week there was a post that said "Let's not go back to the old ways of doing things because they had normalised greed, iniquity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction..." This is a chance for a whole new way of doing life. A big part of that should be seeing that we are not ultimately in control of our lives. We never have been. There are always seismic shifts that knock us off balance. Perhaps we should search for the ancient ways as the Bible reminds us. Ways that helped humanity form decent civilisations across the millennia. Ways that had room for God, for worship and prayer. Let's press the reset button and start again to live in a way that would make God proud.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Fifty Eight Days of Being Closed - Uncertainties Abound

At the start it was easy. We knew that there was a terrible foe to fight and we all needed to play our part. Coming back from those deepest days of lockdown is not going to be easy. The close down was clear. How to reopen again will be less straightforward. There is the desire to get back to a more normal way of life. But it's so hard to see the best way to get there.

The government has been massively criticised for not providing enough detail or time to make changes and plans before the changes its proposed are made. They had clearly been talking about what they were going to tell us for days and days. Explaining those ideas to the rest of us proved more difficult than expected.

The lockdown has been eased a little bit. Odd things like selling houses and going fishing can start again. Yet for most of us little has changed and we're being told to use our common sense.

Those with a business were expected to welcome staff back to work on a Monday morning after the Sunday evening announcement. The paperwork for what they had to do when the workers turned up at work was only published two days later. Time to use your common sense it seems.

At our primary school today there was a very different mood amongst the staff. The task of getting things ready for six classes of fifteen children in three different year groups is huge. With a full school office of people working flat out together it might be possible. How to do it when people are separated and tired is an incredibly tricky conundrum.

The underlying issue is that there are more uncertainties than you can shake a stick at. We just don't know what to do next. It's becoming obvious that the government itself is making it all up as it goes along, just like the rest of us. In the end we all do our best. It is very hard to make any plans.

We are learning afresh to live each day as it comes. Jesus said some wise words about each day having enough trouble of its own so we shouldn't worry about what tomorrow might bring. Now is a time in which these words have never felt so real. We must trust in God and leave the future in His hands. He will hold us all as we pass through these days. We get through this with some prayer, using the common sense and patience that He gave us to triumph over uncertainty in all of its forms.