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.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Fifty Three Days of Being Closed - Let's Pray

Well yesterday was a real mixture of celebration and trepidation. As our nation sought to remember the 75th anniversary of VE Day there was the chance to appreciate the wonderful benefits of the peace that was brought to us by the sacrifices of the Second World War.

The anglican clergy across the city created a zoom prayer for the occasion that reminded us all of the part played by Portsmouth in this conflict. The terrible destruction of the bombing of our city and the number of people who played an active part in the conflict has shaped our identity. It took many years for the rebuilding to create any sense of normality in the post war years. The loss within the community stayed in the psyche of all those who had seen the suffering or had been part of the trauma.

So we are a city that should celebrate the part that we played. Just along from us one street had every single house draped in the Union jack and bunting. The beautiful weather encouraged people to go out. There was a very loud Karaoke machine playing well into the evening. It was hoped that everyone stayed far enough away to remain safe.

But just a couple of roads in the other direction from us there is a care home. Just the day before I had to contact the relative of one of the occupants of that home who had died of Covid 19 to arrange their funeral. This relative told me that he was the fourteenth of the thirty residents to die in the last two weeks. The virus has got its hold and is wreaking its own form of devastation. The lives are lost and the loved ones left with regrets and no opportunity for a last hug or hold of a hand. Now they have the prospect of just 10 people attending a pared down funeral at the crematorium. It is sadness beyond our normal comprehension that has been repeated so often all across our land.

We are in another battle and we cannot take for granted the outcome. Tomorrow the Prime Minister will make his announcement to the people about the future steps of our lockdown process. It looks to me as if we will be under restrictions for many more weeks to come.

The VE Day celebrations reminded us of our need to work together if we want to defeat a determined foe. It was also a feature of the war that the whole country was called to times of prayer. Just before Dunkirk the whole nation prayed and a window in the weather appeared to allow the troops to be brought safely home. We are now at a point in this crisis when prayer is looking like the crucial component. Our church, along with many others, is offering ample opportunities to connect in prayer. So let God's people turn to Him to seek his face and pray so that He might come and heal our land.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Forty Seven Days of Being Closed - 2020 Vision

At first there was the Response to the crisis. For us it was about how were we going to function as a church and look after people? This phase was all about adrenaline and decision making - though some of those decisions were changed almost as soon as they were made. Our team pulled together and we did a pretty good job.

At that point we thought we might be in lockdown for three weeks and then emerge blinking into the early summer sun with the worst behind us. But now we can see that this is not going to happen. It looks like we have another month of severe restrictions with then a gradual loosening of the valve so that we eventually find our way back to a life that is sustainable.

The first information we were given was flawed. It underestimated the danger that this virus posed. We looked at Italy and Spain and thought well that won't happen to us. Whilst we have avoided the meltdown of our intensive care capability the number of deaths in our nation now looks like being the worst in Europe. Our leaders made decisions based the best evidence at the time but no one could quite comprehend just how bad this situation was. This is natural. No one wants to believe the worst. We all hold tightly to our well formed framework of what the world looks like and we don't want a virus to mess with it.

It seems to me that we are now in a phase of Realisation. We can no longer pretend that we will all be alright. Even graphs on the daily press conferences will not protect us. We have to realise that the world has changed and we have to find a new way to do life.

This year has not turned out as we expected and we need a new vision for 2020 and beyond. There are so many lessons to be learned from what we have experienced in these last seven weeks. Lessons about who is important and how much we need each other.

To have 20/20 vision means to see with clarity what is in front of you. It looks certain that the world has changed. There will be surface changes like the wearing of face masks and the number of people allowed into a shop that will go on for some time. But there need also to be deeper changes of perspective; about valuing one another and caring for everyone. We need to build more resilient communities where people know each other and look out for one another.

Let's not rely on government to make this happen for this can be in our own hands to achieve. The church can be at the very centre of this. Our mission has always been to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. What if the new communities that we formed followed his example of compassion and love? How about putting him at the very centre of our 2020 vision?