Pastoral Letter 15th October 2020 from Rev’d David Dear Brothers, Sisters and Friends.
I write to you from the second day of the new restrictions imposed upon us from Downing Street, I’m sure like many of you I am trying to figure out the news and the new guidelines for this next period of time. My prayers for our brothers and sisters in Halton, who find themselves in the new tier 3 situation and for those communities in other parts of the UK who will, no doubt, also be seeing tier 3 status in the next few days and weeks. In all this the responsibility of the church is one of constant care, support and finding ways to continue to engage with and express the Gospel. While I might seem a little early in the liturgical calendar to be reflecting upon the prologue to John’s Gospel, the opening phrase, “the light shines into the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” has been in my head for the past few days, and that need for us to remember the light that shines and cannot be overcome, that hope for the world even in the midst of strife to know the presence of God is, I feel important given our current condition. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians reflects too on that idea of being light to the world in darkness (2 Corinthians 4.6) We are the people called to be that light, that hope, in the darkness, yet we are also those challenged to recognise that we are, ourselves, in need of that light and life. We are not called simply to act as God’s people, but are called by God to be held and sustained by that love, hope and life that can come from God alone, and that we try to express into the world around us too.
At a testimony service a few years ago Rev’d David Goodwin chose to offer some words of reassurance to the probationer present. He said at the time that they were words that kept him going, and while they are words that I have heard many times before, they seemed strange to offer to a soon to be ordained presbyter (normally we try and make them words of joy and celebration, grace or a reminder of salvation). The words David read were Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians:
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always beinggiven over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
– 2 Corinthians 4.6-12 NIV
These passing weeks have been for us times of perplexity and hard pressing. While I cannot say that as a church I feel we have been persecuted, worldwide this virus continues to press down upon people of all backgrounds. Yet those most deprived within society most certainly are finding its grip upon their lives and livelihoods ever more akin to persecution. I was asked the question earlier today about feelings of
weariness, the weariness of continuing to try to shape mission and debate ministry in the face of fatigue, frustration, and trauma. While we continue to ask questions about Sunday worship and the use of our buildings, I’m not sure they are the only questions we need to be asking as a church. Instead might we ponder, how can we be light in the darkness? What does it look like to be light in this pandemic at this specific time? What does it mean to allow that light to shine in our hearts when they may feel broken or at least perplexed? Paul calls us to recognise that our strength is not of our own making, our capacity to cope not from our own stiff upper lip or pragmatic position. Our capacity to maintain our faith, to move forward the mission of God, to allow that light to constantly shine from us occurs when we offer ourselves to Christ, gaining strength from the creator of all things and knowing the grace we need is made available as a free gift from God.
In my time over the past three years with you I have often quoted the modernist theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. In his work he considered the nature of Grace, what it meant to recognise that grace for us. I have quoted him before as saying (paraphrased) that “every breath is a gift of God” and while this can have many nuanced interpretations, at its core for me, is that understanding that all we have and are, yes is a gift from God. But also, that what we need to live, to survive this pandemic, the very basic needs we have at this time are borne of the love and power of God. If we feel breathless, down trodden, outcast or despondent, it is God who is there to breathe life, lift us up, reconcile and rejuvenate us. Might we in this next week recognise the gift, that treasure we have in clay jars, to continue forwards through the power of God’s Spirit to be his people, a light in the darkness to the communities around us, to our neighbours and friends and to one another in this difficult season.
As we continue to move through this season, and in collaboration with the Runcorn section of the Circuit, we are hoping to offer another new aspect for members. Some of you have gained much from the studies and fellowships we have continued to offer, and I hope to continue to develop more of these going forward, but for some a different style might be useful. To this end we are suggesting engaging with Ignatian style reflections on the Gospel of Mark. Members are encouraged to undertake a reflection daily, consider some questions coming out of the reflection and, should they wish, are invited to join myself and Rev’d Alison on either a Wednesday afternoon or early evening via zoom to reflect on the week’s meditations. The links for the first week are attached separate to this sheet.
Thank you for the way in which you continue to be a physical embodiment of that light to one another, through your phone calls, letters and emails to each other. As this new stage of limitation comes into effect, can I gently remind us each that we aren’t supposed to enter homes of those outside our support bubbles at this time, but we can still (while following social distancing guidance) meet outside to talk. Furthermore, my thanks for the care and emails of the past couple of weeks, for family and I, they are most certainly appreciated. You may have noticed that this week’s letter is a larger font than previous weeks. I promise this is not me trying to reduce my word count (although there may be some who would appreciate that!) but in response to kind reflection that the font is a little small for some of our members trying to read it!
With every blessing, David