Wednesday 1 April
Greetings from the Rectory!
I hope everyone is doing ok.
I’m happy to report that Jo is back to full heath and has returned to work.
I’ve not had any symptoms and so will be emerging from self-isolation in a day or two … which means doing pretty much exactly what I was doing before!
Staying at home and working out how to balance family, schooling, church and community in this ‘new normal’ we all find ourselves in.
Thank you so much for your love, concern and for all your prayers.
Last Sunday marked the beginning of Passiontide … the two weeks leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus and the Easter’s empty tomb.
Sue led a wonderful hope-filled Church@Home service from Malshanger with some brilliant input from the Miller family and Craft with Christine.
Thank you to everyone who worked hard to pull all that together!
Next week is Palm Sunday.
Last night during Night Prayer, Christine gave us a sneak peak at the next craft project.
All I can say is that it’s a creative creation worthy of Nigel and Dennis!
We may not be able to welcome a live donkey into St Leonard’s Church this year, but perhaps we can find a way to welcome a donkey into your front lounge!
I have been hearted to hear story after story of the creative ways members of our church family are supporting and encouraging one another.
Someone rings up a friend every morning to say morning prayer together over the phone.
Small groups are discovering new ways to gather, study, share life together and pray via Zoom.
Many people are using their one slot of exercise a day to go for a walk and pray over our village.
Marilyn has created a fantastic virtual buddy-system ensuring that every member of Evergreens stays connected through regular phone calls.
Stories are flooding in on a daily basis from the Oakley Support Network of needs being met, community being built, human connection breaking through isolation and loneliness.
If you have a story of something that’s brought you life or light or encouragement … signs of the kingdom of God … evidence of the Spirit at work in our midst … please do email them to me.
It would be wonderful to share these with one another.
As the days go on and the situation darkens and the reality of the crisis becomes more real to each of us, it is easy to become frightened, anxious and overwhelmed.
In the midst of all this, I notice how the internet can become both helpful and harmful.
Some people are taking to social media with astonishing creativity and kindness and good humour … sharing ideas, making music, creating art, building community, encouraging healthy habits, partnering together in the education of our kids, promoting mental and physical well-being, sharing wisdom and even life-saving information, offering prayer and inviting others to rest in the presence of God.
These are really good things.
They are demonstrating what this technology can do at its best.
Unfortunately, we know that social media can also used as a platform for provoking fear, disseminating misinformation and fake news, blaming and scape-goating others, and dividing communities.
Sadly, some folk out there will try to use this crisis as an opportunity to scam and exploit those who are vulnerable.
It is a time to exercise wisdom and discernment about what we read, what we share, and what we choose to dwell upon.
We’ve set up some safe church spaces online so that we can continue to ‘gather’ together on our Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups, email links, Skype, Zoom, etc.
In light of all the heavy news swirling all around us, I would encourage us to use these platforms as a place to encourage and support one another.
I would therefore ask that on church platforms and groups we refrain from posting general information about the pandemic, material with distinctly political slants, or any medical opinions or perspectives other than those issued by the Government, the NHS or the Church of England.
As I type this my mind goes to Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
This is such beautiful letter, brimming with encouragement and affirmation and hope – even as it acknowledges that not all is well with the world.
Paul is writing from a prison cell.
He is frank about the challenges he’s facing personally and the difficult circumstances confronting the church.
Even in the midst of these trying times, Paul pens some of the most beautiful lines in Scripture:
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.
And the God of peace will be with you’ (Philippians 4:6-9).
In the context of fear and anxiety, Paul encourages the church to not to dwell on the storm, but to lay our worries at the foot of the cross in prayer and petition.
He encourages us to resist anxiety with a discipline of gratitude – thanking God for who he is and for what he done for us and given to us.
Paul reminds us that the peace of God will ‘guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
That is God’s gift to us.
As Jesus tells his disciples (and you and me): ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27).
If the peace of the Lord’s is ours as a gift of God’s Spirit, what are we invited to do in response?
Paul reminds us that we have agency … we have a choice about what we’re going to think about and dwell upon.
Paul encourages us not to stare at the storm, but to fix our eyes on Christ and dwell on every good thing – in the words of The Message: ‘I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. […] do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.’
Let’s heed the wisdom of these words and dwell in the light.
My prayer for you all is the same as Paul’s:
May the peace of God
guard your hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus our Lord.