As I come to the end of my first year in the parishes and my second Easter, I thought it would be a good opportunity to write to you and share some of my reflections from the past year and the plans for Lent and Easter 2021.
It has been an incredible first year, and much of it has been about crisis management and making tough decisions about the way we worship. Throughout the pandemic, I have reluctantly closed the church buildings with the support of the Revd Delia, PCCs and the Church wardens. This has meant that after nearly a year in the parishes, I am yet to meet many of you in person, either on the church doorstep or over a cup of tea. I think the common phrase for the past year has been, “when things return to normal”. Realistically, our way of worshipping across the parishes will never look like it did in the past. This is because of the number of clergy serving the three parishes has drastically reduced. We simply cannot offer the same number of services in each parish pre my appointment and pre COVID-19.
Covid has meant that we have had to embrace new ways of worshipping. Within a month of my arrival last year, we had started our Sunday morning services on Zoom. What a steep learning curve for us all! We have had to try to work out how to turn the camera on, how to mute and unmute and how we can include singing in our services without sounding too much like a cacophony and more like a “joyful noise”. Most weeks we now have a reasonably fluent service, and we are now able to livestream from St James Church to our YouTube channel each week. Covid has also enabled us to come together as a group of parishes and worship together much more quickly out of necessity. It has planted the seeds of friendship and cooperation for the future.
So, how might the future of our parishes look? Of course, there are still so many unknowns and we still have to be flexible as we continue to live through a pandemic. One thing I am sure of is that the “mixed-mode of Church” which is a combination of worshipping online and in our church buildings is here to stay. This means that resolving Wi-Fi issues in Thursley and Shackleford and Peper Harow needs to be a priority. Wi-Fi in the buildings offers the opportunity to share services, weddings, funerals, and baptisms with those who live far away or who might not be able to attend. It makes the churches more accessible and moves us into the 21st Century.
From a church perspective, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can no longer continue to simply maintain the model of church that has existed before. It challenges us to look again at our mission of making disciples in our communities. How do we continue to reach out to those who appreciate a more traditional style of church worship and who do not engage with technology? How do we engage with families? How can we offer hospitality? How do we reach out to those in our communities and share the love of Christ but also let them know that the church is still here, it is still open, and it is still relevant? These are questions we need to ask and answer together as our parishes move closer together. These are the issues we need to pray about as we seek God’s vision for the future of our Parishes. These are not questions and issues Delia and I can resolve on our own. Each of us have a role to play in partnering with God to seek his will for the future of our Parishes.
As we move into the season of Lent, this is the perfect opportunity to explore through our Lent groups, online on a Tuesday evening, from 7-8pm how and why we pray. Lent presents a time to go deeper with God. And in our prayers during this season, we can ask God how we can be involved in shaping the future of the parishes. Lent is a time of self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. We can do this by using the “Live Lent” resources: https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/livelent-2021-church-resources-gods-story-our-story .
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is on the 17th of February. We will be having an Ash Wednesday service via Zoom at 7pm.
We are hoping to have a gradual return to the church buildings during Lent and Holy Week. More information is available on our Opening Churches Page https://parishesofetsph.org.uk/worship/opening-churches-for-sunday-worship/
Of course, this has the caveat that if the virus numbers go up, we may have to consider staying online for our worship.
I look forward to journeying through Lent and Holy Week with you.