Dear Friends,

As I write this letter it’s the morning of St. Patrick’s Day. Usually at this time I would be part of the Diocesan pilgrimage from Saul to Down Cathedral stopping at various points along the road to pray for schools and businesses, for peace in our land and different situations affecting our world.

Today instead, I’m physically distancing myself from people, staying in touch by phone and text and praying for them as they come into my mind. These are challenging days for everyone as we try to follow best practice to stay safe and protect the most vulnerable in our community from the coronavirus.

We do have a duty of care to those deemed to be most vulnerable in the older age bracket or those with underlying medical conditions who may be more susceptible to this virus which is why, for the rest of the month of March, all weekly activities and midweek services in the church and halls are suspended.

At this point in time we await guidance about our Sunday
gatherings and so we have been trying to keep people informed through our website and facebook page about the latest information as we are guided by the government and public health authorities. Our magazine tends to find its way into pretty well everyone’s home who has declared themselves a parishioner and so in this magazine we will find the words of some hymns and prayers that may serve as a useful devotional resource in these troubled times.

One of the aspects of the crisis that concerns me most is the degree of isolation that may be experienced by our older parishioners who may be asked in the coming weeks to self- isolate for a prolonged period of time to slow down the spread of the virus. It’s very challenging to be asked not to visit our elderly parents or grandparents and keep ourselves as an individual or family unit to ourselves. By doing what we think to be helpful by visiting, we may be in fact exposing people to a greater risk. For this reason I am going to look in the coming days at setting up a team of people who might undertake to telephone 4 or 5 people regularly in that more vulnerable age category.

It can’t be underestimated just how important these phone calls and little cards or letters will be to people especially those who don’t use technology or smartphones. For those who are well and can collect groceries or prescriptions for those more vulnerable, please offer to do so and we hope those little clusters will be able to support and help each other as the need arises. For those wishing to help in that practical way, I would like to alert you to a very inspiring facebook page called “help the vulnerable”. They are making a huge difference to many people through the pooling of resources and helping in those practical ways.

We remind people that if they are displaying any symptoms of the virus like a runny nose, a cough or a fever to please stay at home along with their household and self-isolate for 14 days. If the symptoms persist, please phone your GP or 111 for further advice.

Can we please encourage everyone to pray in these days for our government as they make difficult decisions on a daily and even hourly basis? Can we ask you to pray too for the medical professionals on the frontline looking after people who are very ill and putting themselves at risk in the process? Can we ask you to pray for our children and grandchildren who are likely to be off school for a time especially those preparing for important exams in all the uncertainty?

Please pray too for small businesses who are so reliant on their customers for cashflow and for the many people who have been laid off work in this crisis. I have noticed how some businesses have been able to set up their business online to supply people and it’s good to support those ventures if we are in a position to do so or to shop locally and support our local shops, who will find these days very difficult to manage.

Churches are no exception to this in terms of their running costs and if people are in a position to do so, making contributions by standing order, organised by you with your bank, is very helpful to stabilise parish finances at a precarious time going forward.

This will also mean that we can reduce contact with the envelopes for both the count teams and the FWO recorder. The details of how to do this will be found in this magazine and if it is helpful to speak to our Honorary Treasurer, you will find his details also included.

As Christians we do have a unique resource through prayer to cry out to God and ask for his help in this time of great need and anxiety which is why we want to use this month’s magazine as a springboard or resource to mobilise the prayers of many. Pray on your own, pray with your household or family. Our heavenly father longs to engage with us in these troubled times. I am reminded of 2 things as I conclude. The first is a verse from a hymn called “Brother, Sister, let me serve you”. It says “we are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load”. Some people’s load is particularly heavy in these times and through prayer and phone calls and messages we can help each other to get through those tough times.

I’m also reminded of some verses from one of my favourite psalms, Psalm 139 verses 7- 10. In those verses the psalmist speaks of how no matter what we face – both in the good times and the worst of times, God’s spirit is with us. There’s a lovely picture in verse 10 of how God’s right hand will hold us fast. That’s a lovely picture to keep to the very forefront of our minds if we are feeling anxious or afraid, if we can’t sleep for whatever reason, God’s right hand will hold us fast.

May I wish you strength, peace and an overwhelming sense of the presence of God and reassure you that so long as I am well and not a risk to anyone I am glad to come in times of adversity and will observe those guidelines of social distance and pray.

I’m also conscious of the power of the telephone and, only last night, our new Bishop phoned me and prayed with me over the phone, so I suspect there will be quite a bit of that kind of contact in the coming days.

With very best wishes.
Yours sincerely Jonathan Pierce (Rector) Telephone 02890 793822