As we enter the season of Autumn in these strange times, one of the things we find most challenging in the church is how difficult it is to plan things.
I like to have a plan and to order events as far as possible and in these times this has proved to be a real test. There are normally fixed events and services based on the church’s year but we are discovering that we need to learn to do all these things in a new way. This month sees a number of such events and while we are thinking about how best to do them, we are conscious that our plans may have to change according to the ever-changing regulations and Government guidelines.
The first event I’m thinking of is our Easter Vestry. This is the annual business meeting of the church at which the accounts are presented and a report is usually given by the Rector about the projects and plans we are pursuing as a church at the present time. A new Select Vestry is elected to serve for the incoming year and take decisions about the church’s finances, furnishings and fabrics. As this is what is called a triennial year there will be people elected to serve in various capacities and represent the parish at Diocesan Synod. Others will be elected to serve as parochial nominators in the event of a vacancy in the parish. These are important positions and I would ask people to pray for all that happens and all who are elected to serve at our Easter Vestry Meeting on Tuesday 13th October at 7.30 pm in the church building. We are mindful that some may not be able to attend because they are shielding and this year we are advised that attendance should be restricted to those who have registered on the annual Register of Vestrypersons. This is open to anyone over the age of 18 who is not registered in any other parish and who contributes to church funds. This meeting was scheduled to take place prior to Easter but because of lockdown it was postponed and in recent communication from the Diocese it was asked that parishes try to hold the meeting between 1st and 16th October. There is the possibility of re-electing the existing Select Vestry and co-opting others to serve where people have given notice of a need to stand down so we hope the meeting will be quite short and will of course comply with social distancing and the current guidelines with respect to gatherings.
The second event I’m thinking of is our Harvest Thanksgiving services on Sunday 25th October. This year our Harvest preacher is Bishop Michael Burrows who is the Bishop of Cashel, Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin. Bishop Michael is a former chairman of the Bishops’ Appeal Advisory Committee which channels resources to projects in the poorest countries in the world in the areas of health, education and rural development as well as relief in times of natural disaster. Bishop Michael has kindly agreed to preach at both our 11am and 7pm services.
We are mindful that normally our church would be decorated for this occasion with flowers and fruits which would then be distributed to parishioners who are housebound. This year with the restrictions around COVID-19, it will not be possible to decorate the church in the usual way. We hope to have one or two floral displays but we are encouraging parishioners to bring some tinned food or non-perishable items which will be given to a local food bank to assist families and individuals going through very challenging economic times during this pandemic. More details will be made known in the coming weeks about what items to bring and how this will unfold practically. The collection on the day will be given to the work of the Bishops’ Appeal which like most charities at the present time has seen its income fall substantially which affects its capacity to respond to very worthwhile projects around the world with agencies like Tearfund, Christian Aid, Fields of Life, CMS, The Leprosy Mission , SAMS and others. We are also mindful of Harvest being a popular service for visitors and those who attend more occasionally. The current capacity of the church is around 55 allowing for a combination of households who come sometimes as families and individuals.
Could I ask people who are more mobile to perhaps consider coming in the evening on Harvest Sunday to facilitate those who might find it easier to come out in the morning please? We would love to see a full capacity at both morning and evening to welcome Bishop Michael who is a very gifted communicator. The service will be live streamed to facilitate those who may not be able to come in person and we are very grateful to all our stewards and technology team for making this possible alongside our cleaning team who do an amazing job wiping down all pews and surfaces in between our morning and evening services.
We really miss our choir and our organist who lead our music so beautifully in normal circumstances. They would normally be practising special music and anthems for these services and as yet we are still not permitted to sing in the normal way so we don’t know what will unfold in the coming months. Please remember Mark and the choir in your prayers who work so hard all year round and at present are very restricted in what they can do because of the pandemic.
The third event I’m thinking about is our annual Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance. This would normally happen on the first Sunday in November in the evening time. This year All Saints Day falls on 1st November. We usually write to parishioners who have lost a loved one during the past year and invite them to this special service in which we name those who have gone before us and give thanks for their lives and honour their memories in a floral tribute. Because of the current restrictions, this service too will be happening in a different way.
We hope to write to families bereaved in the past year inviting them to send 4 representatives from each family. We will be holding two services on that day, 1st November at 11am and 7pm to remember and honour all who have died in the past year and to reflect on the Christian hope which underpins our faith in the midst of heartbreak and loss.
This will mean that the services on Sunday 1st November will be opened primarily to those who have been bereaved in the past year and live streamed and made available on recordings to the wider parish family. There is no fairer way we believe to observe this very special service and so we ask parishioners who haven’t been affected by loss in the past year to make way for those who will come and to follow the live stream or recording on that day. My heart goes out to all those families who have had to endure the pain of loss during these difficult months of lockdown where funeral services were unable to happen in the church building and with very restricted numbers present.
We are studying the recent guidelines issued in connection with reopening our church halls and trying to set in place all the things necessary to follow these guidelines and keep people safe. This is our chief concern, to open the halls and resume activities only when we believe it is safe to do so. We recognise how uncertain and challenging this is for our organisations and parishioners who find their activities a real source of fellowship and community. It is not easy to restrict things but we have a duty of care not just to ourselves but to all who cross our doors and people’s safety is paramount.
In the midst of the planning challenges and thinking through doing things in new ways, we are mindful too of new opportunities. We see people’s pastoral gifts shining through as they care for each other. We see servant hearted people helping in practical ways with cleaning, stewarding and technology. We are seeing spiritual engagement through the services, our online Alpha and prayer meeting. We see regular children’s activities posted on the website and Facebook page by the Boys’ Brigade, the Sunday School teachers and the Diocesan youth officer. We look forward to our second Messy Church online this month and we’d love to say thank you to all who are praying for the life of our parish in these days.
With very best wishes,
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)
Telephone 02890 793822