Message from Geoff Lanham on 24th March

Dear friends,
You will all, no doubt, have heard the Prime Minister’s announcement last night about the necessary closure of all church buildings nationally. This is an unprecedented emergency measure that has massive symbolic effect for us. However, much as we might miss our building, it reminds us that our core identity lies in being the people of God. We follow in the tradition of the Israelites wandering in the desert and the early Christians hiding in homes to avoid persecution. What binds us to one another is our common relationship with Jesus through the Spirit and this exists irrespective of whether we can access our building our not. This crisis also reminds us that there are many casualties of war and oppression who have had to flee their homes and churches. There are scattered communities of Christians who have seen their church buildings deliberately destroyed. So perhaps we have a little empathy with our brothers and sisters around the world.#

In this crisis, being church is going to look very different. We as a staff are very mindful of our need to maintain pastoral structures and provide spiritual input, not only to our church family, but also to the wider community who will be experiencing fear and anxiety. To this end, we will be providing uploaded video content through our church Facebook page on a Wednesday and Sunday each week aimed at resourcing our community. The staff will take it in turns to minister in this way. Sermons on a Sunday will continue to be recorded for listening via the website and we will be adding prayers to these as well. Paul Holden is doing a livestream for the young people via Instagram each day. In addition, we are working on changing the newssheet to become a bit of an e-zine containing resources, ideas, prayer topics etc.

I’m suggesting that we might like to continue the practice of lighting a candle each week. If we all light a candle at 7.30pm on a Wednesday each week as a call to prayer, then we can all be praying for the crisis, our nation, world and community at the same time as one body of people. I believe it will provide comfort to know that we are doing this together even if we cannot meet. In due time, a version of morning and evening prayer will be uploaded to the website for you to use.

This is day 6 of my self-isolation holed up in my bedroom, so I have not been able to access my computer and books. As from Thursday, I will be able to work as usual. To all of you who have been unwell recently and have, similarly, been self-isolating, I hope and pray that you will soon feel stronger and that God gives all of us the grace to take one day at a time. It must seem very daunting if you have been required to isolate for twelve weeks. The implications are huge. Do please stay in contact with one another. Home groups have a massive part to play at this time, but if you’re not in a home group and you need help or you’d welcome some phone contact, please do make use of our designated pastoral mobile number 07942 758290. David and Annette Pickering and James and Mary Thorne will be taking it in turns to cover the phone. The church office will be closed to people entering, but the phones will be checked and essential activities will be covered by Helen and Natalie.

Since we’ve not been this way before, none of us knows what this stage in our life will feel like. I’d like to share a picture that someone in the congregation sent me. It came in response to them asking God to speak in the light of last Sunday’s sermon.

As I was listening to your talk I was drawn especially to your reflections on ‘stopping and thinking’, ‘facing our own disfunction’ and to ‘stop believing our own press’. I prayed over this and was given a picture of a river flowing rapidly over shallow water. It has movement, oxygen and looks healthy but there is little life in it because it is not deep enough to sustain or recreate life. That happens in the deeper water and to make the shallows sustain life then the river has to be slowed. That requires effort and choice and people working together, not necessarily in the same way but understanding the purpose of the dam or changes to the way the river is flowing.

As a church, we could quite easily get sucked into a flurry of activity and good things to be doing. It seems to me that this picture speaks of God saying to us that our challenge is to slow down and deepen our walk with him. If this is a season of greater attentiveness and listening to God, it could be a precious time despite the privations and difficulties. In the 4th and 5th centuries, men and women in Egypt went out into the desert to escape the cities and seek God. These Desert Fathers and Mothers lived in solitude and gave themselves to prayer and the task of facing their own demons.

As we go into our own “desert” may we find God in new ways, deepen our prayer and dependence upon him and come to know ourselves better. God bless you all.

Geoff Lanham
24th March 2020

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