Message from Geoff Lanham on 30th September

Dear friends,

This week I had the strange experience of doing school assemblies in the actual school building for the first time in 21 months. You could tell how much time had elapsed, because I couldn’t remember where the infant hall was! It felt both joyous and slightly scary. I have to admit to flinching slightly when various children started coughing. I realised at one level, that being in a room once more with 240 children made me slightly nervous. There were no masks and there was no distancing. It made me think that we are all now using a different set of criteria by which to judge whether we feel safe in different situations. For many people, the relaxation of restrictions is a source of significant anxiety. For others, it’s a cause of celebration. As someone once said “One person’s freedom is another person’s fear.”

This week, as a staff team, we’ve been reviewing our Covid practice. Now, I’ve never walked across a tightrope myself, but I imagine that the skill has something in common with balancing competing needs and aspirations in church at this time. What makes things more complicated are the signals we are getting from other contexts that the pandemic is now nothing to be concerned about. Wearing a mask in a shop or petrol station currently makes me feel an oddity, because so many have dispensed with them. We are all aware of situations where people have decided to do things differently. I was talking to a vicar this week who’s in charge of two churches. One church has restrictions much looser than the other one!

I think it’s important we take note of the Church of England’s guidance when it reminds us that,
As many members within one body, we are called to be responsible to and for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering (1 Cor 12:12-27). Where we are now means we are being asked to take even more personal responsibility around coronavirus than when we were compelled to adhere to Government restrictions.

Harvest reminds us of the generosity of God in providing us with produce. We reflect on the need to be generous in sharing our resources, as part of Jesus’ command to love our neighbour as ourself. Whilst the risks associated with catching Covid if you’re double vaccinated have reduced, we still cannot evade our responsibility for our neighbour’s well-being. So, at a time when cases in the local schools and community are spiking, what are we to do as a church to begin entering the phase of living with the virus? Here’s what has been decided for the next month at least.

  • You no longer have to wear a mask to come into church, but we continue to ask you to sanitise your hands on entry.   
  • Mask wearing will become optional for those choosing to sit in the centre of the church and left-hand aisle as you come into church. In the right-hand aisle (the St. John’s Chapel side), mask wearing will continue to be compulsory. These pews will remain socially distanced to provide a safe space for those who are more cautious.
  • Mask wearing will still be required when singing. As the C of E guidance states, activities such as singing and raising our voices generate more particles and the associated risk is greatest where these activities take place when people are in close contact with others indoors. Mask wearing when singing, inconvenient though it is, is one way of protecting our neighbour.
  • On leaving church, people in the socially distanced aisle will be allowed to leave first via the main door. People in the centre aisle at the 9.30 service will still leave by the priests’ door to avoid overcrowding at the main door.
  • You are encouraged to do your socialising/chatting outside church after the service.
  • Please do not attend church if you are feeling unwell or are displaying Covid symptoms. To help keep one another safe, we would ask you to have a culture in your home of regular lateral flow testing of yourself and family.
  • Our October 10th evening service will be held in St. John’s Hall. Thereafter, it will alternate between the Hall and the Church. We will create a more Covid secure area of seating for those who wish to be more distanced.

As vicar, responsibility devolves onto me to be the one who make the call on Covid policy. We are doing our own risk assessment under God, so the fact that others may be doing things differently is not necessarily a reason to roll back every restriction. All of our changes will be kept under review as we watch the number of cases locally. Can I remind everyone of the need to be conscious of others and respectful of divergent views? Despite the mixed messaging, it remains official government policy that it “expects and recommends” that people wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed settings to protect themselves and others.

Thanks for your understanding.

God bless,
Geoff

30th September 2021

Message from Geoff Lanham on 9th September

Dear friends,

A funny thing has been happening to me over recent months. In conversation with people, my mind has sometimes gone blank or it has felt, on occasions, like the words have stuck in my larynx and got mixed up. Is this an illness? Well, perhaps it could be entitled “the recovery conversational yips!” Maybe you’ve experienced it too. We’ve all spent 18 months talking to other people through computer screens or text or What’s App. Having to form actual words in a real- life face to face interaction has suddenly seemed something of a daunting hurdle. Situations that used to be second nature to a vicar, like chatting with hordes of people coming out of church, now carry a new layer of challenge and jeopardy. There you are. I’ve said it. Sometimes conversation feels difficult. There’s a post-lockdown awkwardness. I related to these words I read recently, written by someone on a blog site,

I’ve lost my conversational mojo… I used to pride myself on being a good listener, quick on my feet, self-aware. But I’ve noticed signs that I’m slipping. The first time someone asked how I was, after months of social isolation, I forgot to reply. I’d grown accustomed to seeing conversations as things that happened on TV, that didn’t involve me. When I did speak, my throat gurgled before the words emerged, like taps being run for the first time in a holiday home. The last time someone initiated a conversation with me, I babbled for eight minutes about how I’d been growing pineapples from other pineapples.

You may have heard of the Regent honeyeater. It’s a once ubiquitous Australian bird, now endangered, because it got to the point of no longer hearing other honeyeaters. The consequence is that Regent Honeyeaters are forgetting how to sing. After a year of Zoom and masks, perhaps learning to process facial expressions, read visual cues and respond in real time again feels a demanding task. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to speak. I tell myself that it’s not surprising. It’s going to take a while for all of us to learn how to be with each other again.

I’d like to suggest that this is a season for re-discovering the lost art of conversation with one another. When I was in the hairdressers the other day, I joked “It’s hard to remember what we used to talk to one another about before this pandemic, isn’t it?” What is there to talk about other than covid? I’d like to suggest that there’s a link between listening and conversation. James 1: 19 challenges us,

Remember this, my dear friends! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak…

So many in our culture seem to love talking about themselves. But what might happen, if we in church created a culture in which we truly saw and heard one another? In the Zulu tradition, people greet each other by saying ‘Sawubona’, which means ‘I see you’. The other person replies, ‘I see you, too’. Who are we really seeing, for instance, when we come out of a church service? Who are we really noticing at home group? As Rob Kendall, communications expert and author of ‘Blamestorming: Why conversations go wrong and how to fix them’ writes

“When you lose the focus on yourself, conversation becomes more of a dance, and goes somewhere you wouldn’t expect.”

I find in life that the people I open up to tend to be the ones I sense are listening and are really interested in giving me a bit of time. I remember, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, feeling on the edge of the group. Everyone seemed so self-confident and keen to tell me about themselves. After a few days, I found myself praying “Lord, please give me someone to minister to me; someone who’ll listen and be genuinely interested.” That night at dinner, my prayer was answered by an older woman who listened to me sensitively and empathetically about some of the struggles I was experiencing. Of course, listening to someone be honest about how they are doing takes a lot of emotional energy. However, in a season of “recovery conversational yips”, we need people who will give us time and listen patiently. Why not practise listening to another person for five minutes without interrupting.

If we feel we too have lost our conversational mojo, perhaps we can reflect on the type of questions that can encourage meaningful conversation. Try asking:

  • What are you finding life-giving at the moment?
  • How’s the opening up of restrictions been for you?
  • What’s nourished you over the summer?
  • What are you frustrated by?
  • How are your confidence levels?

My observation is that churches are generally devoid of the type of explicitly spiritual conversations you might expect to find. Instead of talking about the weather, football or the garden, we could take the risk of asking one another,

“So, what did you sense God saying to you through the service today?” Has anything been encouraging you in your faith recently? What did you come to church feeling like today?” Now, if we all start using the same questions, naturally it’s going to seem a little artificial, but you can see what I’m getting at. As Christians, issues of discipleship ought to be on the conversational table.

Maybe, like me, you might find yourself needing to pray, Psalm 51: 15,

 Help me to speak, Lord,
and I will praise you.

 It’s ok to recognise the place we’re in. When you forget a language (like I have with Spanish), it’s possible to relearn the words and the art of speaking. If none of what I’ve said applies to you and your conversation is in great shape, feel free to ignore. Maybe, focus on the listening part!

God bless,
Geoff
9th September 2021

on this week hear talks