Response to the COVID-19 pandemic
As of Tuesday 17 March, we have received new guidance from the Archbishops regarding public worship and church activities. In light of the government's guidance, and to ensure we participate fully in the community efforts to reduce the exposure of people to the coronavirus, public worship will be 'put on hold'. That means we will not be able to gather physically in church on Sundays, and that our other activities should be suspended for the time being.
You can read the full text of their letter here. The Archbishops urge us to become a 'different sort of church' in these coming months: "Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day. We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly offer practical care and support."
As I said on Sunday, we are exploring ways to keep us in touch with one another during this period when we are not able to gather all together, particularly as more and more people move into self-isolation. I hope, later in the week, to be able to confirm arrangements to livestream a Sunday morning service, and we will distribute an order of service in advance so we can join in from our homes. We will also, with the crowd of volunteers who have already offered, implement a system of telephone calls to stay in touch with one another - knowing that we are all vulnerable to isolation, irrespective of age or physical health. If you have particular ideas for how we can respond to this extraordinary time, please pass them on to me: there is no template for action. The staff team will be available by phone and email and we are permitted to have the church open for private prayer - we will confirm details in the coming days.
It was sobering indeed last week to hear the Prime Minister say what many of us know in our hearts - that in this crisis many families will lose loved ones before their time. I think I can begin to imagine now what it must feel like to be waiting in the path of a violent tropical storm, knowing it is coming and praying for it to pass without the devastation that it threatens to unleash. But such things do ask deep questions of who we are, and how we understand God, and our relationship to and with Him in the midst of crisis. The Psalms so often capture with deep honesty the emotions we face when under challenge, but also point us to an assurance of God's sovereignty and compassion that provides security and hope when the outlook seems bleak.
Jonathan Clark, the Bishop of Croydon, on his blog last week wrote: Our faith does not prevent us getting ill. But it does mean that we know we are always profoundly healed – whether we live all the time with disability or illness, or whether we are afflicted in passing, at root we are whole in Christ. In the light of that wholeness and that promise we can live the life we are given with the joy that Christ gives, day by day, looking forward to the fullness of eternal life. How can we, then, healed and reconciled, continue to be agents of healing and reconciliation to our neighbours and communities?
Each of us might helpfully ask ourselves that question over these coming days. The Bishop of St Albans earlier in the week suggested four 'Golden Rules' for this time:
- Golden Rule One. Each one of us can think about how we can protect and support our neighbours. So much of the public rhetoric is sowing fear about the danger of other people. So, taking all the official precautions, offer help and reassurance to others – and don’t demonise anyone or any group.
- Golden Rule Two: Think about who may be suffering more than me. For those of us who are healthy there is much less to worry about but the elderly, the housebound and those with chronic health conditions may be very anxious. There’s nothing like a friendly voice to offer solace when someone is worried. A smile can bring cheer, even on the phone.
- Golden Rule Three. Don’t give into panic and start hoarding food. There is plenty to go around, so practise the Christian discipline of sharing. Ask your neighbours what they need and do your best to help them get it.
- Golden Rule Four. Live today to the full. None of us ever know what the future holds. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34), Jesus challenged his followers to live each day fully and not be afraid. Every time we are tempted to give in to fear we need to make a conscious choice to respond in trust and openness.
As well as exploring ways to help those in our community who feel isolated or alone, many of you will be wondering what else we can do.
Foodbank are anticipating seeing an increased need for Foodbank vouchers as a greater number of people find themselves in crisis, leading to an increased demand on stock levels. To enable Foodbank to get the food items they need, people can use www.bankuet.co.uk or www.givefood.org.uk - with both websites delivering directly to Foodbank. If you are out shopping, download the Foodbank app and find out exactly which items they are short of. You can also donate cash to help them buy items as shortages appear by texting Dinner followed by one of the following amounts - Dinner 5, Dinner 10 or Dinner 20 to 70085. You can also donate via the website https://norwoodbrixton.foodbank.org.uk/give-help/donate-money. If you are interested in regularly volunteering, please do get in touch with them. Finally, if you are in crisis, I can provide a confidential referral which will enable you to access both emergency food provision and the significant advice and other support that is available at West Norwood.
Lastly, please pray as we face these challenges with God’s help. We as a church can all pray, whoever and wherever we are - for all affected, globally, by the virus, for those who have lost loved ones, for those in government and public health providing leadership and advice, and particularly for those on the frontline providing care and treatment to those who are sick.
If you are struggling to pray, here is an offering from the Dean of Southwark Cathedral:
source of healing and comfort,
fill us with your grace,
that the sick may be made whole,
that those who care for us may be strengthened,
that the anxious may be calmed,
and those most vulnerable be protected
in the power of Spirit
in the faith of Jesus Christ our Lord.
May we know God's presence, and comfort, and the power of his Spirit, in these testing times.
With much love.