This Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost and sadly it is another major festival in the life of the church where we will not be able to come together to celebrate. However, the pandemic has brought new opportunities and we have been able to move services online and this is quite likely to be something that we will continue in the longer term. We are really grateful to Kate Nolan, David White and various volunteers who have taken on the responsibilities and challenges of streaming the worship of St Mary’s.
I am not sure of the date when we will be able to meet again, but when this happens, the most important thing will be that people feel safe. We have been following the Church of England guidelines and they will provide a number of suggestions on how we maintain a church environment that maintains hygiene and social distancing precautions. This will involve changes to how we normally do things. Once we know the full extent of the guidance it will be possible to provide a plan of what will happen that will be sent out and publicised before the church can be reopened.
It is highly likely that over the lockdown period that you have been through a range of emotions. It has been a unique and challenging time. There have been some undoubted positives. The level of appreciation for key workers in society and the collective sense of looking out for people has been fantastic. Yet, there has also been some really difficult moments. It has been a tragic time for a number of bereaved families in the locality, who have been denied physical proximity with loved ones and the opportunity to come together with family and friends for funerals. It has not been possible to visit loved ones and all generations have had to come to terms with the challenges of isolation. The pandemic has raised some uncomfortable questions about social inequalities and there is still the wider uncertainty of the robustness of the economy and the implications of a deep recession. Overarching all of this is the fear that while progress has been made the coronavirus may well shape how we live for an indefinite period.
In the Gospel stories the most frequent commandment that Jesus says is “don’t be afraid.” The fact that he said it so often shows it was an ongoing issue. Fear by its very nature makes us feel anxious, can divide and erode trust. In the Pentecost story the disciples have to overcome a huge fear, a fear that was highly understandable, that if they were seen in public, they might well face hostility and arrest. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they received was the strength to face that fear and preach the good news of resurrection and hope.
I have to say that I feel a sense of fear about what will happen and how as a church we will get through this next stage of the church’s life. We are certainly going to face some huge challenges. Yet, the Holy Spirit always renews hope.
There is something profoundly compelling about hope. No matter how difficult the times we live in, how challenging the situations we face, and despite the hurts and anxiety that we can experience, there is still a power within us that can keep us going and moving forward.
At Pentecost we give thanks for the Holy Spirit that can still breath through the churches and the communities of which we are a part, giving us the courage to reach out and never lose heart.
Thank you to everyone for what you have been doing through prayer and pastoral support and I look forward to welcoming you at St Mary’s on a Sunday morning soon.
Rev Jonathan Gordon