Last month was the AGM at St Andrew’s. It was the first time ever I had chaired a Church Meeting on Zoom. Seeing the familiar agenda set me thinking. At each St Andrew’s Church Meeting there is the ‘Ministers’ Slot’ but I have never experienced one before in such circumstances. The week before whilst out and about I met a retired minister and he asked me, ‘How are things,’ I gave him my stock answer, ‘Life is strange.’ A recent email from another minister concluded with him using the phrase, ‘these strange times’. It has been a unique year. There may be similarities with the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919 but that was a very different world. The ministers’ slot led me to reflect on where we have been as churches over the past year and an indication of where we need to focus in the coming year. Reflecting on the strange year we have just had, and given we are planning to return to our buildings for worship, I thought it opportune to share some of my thoughts on these strange times.
Firstly, the cost. The huge cost in human life, on the news each evening there has been the official UK figures but the actual number is higher when comparing average figures over the past years, very sobering when a year ago we were told that 20,000 may die. It is however all God’s world and the worldwide total is frightening. So many families bereaved and so many continuing to struggle. Then there is long-covid, recently on a Zoom call another local minister was saying something about their struggle with that. The cost has been in so many ways to peoples’ lives, including their relationships. The church consists of people and their relationship, both to God and each other, for some there has been a cost to these relationships. Our challenge may be to help pick up some of the pieces.
Another of the costs has been to our way of life. So much of what we took for granted has been absent this last year. So many of the things we do, are in part dependent on good habits learned over the years and so many of these habits have been disrupted this past year. Like with long-covid some of the effects will slowly disappear whilst other will be long lasting and far reaching. We need to be aware and ready for this challenge from disrupted habits.
There have however been positives, which may seem a surprising thing to say but they are there. For some it is a new appreciation of their local area, and the natural world, for others with children at home it has meant time spent together, it has been lovely to see families out together on their bikes. Some in the Church have used the extra time to pray, read and reflect, some have attended worship online who wouldn’t be able to get to our buildings and some have come to realise just what is important to them, several have told me how one of those things is Sunday Worship. The challenge will be not to lose this new found appreciation.
There are the things we have done well; churches are notoriously bad at change but some have showed great initiative and many have coped with rapid change. I often remark to people that we, ‘Haven’t missed a Sunday,’ the worship is different but we still worship, I sing away in my kitchen, and I’m as out of tune as ever. The new skills we have learnt and the relative ease in which we have adapted are things we need to build upon.
As to that future, what is so often now referred to as the ‘New Normal’. No one knows quite what that will be, but most seem to say things won’t just go back to just as they were before. I was very struck by what another local minister said about starting all over again; about the key decisions on what to restart, what to leave in the past and what new things to do.
The message of Easter has not changed. We still shout the same joyful message, even if the world around us has changed. We have the challenge of deciding what to restart, what to let go of and what new things to do. Perhaps the key two guidelines are the need for a healthy church life, for we are a family and as a URC document points to, the opportunity for new mission initiatives. May we be better able to share the joyful Easter message this new world needs as much as ever before.
Yours in Christ,