A pastoral letter from Revd Will Gibbs – revised and updated on Wednesday 25th March:
We live in bizarre and unprecedented times. The news is completely dominated by Coronavirus, with confirmed cases globally now approaching 420,000 and a palpable sense of fear and uncertainty around. We have seen the best and worst of human behaviour as some seek to stockpile and jostle and exploit while at the same time there are many stories emerging of extraordinary kindness and service shown to strangers as well as neighbours and friends. I’m sure we will look back in history to this period as a very significant moment in time and it will be talked about and reflected on for years to come.
But what will people say?
Will this period be marked by selfishness, fear and greed, of loss and grief, or will it be a period which changed us but perhaps for the better? A time when people realised what was most important and re-calibrated their lives and priorities? A time when people were reminded, albeit by such unwelcome means, that human relationships and virtues and values like care, compassion, gentleness, faith and trust were more precious than the ones we chose to show or live by before?
You will have heard much in the news and I wanted to write to everybody at St Mary’s and share some thoughts and information about our church and what is going on.
Firstly, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have directed that, in accordance with wider Government guidelines, there all churches must be locked and remain locked at this time. Click here to read the Archbishops’ letter.
This obviously brings enormous sadness and our natural instinct is to want to gather and pray and reassure one another all the more at a time like this. And yet, to do so, will risk the health and wellbeing of others. And so they have suggested that this is a time for us to be the church but in a new way. The detail of this approach is set out below:
Church carries on
Although there can be no acts of worship in church for the foreseeable time, the work of prayer continues is more important than ever.
I will continue to pray Morning Prayer at 9.30 am and Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm but now from home and be assured that I will praying hard for you and for our community at this time.
If you would like to pray Morning and Evening Prayer in your home you can access the words by downloading the app called ‘Daily Prayer’ onto your phone or tablet or by going to the Church of England website here.
I continue to spend a considerable amount of time working with key members of The Redbourn Care Group, Neighbourhood Watch, the Surgery, the Parish Council and others to build a coordinated community response to those who may be in need through this time ahead.
We’re having a couple of virtual meetings a week to carry this work forward and we’ve had an amazing response of around 400 people, many of them parents in the village, who want to reach out to their neighbours in need and play their part in helping at this time. But we need to channel that good-will in ways that are helpful and neither duplicate or miss people.
The printed handbill has now been delivered to all 2,200 homes and is also available online. On it are details of how we can respond and help but also seek help – so if you, or anyone you know in the village needs reassurance, a friendly chat, prescriptions, food or anything else but are at home and self-isolating please ring 01582 794 550.
Alongside this I, and several others at St Mary’s, will be trying to contact members of the congregation to keep in touch and offer help and pastoral support as well. Please do contact me – the details are in the letterhead – if I can help you in any way in the coming weeks.
This is also something you can do for each other – if you belong to a church group – a cleaning team, a Spotlight group, the Choir, Bell ringers, or you regularly sit in a particular part of the church (i.e. all of you!) why not get in touch with others and see how they are doing? It doesn’t have to be when someone is over 70 or feeling poorly – we may just need some human interaction and a chat as this goes on for some time.
We will be offering a streamed simple act of worship each Sunday morning at 9.30 am but this will now have to come from the Vicarage. Please have a look at the homepage of this website for details. I hope you can access this time of worship from your home on your computer or tablet and it may be that we can offer a few other services as we approach Holy Week and Easter and the most important services of the year.
You can access a special form of the pew sheet with the words of the service, readings and news if you wish to follow them. You may like to print those off so you can have the screen open on the service and the words in hand. If you don’t have a printer then you could open this on one device so you can still see the service on your main computer or screen.
We hope that this is something others in our community will engage with as well and my hope is that whilst it won’t be the same as being together, we may actually have a larger ‘congregation’ than usual. Last Sunday, when we did this for the first time, the number of visitors to the church website exceeded 700 and broke all our records!
Another lovely initiative is that we are being asked to light a candle at 7.00pm every Sunday evening and carefully place it on a window sill at the front of your property (please take care to do this safely and away from curtains etc.). This wave of prayer with these candles of hope will spread across our nation at this time of need. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look out of our home and see lots of lots of candles glowing as a sign that – whilst we can’t gather together – we are still very much united.
Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals
You may be wondering about these services and what will happen. Well, we’ve been issued with updated guidance from the Church of England and will be following that.
No baptisms or weddings can now take place and will have to be postponed until the measures are lifted. We have two weddings booked at St Mary’s in the first half of the year. I suspect they will be postponed to later in the year but if not, they will go ahead and I will offer them a thanksgiving for their marriage at a later date, either in the Autumn or on their first wedding anniversary.
Funerals will need to be conducted but will be for a minimum number of mourners in attendance and can only take place at the Graveside or at a crematorium. I will encourage a Service of Thanksgiving to follow later in the year when all who would like to have attended the funeral can then be present if they wish.
On this last note, the Memorial Service for Patricia Wheen is not now taking place on Saturday 21 March and will be rescheduled for later in the year.
Also, and very sadly, I must share the sad news that Catherine Robertson passed away yesterday. She has been a valued member of our church family and a stalwart of our choir for many years and will be greatly missed. I suspect her funeral, in light of the above, will be a very quiet affair but I hope we will have the opportunity later in the year to have a Memorial Service at St Mary’s with lots of lovely music as we celebrate her life.
Keeping up to date with church news
I will continue to publish a pew sheet with service words, readings, a prayer section and news but in a different format that will hopefully be easier to print or read from your computers at home. This will be posted towards the end of each week in readiness for that Sunday’s service.
I will also work closely with Kate Ford and try and make sure we add extra news and information as we have it, so do check often to keep in touch and up to date. I won’t inflict another long missive like this on you! Instead we will use the pew sheet and website along with social media for those who use it, to keep our fellowship strong.
On which note, do get in touch with me by email with news, offers of help, any thoughts you have. While the pew sheet will have less of our usual material in this new way of being church, we can use that space to celebrate birthdays and share news from the congregation. In similar fashion our monthly editions of Common Round will still come out and will be especially valuable, as they always are.
I hope that in time we can explore some creative things through this period including an outdoor Easter Garden, a Kindness Tree where people can leave messages of encouragement, working in the churchyard and other activities and ideas are all being actively explored at the moment.
We now have a wonderful rainbow on the churchyard fence to bring hope and joy to passers-by in the coming weeks. Thank you to Virginia and Penny for this. If you have ideas about things we can do while the restrictions are in place, then do let me know. Out of this challenging time and adversity could emerge some really amazing things.
I’m also encouraging people to embrace technology so that fellowship can continue. One thought is that we can use Zoom to get a group together online where you can see and hear each other and enjoy some fellowship. This might work well for Spotlight groups and other groups in church so do explore this and I can help get you started if you get in touch.
One piece of important information is that it is almost certain that our APCM will not now be taking place on 29 April. I suspect that the prohibitions about gathering together will almost certainly still be in place. We have been reassured by the Bishop of St Albans that in these circumstances parishes will have special dispensation and we will have until 31 October to hold this, and therefore a new timescale to update our Electoral Roll in preparation for this, as well to carry out the election of Churchwardens, PCC members, approve the accounts and other statutory business.
On to the rather mundane but important. The life of the church continues as does our ministry, albeit in different ways and forms. We still have many expenses and overheads, the Parish Share, staff salaries, a lease on our photocopier, no doubt some large phone bills at the moment, insurance and utility bills and many other things that don’t go away even if we’re not gathering. With this in mind, I want to say a big thank you for your stewardship which is always valued and necessary for us at St Mary’s.
Thank you to those who give by standing order but of course, in the time while we’re not gathering for worship, we will miss out on cash collections, blue Gift Aid envelopes and the white envelopes in the planned giving scheme.
I realise that with all that is going on some may be experiencing financial hardship but others may find that their expenditure has dropped as they are staying at home much more. For those of you who give by cash or white envelopes, if you are able to continue to support St Mary’s through this time we would be so grateful.
Please do drop any envelopes through the letterbox of Jim May at 13 Rickyard Meadow who will handle them in the usual, confidential way. Or now might be a moment to switch to a standing order. You can download the two separate forms you need to do this here and here, or contact Jim May by email for further information.
I am sure that after these challenging times our country will never quite be the same again. Nor will the Church. That needn’t be a bad thing as we discover what worship, prayer and pastoral care can look like in new ways. There are many things we will miss and long to get back to but in the meantime I believe that God never wastes anything and whilst this is not a situation that God has willed I have no doubt that it can and will be used for His glory.
We have heard the word resilience used a lot recently, but that rather implies that we have to absorb the difficulties and withstand them. Something I read very recently talked instead about buoyancy and I really liked what he said:
“Buoyancy” is a term I far prefer to “Resilience”, and it comes into play now. This situation is not about sucking up trauma; but finding a way to float over the big waves, with an occasional kick here or arm stroke there, until the water calms in due course.
I know that you are praying for me at this challenging time, and I thank you so much for that, as I am most certainly praying hard and often for each of you.
This comes with my love and very best wishes