The Parish Church of S.Michael & All Angels’ Harbledown, with the Mission Churches of S.Gabriel, Rough Common <span style="font-size: 1rem; -webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%;">& S.Mary, Upper Harbledown</span>
‘BEING CHURCH’ DURING <span style="font-size: 1rem; -webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%;">THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC</span>
It is just five days since writing the last letter, but now the more stringent measures announced by the Prime Minister last evening (23rd March) necessitate me writing to you again.
For us Christians, not being able to go to our spiritual home is a real sadness; no doubt you felt this last Sunday when you couldn’t come to Mass, but are feeling it even more keenly now that even the possibility of going into church for private prayer has been removed. But let us be sure to understand why this is now absolutely necessary and why we all need to observe the directive to ‘Stay at home’:
In a recent news bulletin, a professor from the University College, London, shared this information: “If a person gets ‘normal ‘flu’, you will, on average, infect 1.3 or 1.4 people. Once this has happened ten times, each person will have been responsible for fourteen cases of ‘flu. But the Coronavirus is much, much more infectious; so every person is likely to pass it on to not just 1.3 or 1.4, but three people. Once each of those three has passed it on to another 3 people, and that has happened to ten ‘layers’, then each person will have been responsible of passing it to 59,000 people!” This, therefore, is an extremely serious situation and all of us need to be responsible in playing our part in reducing the spread of the virus by keeping away from each other.
Judging by online conversations and posts, very sadly some people feel that only going out for certain, prescribed reasons and for fully shutting our church doors at this time is too extreme a measure. They argue that it is at times like this that we need to come before God in collective worship more than ever. Well, their saying that we need God is true; but if our worship can be found, in some way, to be detrimental to people and undermines God’s command of love, then it is not the worship that God wants! And just because we will be staying at home and away from our churches doesn’t mean that we are going to be remote from God. You see, we need to understand the sacramental ways in which we can experience God in our ‘everyday’ and in addition to the seven Sacraments that are, of course, the assured ways in which we experience and connect with God. The Mystery of the Incarnation is that God can and does continually transform the world around us to make His presence known. So, although the Mass and the Holy Eucharist – what we tend to see as being the principal Sacrament – are the summit and principal joy of our lives (because it represents the fullness of all that we believe), we need to understand that it is not the only way that we experience God. Outside of the church building, we can pray with each other (thanks to modern technology) virtually; we can also study the Bible in the quiet of our rooms, and profess our faith when no one else is around. Remember the words of Our Lord that S.Matthew recorded in his Gospel: “When you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” God is intimately accessible to us, even outside of the Sacraments, even in our homes. Remember also the story in S.Luke’s Gospel of the Pharisee and Tax Collector: the Pharisee went right into the heart of the Temple and made a big show of offering the required prayers and carrying out the stipulated ritual; the Tax Collector, however, stood at a distance – he probably didn’t even enter the building to the same extent as the Pharisee – and who simply asked the Lord to have mercy. It was, as we know, then Tax Collector who ended up justified. Why? Because God desires love and obedience more than sacrifice and burnt offerings.
What we are now facing is far from ideal; perhaps you are like me and would much prefer to be able to go into church for Mass and times of prayer. But we cannot, in all conscience, do so, if we are to be agents of God’s love – a love He has for us in our totality, a love for us soul and body. So instead we must take care of our bodies by isolating ourselves as much as possible, and then in the spiritual sense, draw together in prayer from our respective homes. We must look for signs of God’s love – ‘sacramentals’ – in the small part of the world that is immediately around us. For however long it takes, it is far better that we look to alternative ways of ‘being church’. That means, for example, that whenever possible, we share in services that are streamed online, and also make use of the printed and other resources that we at Harbledown and other church communities across the country are compiling and making available. These will help us to continue to have an intimate, personal encounter and relationship with God-with-us, our Shepherd who, “though [we] walk through the valley of the shadow of death, [we will] fear no evil; for [He] is with us, [His] rod and staff comforting us.”
Having mentioned ‘resources’, I would like to reiterate part of the previous letter by repeating the gist of its last two paragraphs:
(i) There is a selection of prayer resources available if you would like them. As far as possible, these are being made available online via our parish Facebook page (indeed, some of them can already be found there); but for those of you who do not make use of computers and the internet, please contact myself or one of the Wardens (you will find our telephone numbers at the end of this letter) and we will do our very best to get paper copies to you as soon as we are able. And if we can realistically help you in any other practical way during these restrictive times (e.g. you need someone to collect your prescription), then please do not hesitate to ask.
(ii) Although we hesitate to do so, we feel that we do need to at least draw your attention to the following concern:
With no services taking place, there is no opportunity for a collection to be taken, and only a few folk submit their financial offerings and support through internet banking. So the longer the pandemic restrictions are in place, the greater the impact on our annual income will be and there are very few reserves to fall back on – in fact, the PCC has recently been asked to reconsider how it is to address the shortfall in payments to the Diocese (some £67,000) that were accrued in the years up to and including 2016! And, of course, our ‘usual’ bills will still need to be paid. So, although some of your incomes are also going to be affected in these coming months, at least some of you will remain relatively unaffected and we would merely ask that those of you who fall in the latter group consider continuing your financial support of your church; without it, we cannot survive.
Please keep safe and keep well, and may God bless you and your loved-ones at this anxious time.
Fr Peter Harnden, Rector 01227 479377
<span style="font-size: 1rem; -webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%;">Mr Peter Osborne, Churchwarden 01227 760927</span>
Mrs Karen Glithero, Churchwarden 07969 404209
24th March, 2020