Well that has been quite the year, has it not?!
If the wardens had said to the church at last year’s AGM that we would have lost a Vicar, said a fond bon voyage to longstanding members of the congregation such as Brian and Chris Clarke and Judy and Steve Cathcart, that we would have been plunged into a global pandemic, faced with the prospect of not being able to worship together, have had to endure losing so many loved ones, separated from others for months on end, not been able to watch the 2020 Olympics, seen parts of Australia destroyed by bush fires, witnessed the UK withdraw from the European Union, had seen toilet paper become headline news, have become familiar with the phrase ,“social distancing” not to mention the horrific death of George Floyd sparking a worldwide uproar, you may have been forgiven for giving us a very wide berth!
The fact that we are having our AGM so late this year and online demonstrates the unique time we are in. Indeed, here we are having witnessed all this and so much more. 2020 has been a pretty unique year, many people say they have never witnessed anything like this.
That is however only part of the story, there have been so many positive things to take out of this year. Our planet has had a chance to breathe, we have noticed just how beautiful a place it is in which we live. Families have been actually talking to each other, we have found new and creative ways to reach out to those in need, we’ve recognised that not all superheroes wear capes, we’ve seen a 99 year old Army veteran raise over £32 million for the NHS and we’ve seen a whole new audience engage in worship through on line services. Isaiah 41:10 says fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed ,for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you , I will uphold you with my right hand.
We may not know why the things that have taken place over this year have happened, but one thing is for sure, our Lord and Saviour who sees all and knows all is the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. We can but look to Him for our strength, we can but seek his face in the good and the bad and know that He hears us.
And that is where our hope lies, a hope that looks forward to a vaccine, a hope that this period has been used to reset and see what is actually important and what only appears to be important. A time to seek His face relatively free from the pressures of life.
Looking locally, we have been continually amazed, humbled and immensely proud of the work which our merry band of worshippers have done, and continue to do. Despite all that has happened, we have celebrated our 50th Birthday, have seen over 200 people attend the lantern parade, the Parish wide Holiday Club, ‘Into the book’ universally welcomed and built on the work done by the Children and Families team.
We have continued to offer valued support to KRASIF Aid, The Watts family settling into their ministry in Madagascar, The THOMAS Project, Tearfund and Pastor Godfrey in Kenya and have been blessed to still see the uniformed groups using our church space to engage with the younger generation.
When Lockdown struck, there were so many challenges to overcome. We are immensely thankful to Andy and Hannah Evans for their ability, dedication and patience in driving us to change to online services enabling us to continue a semblance of corporate worship. Our wonderful clergy and lay readers have really worked tirelessly to bring us the word of the Lord. The prayer life of the church has been essential and feels so much stronger and in focus and able to support, not only the church but the wider community. Life groups have really come into their own and have supported each other brilliantly, that’s not even to mention the army of volunteers who have ensured that we have kept in touch with those who haven’t been able to take advantage of the online services and otherwise may have been isolated. The fabrics team have had challenges this year as well with leaking roofs, worn out safety doors and the continuing work to keep us Covid Safe.
A special mention to Genette Andrews. Genette has worked relentlessly behind the scenes to ensure the church remains open and accessible to all who need it and the hub for ongoing communication.
So, what of the future? We are still in uncertain times. The work of the Finance group has enabled us to keep going and I dare say there will be a few more headaches on the horizon to keep us on track. The continued upkeep and maintenance of the fixtures and fittings is always a worry and the team constantly find creative ways to fix the things we use. Of course, we still have no Vicar in place, the process has been slowed by the Pandemic, but rest assured it is moving in the right direction. Although we cannot give a timescale, we are in God’s hands as to when that next person is revealed to us.
We have welcomed the return of Live worship albeit Covid19 safe (it is still difficult not joining in with the singing!) but must be constantly aware of ever-changing guidelines and regulations.
As Wardens our message to the church would be, there have been dark times and happy times over the past 12 months, there have been times when we have felt unsure about what we could and couldn’t do, but also times when we have been blown away by the generosity , love and commitment to supporting others that has been shown by our church congregation; not only to each other but to everyone who has needed it. We are comforted and heartened that our Church vision of Reaching Up, Reaching in and Reaching out is alive and well and thriving.
As a final word and by way of encouragement we have been reminded a few times of Psalm 91: ‘Our Lord is our refuge, our fortress’ and though we may get bogged down by the stuff of life, let us purpose to lift our eyes to the King of Glory. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). Be encouraged, be assured that Our Lord is present. He hasn’t forsaken us, though the world may still not know Him, we do. We are His children, precious in His sight, whatever we have been through and may yet go through will make us stronger and will help us to be prepared to proclaim His message to a nation who are searching:
Praise and Honour and Glory be to HIM!
Bless you all
To all members of St Thomas Church,
Many things have happened over the last few months that none of us could have imagined. Many lives have been changed and situations arisen that we have never encountered before and we recognise that the foreseeable future for many areas of our lives will be very different.
With this in mind the Wardens, along with Sue and Jeremy, met together last week to discuss ways in which we can move forward as a church community now that Lockdown measures are being gradually lifted, although significant restrictions remain in place and changes happen very quickly.
First we would like to update you with the situation regarding the appointment of a new minister which the Diocese put on hold during Lockdown as many of their staff were furloughed.
Steve Dole, our Rector, last week had a meeting with the Archdeacon who indicated that the appointment process within the Diocese is now opening and feels that Autumn would be a good time to place the advertisement.
The Archdeacon has asked for our Parish Profile to be sent to him during September which just needs some additions from Steve when he returns from holiday and the approval of the DCC. Hopefully, if things don't take a backwards step regarding COVID, we can continue and complete the appointment process which has sadly been a casualty of the pandemic.
During our discussions about how we move forward and with the ideas raised we realised, as APC did, that there were some common themes in the views expressed, but no ‘one size fits all’ way of being a church which will work for everyone.
Future planning and events will be very different from what we have known before but one thing which is clear is that if there are to be physical gatherings of the church in our building, the social distancing guidelines mean that numbers have to be very restricted. It may be some time before the larger gatherings we are used to are safe again, and therefore our only option for ‘physical church’ gatherings in our building is to look at ways of being a church in smaller groupings.
This we know is already taking place virtually with Zoom Life Group Meetings and the weekly Zoom prayer meeting offered on a Sunday but we now want to outline some ways in which we feel we can achieve a service that is 'safe' in our building.
Our current plan, therefore, is as follows:
(1) The Virtual Services will continue to be made for the foreseeable future. These will be available each Sunday morning on the website and on Facebook, and also on YouTube.
(2) We plan, starting on Sunday 13th September, to arrange two services a month. One will be a simple Communion Service and the second a normal worship service. Initially priority will be given to those who have no internet access at home and so have had no access to online worship. The restrictions mean that seating needs to be socially distanced, and so there can only be a maximum of 30 people in the church. We also can’t sing or serve refreshments. The services will include some elements of the Virtual Service and some ‘live’ elements and people will need to register if they intend to come along.
(3) We will possibly move towards a later and more frequent Sunday morning service if future restrictions allow and we can adequately resource them, maybe starting at some point in the Autumn when we can look at the possibility of offering some sort of provision for households with children and/or young people in them.
(4) The Social Distancing restrictions mean that for a church of our size the only possible option for physical gatherings is to gather in smaller groups with different groups meeting at different times/places. An obvious place to start is with the existing Life Groups, and any small groups which would like to meet for some form of worship together will be able to do so and we will issue a timetable for groups to sign up enabling them to use the church building at specific times. We also need to consider those who are not currently in small groups, and it may be that some of our Life Groups could expand to take in new people and could still occupy the space in church in a safe way.
(5) Some people have expressed the view that a fixed time virtual gathering of the church would be beneficial to a feeling of togetherness and we are looking at the possibility of arranging this at some point, maybe in the Autumn with a social of some description. In the meantime there is a corporate prayer gathering on Sunday evenings that Roland has organised which allows the whole church to meet together virtually.
None of this is ideal and a long way from what we, as a very social church, are used to, but we are not living in ideal times and we need to do what we can in the present circumstances to preserve, nurture and develop, not just our own faith, but that of others.
We need to be creative in our forward thinking and would welcome your thoughts and ideas of how we can achieve this within the confines of social distancing and the restrictions laid on us from both the Diocese and the Government.
We would also like to offer our very grateful thanks to all of you who have been working hard to continue the work of the church, ministering to one another and providing care and support with many different and wonderful acts of kindness over the past few months. St Thomas' is still God's church and although it has a very different face it's heart remains the same.
Brothers and sisters in Christ
Firstly we hope you’re keeping well and safe in these trying times.
We wanted to respond to the recent announcement by the Church of England with regards to COVID 19 (Coronavirus).
In their joint letter, Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu said it was now necessary to put public services on hold until further notice. Now while this is obviously disappointing it is an indication of how seriously the church is taking this.
So what do we do from here?
The First thing we need to do is to pray
• We are commanded to pray. Multiple times we read that we are to be in continual prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Philippians 4:6-7, Ephesians 6:18-19). And in Luke, Jesus “spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1 NKJV).
• It gives Him the glory. Prayer is a way to serve God (Luke 2:36-38). Through prayer, we have the opportunity to glorify and praise Him for all He is and has done (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
• It helps us overcome. Jesus tells Peter to pray for strength in overcoming temptation (Matthew 26:41). Also, in Luke 6:12-13, Jesus demonstrates the importance of prayer in making major decisions. Prayer helps us face and overcome all types of struggles.
• It brings our requests to Him. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:7. This does not mean that we will be granted anything we ask, but when we ask for things that are in His will, He will give those things to us (1 John 5:14-15).
• It helps us discern His will. Jesus prayed continually to the Father for guidance. We too can begin to understand His will for us when we stay in communion with Him.
The Archbishops also expressed the desire that church buildings may, where practical, remain open as places of prayer for the community, observing social distancing recommendations. The wardens and clergy are working to see if and how this may be made possible at St Thomas.
https://www.cbneurope.com/prayer/ or call 0300 561 0700 (UK) Phone lines are open: Monday to Friday: 8am – 7:30pm. Clive has visited this prayer line in Hereford and seen the work they do first hand, he reports it as being humbling to be in the room when people are being prayed for all over the country
UCB prayer line 01782 36 3000
There are a number of resources available for those who are IT Savvy
There are also a range of Christian resources already available:
• #LiveLent: Care for God's Creation - the Church of England's Lent campaign for 2020. With weekly themes shaped around the first Genesis account of creation, it explores the urgent need for humans to value and protect the abundance God has created. This daily audio content is available via the app and daily emails. Sign up for free.
• The BBC's Daily Service and Sunday Worship - radio programmes will be using some of the themes from #LiveLent as part of their broadcasts.
• Prayer for the day - each day the Church of England publishes audio and text of the Prayer for the Day.
• Smart speakers – daily prayer and #LiveLent audio content can be accessed via our smart speaker apps.
• Live streaming services - users can watch live streams of services from a range of churches and we will be improving AChurchNearYou.com in the days ahead to make this clearer.
o All Hallows by the Tower
o Buckingham Parish Church
o St Nicholas Church, Canvey Island
o St James' Church, Clitheroe
o St Mary's Kenton
Supporting the Community and each other
For those of us who are able, how can we help others.
We have attached a simple form to put through the door of people who are known to you if you are able (and it’s safe to) to support your neighbours in any way.
Church is more than a building, we’re aware that we are being called to be radically different. To show with actions, words and deeds what Jesus has taught us. That will mean different things to different people, but remember you are not alone, we are a community we are a family we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
As a leadership we are here for you whenever you need us. We may not have all the answers yet but God does and in Him we trust.
These things may seem bleak and the world is telling us things will possibly be getting worse, however our hope, our eternal salvation is in God. He is in charge. Let’s raise our collective voices in praise, adoration, supplication and anticipation
Remember Psalm 91:1-2, Ephesians 3:20-21, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
We will do our best to keep you updated at all times
God’s peace which surpasses all understanding be with you
The Church Wardens