The health emergency has led the government to ask the nation temporarily to change the way we live. This means that God’s people, for a season, are having to learn to be Church in a different way. Please scroll down for information about parish adaptations to the situation and how you can respond in Faith, Hope and Love. In particular there is information about:

  1. Worship
  2. Pastoral Care
  3. Communication
  4. Where God might be in all of this?!
  1. WORSHIP

All public services are suspended: there will be no gathering for worship in either St Michaels or St Marys, and none of our regular groups and activities will be able to meet until further notice. This does not mean that worship has stopped! Quite the contrary, prayer and praise as the task of us all is a vital response to the outbreak of coronavirus.

We are recording simple Sunday services. These will be distributed on our YouTube channel, via a URL from our Virtual Services webpage, and by email – please contact the Vicar to subscribe. We encourage you to view this recording together on Sunday at 9.30am so that we can be together as normal, albeit at a distance. The service will remain online for viewing at other times too – one of the silver linings of this coronavirus business is that there is no longer any excuse for not joining in a service!

Light a candle in your window
Every Sunday evening, churches of all denominations will be uniting in a national act of prayer and action. We encourage you to join this: light a candle and place it in the front window of your house at 7pm. We will repeat this act every Sunday until we are through this situation; may it be a sign of hope in the light of Christ which can never be extinguished. Click here for our enactment of this.

During the week
Following the further restrictions imposed by the Government on 23rd March, with regret, St Michaels and St Marys are now closed for private prayer and visitors until further notice. Clergy continue to say Morning and Evening Prayer but have been asked to do so at home. Please drop an email to Charles King if you might be interested in joining us sometimes in Morning Prayer by Zoom. Alternatively, you may like to access Church of England Daily Prayer texts or download the Daily Prayer app (click here for Apple, click here for Google Play).

We cannot worship in our church buildings at present but God is everywhere. If you are among those who connect with God through nature, you may like to download the Wild Worship Field Guide. If, on the other hand, you are making the most of the comfort of your own home, you may appreciate these simple materials for daily prayer – many thanks for Charles for producing these, drawing on Church of England resources. Here is a service sheet for everyday use. Here is some seasonal material for use in Holy Week. More to follow in this series for Eastertide…

Intercessions

If you would like a particular person or issue to be prayed for by us all together, do email the Vicar. Issues and individuals ordinarily remain on our circulated prayer list for a month. If the clergy and wardens know there is an ongoing need, names will remain. (If a name drops off and you would like it reinstated do just ask.) If you would like us to join in prayer for a third party, please get their permission for their name to be shared in this way.

Online prayer resources
In addition to what we can offer as a parish, the Church of England has a number of internet-based resources to support your time with God at home, especially for the duration of the period when we must pray apart. These include:

Please encourage those without internet access to remain in contact with faith through broadcast services on TV or radio such as the BBC’s Daily Service and Sunday Worship.

Children’s resources
Parents, if you are not on the mailing blocks to receive age-specific materials from our children’s leaders, then do make contact with:

In addition, the Diocesan Children’s Officer, Margaret Pritchard has put together some prayer resources for families.

Baptisms and Weddings
Advice has been received from the national Church about the conduct of these special services during the health emergency. We will be contacting those who have booked baptisms and weddings with us but please get in touch if this affects you and you have any questions.

Bereavement and funerals
Among the many things being restricted at the present time is attendance at funerals. You may find that someone you know has died and you are unable to attend, perhaps because the service is at a distance or because limited numbers are permitted at the crematorium. If you find yourself in this situation, you might find support in the Funeral at Home service sheet. It will allow you to join in at home while the service is going on elsewhere.

2. PASTORAL CARE
Looking out for one another is a simple duty of all Christians. We need to do this more than ever during this health emergency. We cannot visit one another in person (and please note this includes your parish clergy and Pastoral Visiting Team) but we can stay in touch by telephone or a welter of online devices.

Telephone Buddy Scheme
In addition to the support which we can all offer to friends, family and neighbours, St Michaels and St Marys have linked up the most vulnerable in our community with a buddy from church to help maintain social contact during this time of potential isolation. Please click here for more information.

  • We think we have the bases covered but if you would appreciate the support of a regular phone call, do email Charles who will link you up with a buddy.
  • Similarly, if you might be able to be part of this scheme and commit to regularly calling one or two people, and/or potentially to assist with shopping for those who cannot get out, please let Charles know.

FEED Foodbank
Foodbanks will face significantly increased demand and reduced donations during this emergency. It is important that we maintain and if possible increase our support for this vital community resource. Click here for more information.

  • The best support for FEED at the present time is BACS donation via the Vineyard Church FEED Fund. FEED has a trade arrangement with Morrisons and will be buying goods for distribution to those with the greatest need. Please reference every donation you make with ‘FEED’ and your surname; this will enable Vineyard to channel your support in the right way and claim additional Gift Aid if you sign up for this.

Other local sources of practical and emotional support

3. COMMUNICATION
With everyone in various degrees of isolation, electronic and telephonic communications have become essential. We usually circulate our publicity email once a month; this frequency has been stepped to at least once a week until the emergency is over and ‘normal service’ resumes. Please encourage any who want to stay in touch with St Michaels and St Marys to email the Vicar for inclusion on our mailing list.

The Parish Office and Vicarage are now closed for any face-to-face enquiries. Please respect this extra separation so that we can continue to work together through this health emergency. Colleagues remain available by phone or email so do leave a message and we will come back to you as soon as possible.

What we are working on next…

Members of the parish leadership are actively exploring on a number of new areas/opportunities. These include:

  • establishing a safe social media sharing platform where we can encourage one another with pictures and stories (without the Vicar acting as facilitator/gatekeeper!)
  • An update for donors on how we are mitigating the financial shock and how those who show support through cash or other ad hoc donations such as Easter Offerings can continue to support us.

The Annual Parish Meetings (scheduled for 26th April) have been postponed. We will advise about a rescheduled date once agreed by the PCC or Standing Committee. Those elected post-holders whose term of office was due to lapse at the end of April will be joyed to learn that they remain in office until the date of the rearranged meetings. The Annual Report and Accounts for 2019, irrespective of when we hold the meetings, will be made available on this website and to subscribers via our email when complete.

Your Clergy and Wardens are seeking to make constructive use of this time of difference and are already planning for the Restoration which is to come. Please get thinking about the future too. What will a return to ‘normal’ look like? What might have changed? What act of Thanksgiving or Memorial might we hold? What sort of Church do you want us to be when we regather? Get thinking, talking and praying…

4. WHERE IS GOD IN ALL OF THIS?!
We are still in the early days of this emergency. Doubtless much reflection is yet to come and huge tomes on the Theology of Coronavirus will be written by learned professors in years to come. In the interim, a few thoughts:

  • Events of the last few weeks have reminded us about the fundamental interconnectedness of all human existence – no man is an island and all of that. We are all responsible for looking out for one another by maintaining contact with friends and neighbours and showing consideration through good personal hygiene and, temporarily, through appropriate social distancing.
  • Just as people are interconnected, so is the omnipresent God. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Wherever we are we can turn to him in prayer. We do not need to be in a church or with other people, nice though both of these are. In the current outbreak, the old adage that godliness is next to cleanliness is more than just a Latin pun about sanctitas and sanitas being adjacent in the dictionary.
  • It feels like we are being sent through a compulsory Lent. Through social distancing we are being asked for a season to surrender so much of what is precious to us, precisely in order to remember just how precious it is, and to preserve it for the long term. There is a paradox of isolation in this – we need to keep our distance in order to stick together. There is a particular challenge here for the Church because we are fundamentally about bringing people together, with one another and one with God. We can still do this, just in new and creative ways. Locally, our Mission Action Plan includes a target to alleviate loneliness; circumstances in the last few days have compelled us to consider the greatest social vulnerabilities in our parish and to put a basic safety net in place through the telephone buddy scheme.
  • As we head from Lent into Passiontide and towards consideration of Jesus’ suffering, we are conscious of the huge sacrifices being demanded, especially of those in healthcare services – our prayers and support (in whatever ways possible) go out to them. In turn, these sacrifices expose the egotistical recklessness of hoarding: preparedness is one thing, selfishness another.
  • This virus and its effects on individuals and communities is a profound evil. It is the antithesis of the flourishing which is the ultimate will of God for humanity. As with all suffering we are confronted with the question of ‘why’? Why should an all-loving and all-powerful deity allow such wickedness in his world? The problem is particularly acute because we cannot directly blame human free will for the genetic mutation which evolved Covid-19, or for its initial transmission into the human population. Coronavirus sits alongside volcanoes and cancer as ‘natural evils’, intermittent problems with the way the world works and which sporadically rear their ugly heads. And as so often with such instances of evil, we find ourselves confronted with the ‘what’ but are not told the ‘why’: why should God permit this to happen indiscriminately to loved ones? There are no easy answers. We might conclude with the biologist who says that this virus in replicating itself is just doing what it does, with St Augustine that evil is not an active force but a ‘privation’ – less than the fullness which God wishes for his people, and with those who are finding countless opportunities at this time for loving acts of service that the Kingdom of God is made manifest in our response to adversity.

Finally we must remain steadfast in prayer for all those who are affected by the Coronavirus outbreak: especially those who are most vulnerable and afraid for themselves or people they love; those who work in our medical and support services; and those who are researching prevention and cure.

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.    
       
Amen.