Psalm 137

We are fortunate in the Rectory, to be able to walk about in the church grounds from our front door, a good way to ward of the ‘trapped within four walls’ feeling during this time of lock-down. As I was doing that this afternoon, I stood looking at the church door – closed since earlier this week – and Psalm 137 verse 4 came to mind……..

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

These words, first written by the psalmist in exile, may well be our words now as we are exiled from our church buildings, exiled from each other…

But like the exiles who first uttered these words of lament, we will find that God is just as much with us in these new circumstances as in the old. God is just as much with us in our ‘virtual’ worship, just as much with us in our isolation. We need to learn to listen, or pay attention, in a different way.

The early Christian hermits, the Desert Fathers, Julian of Norwich and others sought out isolation to better hear God. So, during the days ahead of us, do take time to use the quiet, the change of routine, the forced isolation to listen to what God maybe saying to you….

Locking the doors….

Another day, another announcement, another email from the College of Bishops, this time asking us to close our churches to the public to prevent the spread of COVID 19.

So it was with some emotion that I traipsed down the path from the Rectory to the church to pin a notice on the door – ‘The church is closed for a time’……

But we will be back!

Now, I know the church is the people, not the building, but there is something liminal and numinous about coming together in worship in a holy place, a place set apart for this very purpose. So we will be back, and when we are, we will rejoice!

But until then, we must learn another way to be the church. We are scattered through the community……and perhaps that is the way it should be at this time. We are in amongst the community, praying for health workers, government leaders, each other, and ourselves.

And we are finding ways to come together online, in a virtual gathering, but with real worship. Last Sunday, we were praying together, hearing God’s word, chatting before the service even, and next Sunday we are going to do the same, and may even have a go at singing together!

We will find ways to celebrate Holy Week and Easter….I’m thinking about a series of meditations through Holy Week, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and then Easter Sunday morning will have to be greeted with an alleluia, even if it’s only the pheasant who hears.

At the top of this post, I have inserted a photo taken by someone else (hope you don’t mind Sarah), a photo just used as the Facebook cover photo. Alan’s words are an appropriate ending – ‘The building is dark, the doors are locked, but there is hope in the morning sunrise.’

Because there is hope in the morning Son rising….we are an Easter people, and we live in the light of the resurrection. So we will be back, to worship and praise in this wee church on the hill. We will be back as soon as it is safe to do so.

A strange day….

Well, the first Sunday without public worship……but we made plan….. and 32 of us gathered together in as a virtual church in a Zoom room for a Service of the Word. A couple of people read from where they were, and there was a short sermon. All in all, I think it went well, and I think people appreciated the opportunity to come together, even if it was through a computer screen.

And on this strange day, moments of blessing, as we were joined by the son of one of the regular congregation – and as he said at the end, this was the first service he has been to for 25 years. And my daughter joined us from London…..lovely moments of grace in trying times…..signs that God is with us.

So moments of hope, even when you read about the selfish people who ignore the isolation guidelines and gather together in defiance, when all they are doing is prolonging the need for isolation. Moments of hope, like our neighbours gratitude when Sarah dropped a bag of flour off for her, even while people queue outside supermarkets to stack their trollies with food they will never eat.

We will come out the other side of this, but as a society will we come out stronger, or broken? Surely we can’t get through this and return to what we were before……so let’s work together and pray….really pray, that we come through this kinder, more selfless, more generous, more caring, more loving, more respectful, as people and as a society.

The picture today is a candle in the window of the Rectory, lit at 7.00pm together with brothers and sisters across these islands, a candle of hope in times of darkness. The candle was the one given to us at the end of the Candlemas service this year…..the light of Christ.

‘Getting to Church’ this Sunday

This is the text of an email sent round to members of the congregation this afternoon:

I am writing this on the eve of the first Sunday following the suspension of congregational public worship for several hundred years, an unprecedented action introduced to halt the spread of the corona virus. This is uncharted territory for everyone, including church leaders and congregations, and while this might be a difficult time for us, we should do all we can to adhere to the guidelines and restrictions coming from the government.

So there are no public services of worship for the foreseeable future, but the importance of us still praying and worshiping means we need to look for different ways of doing church. This will probably evolve and adapt over coming weeks, but in these early days here is what you can do to access a Sunday service.

  • The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) will this Sunday (22 March) begin broadcasting video coverage of Eucharistic services via its website, social media channels and YouTube channel.  The web page for the broadcast is located at www.scotland.anglican.org/broadcast-sunday-worship. The first service, led by the Most Rev Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, will be broadcast at 11am on Sunday, to coincide with when many people would normally be worshipping, if church services had not been suspended earlier this week. 
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury is due to lead the Church of England’s first virtual Sunday service for worshippers staying at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. The service has been recorded in the crypt chapel at Lambeth Palace in London and includes prayers, hymns and a short sermon, the Church of England said. It will be broadcast across 39 local BBC radio stations at 8am this weekend.
  • I will be holding a Service of the Word via video conferencing at 10.30 am this Sunday, 22nd March, and will broadcast the service on Facebook at the same time (hopefully, technology permitting). I hope to do this each Sunday – if you would like to take part, please email me on rector@holytrinitydunoon.org.uk. This can be accessed by phone as well, where you will be able to hear the service.

I will let you know of further ways to access worship as they are rolled out.

These are very difficult times, and I suspect they will get worse before they get better. And while we might recognise the need for isolation, we should also recognise that it needs to be spatial isolation, not social isolation. We can, and should, still keep in touch with each other as much as possible, even from the separate spaces we find ourselves in. If we don’t, I fear there will be long term psychological implications, particularly for people who are vulnerable,.

So please, if you are feeling isolated give me a call – or one of the wardens. We will be setting up a phone tree to ensure that everyone is telephoned regularly throughout this period – but let me say again – please do call someone if you are in need, physically or emotionally. Let us be with each other in spirit, let us work together to get through this.

And just a final thought – borrowed from an article called ‘How to thrive – not just survive – during the corona virus outbreak’ – “Covid-19 may have turned our world upside down, but maybe it was the wrong way up in the first place. Maybe we all have the chance, by the grace of God, to reorient it right again.”

Read the full article here – https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/How-to-thrive-not-just-survive-during-the-corona-virus-outbreak?fbclid=IwAR2Yg7Ygpfy1L4WP_duIcc0oYI2_QoqZ9_22XYl4ySjsDplzksMXZWX0Lbc

Hope of Spring

This is a photo of the front garden at the Rectory today with a glimpse of the blue sky and the daffodils just beginning to look at their best.

It seems strange to be writing about the ‘hope of Spring’ when there is so much anxiety and uncertainty in peoples lives at the moment. The restrictions on movement and gathering brought in because of the Corona virus pandemic are having, and will continue to have profound affects on society in the weeks and months ahead. The effects on the economy are unknown at this point, but it isn’t going to be good.

And what it will mean for the church….well, we just don’t know. I took the photo on the way back from pinning a notice to the church door saying that ‘all services are suspended until further notice’. I did this with a heavy heart because I believe in the considerable value of coming together in worship, as a loved and loving community. But we do this because we understand the need to protect the vulnerable and to play our part in preventing the spread of the virus, although we can acknowledge the paradox of calling for solidarity and isolation at the same time.

And in acknowledging this paradox, the church needs to look for different ways of coming together in our isolation – committing to saying morning or evening prayer in our homes at the same time each day, using video conferencing, using the telephone to keep in touch, joining online streaming services, and other ways that are yet to come. We need to come together in our effort to look after those most in need – again with regular contact, with offers of shopping, sometimes just with a chat.

We need to be patient – with each other, with the government, with ourselves. We need to be generous of spirit, not packing our trolleys in the supermarket with more than we need and sharing with others if we have plenty.

But here is the hope – that after these difficult times, a better society will emerge, a more caring, less selfish society. Perhaps people will recognise the need to build community, to come together in fellowship, to be in relationship with each other, rather than simply to exist in isolation. Maybe we’ll come to value once more the chat over the garden fence, the coffee after the church service, a handshake or a hug. Maybe we’ll come to value each other, to accept each other in our differences, love our neighbours as ourselves.

Maybe, just maybe……

St Peter and Jonny Wilkinson

I recently watched ‘Building Jerusalem’, the film about England’s  2003 Rugby world cup victory, and towards the end of the film, Jonny Wilkinson describes his feelings at the moment the final whistle was blown.

“Mike Catt spirals the ball in to touch……as its in mid air, for me that’s my paradise right there….just to stop life there because we’re still on our way to what we want…..but nothing can stop us……There’s this bit where the referees just about to blow time on my dream, and as he lifts his whistle to his mouth, while it’s on it’s way up….I just want to hold him just there whilst I take it in. It’s the most incredible thing…….but every second moves you further away from being in the now of that moment.”

The gospel reading for this Sunday is Mark 9.2-9, the Transfiguration, and as I was preparing a sermon, the thought crossed my mind that Johnny Wilkinson had a St Peter moment as the final whistle approached. When Peter saw Jesus talking to Elijah and Moses, and when he saw Jesus transfigured, his first reaction was to shoot for: the lip (as usual) and suggest that they build a tent and stay there. He wanted to capture the moment, to make it last. Johnny Wilkinson, as he saw the ball spiralling towards touch, wanted that moment to last, to stay in that moment for longer….perhaps forever.

A cold walk….and a great pint

On a cold Monday morning in late February, with a forecast of snow, we set out for a 10.5 mile walk round Leighton and Roundhill Reservoirs near Masham, Yorkshire. The tracks were brilliant and with the icy weather, were hard underfoot. The occasional flurries of snow in the biting wind made for an interesting walk!

Along the route are some fantastic views down in to the Nidd Valley and out towards Scar House reservoir in the distance, and nearer the end of the walk some of the walkers had a clamber on some big rocks – engaging the inner child.

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There is quite a spectacular sink at Roundhill reservoir as you turn for home.

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And after the walk  – a trip to the Bistro at the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham for a Riggwelter burger, a few glasses of wonderful beer, and fruit cake and Wensleydale for after – Yorkshire heaven!

Masham Reservoirs