We are living in unprecedented and remarkable times.
We have been locked out of our church building, we have been confined to our homes and we are facing a serious pandemic which is uniting the world in shock and grief.
Around us the prevailing narrative is one of fear and panic and hopelessness. We are witnessing the worst and the best of society. The worst in the form of people not taking seriously the need for social isolation, and the best by seeing hundreds of thousands of people volunteering to help the NHS and Civic initiatives: seeking to care well and allocate resources to those most in need.
So the question we must now ask is what this means for the church in the nation. What does this mean for St Wilfrid Bognor? Without four walls to hold us together, what will unite us? Without the opportunity to share the Lord’s Supper together, what will feed us spirituality? How will we play our part in caring well for our society? What will be our narrative?
Some of these we do not yet know the answer to. They will emerge as time goes by. We do not yet know how long this will go on for. Yet Christians have a head-start in knowing how to be present and make the most of times of waiting. Notably, Advent and Lent are significant times of waiting, as are the times of spiritual retreat, which I know are precious to some of us.
Whilst we love our church building, its fabric does not provide the biblical definition for what a church is. We are the Church – the Body of Christ. We must understand our ontology this way. We must be untied by this truth. In its earliest days, the church in the Book of Acts was dispersed in homes because of persecution – it could not gather centrally – and it was during these times that the Church grew the fastest.
Then we must consider the question of how we receive spiritual nourishment – how we might grow as disciples of Jesus. May I suggest through prayer; through reading of God’s Word; through reflection on a piece of Christian poetry, or art, or music; through the comfort of Christian companionship. We must each learn to develop spiritual rhythms that will sustain us through this long haul.
We also have a responsibility to ask how we might play our part in caring for our society. This too will emerge as the weeks go on, and I anticipate the church will be at the forefront of signposting people to ways in which they can help.
Right now there is an immediate need locally for food to be donated to the Foodbank – donations have gone down and demand has gone up. There is also the need to help serve at the foodbank. Please contact me if you would like to help in this way. More locally, St Wilfrid Church is beginning to compile a list of individuals who could do with someone to call them regularly on the phone. In some cases, to cook and deliver food to them. Again, please contact me if you feel that you could help.
Finally, there is the question of what story we will tell – what will be our narrative. Will we participate in communicating hopelessness or will ours be a story of hope?
For those of you who have walked past the vicarage recently, you will have seen two huge signs that our children decided to make. This is what they wanted to say to our neighbourhood. I think these sum up the primary message that the church needs to be communicating right now, why not join them in telling this story?
In Christ, with love,
Joel and Lella
Joel and Lella.