Following the issuing of the most recent guidelines, Bishop David writes to encourage us as we look ahead to the next few weeks and beyond.
This morning, two things happened that were very poignant. I received in my inbox an email that I had written late last night and sent through to our Diocesan Communications Officer to distribute to all clergy. When I opened and read my own email to myself it was a painful moment for me. Taking the steps that I have had to take and making the decisions that I have had to make goes against so much of how I’ve exercised ministry for years. There were at least two years when I led Evening Prayer in my Church on Christmas Day evening when Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, refusing to cancel our evening service (what was really surprising was that 20–30 people turned up to join me!).
I was thankful that before I opened my email this morning I had already read the set bible readings for today, using the app on the Church of Ireland website as I always do (I again commend this to you and ask you to commend it to others). Today’s Psalm 69 spoke directly into my soul, especially verses 31–38 and in particular verses 37–38
Psalm 69: 31–38 (BCP)
As for me I am poor and in misery;
Your saving help, O God, will lift me up.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an offering of oxen,
more than bulls with horns and hooves.
The humble shall see and be glad;
you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
The Lord hears the needy,
And his own who are imprisoned he does not despise.
Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them,
For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah
They shall live there and have it in possession.
The children of his servants will inherit it,
And they that love his name shall dwell therein.
When this season passes, as it will, we will pray and work together to see God rebuild, make new and for his Glory take possession of every church in this Diocese. We will pray and work together to see every church so pass on the faith that the next generations own that faith so that this land is blessed as together we put Christ first and foremost in everything. We will plant some new churches and see existing churches renewed as God’s Holy Spirit comes upon us in increasing and greater measures.
Meanwhile some food for thought, some things we can get on with in our own churches and parishes as we seek to lay a godly foundation for post Covid 19.
Firstly, our local businesses are facing incredible challenges, especially smaller businesses. I heard yesterday of a husband who bought a gift token from his wife’s hairdresser on the day they closed up the shop for the foreseeable future. He paid up front for 12 hair appointments for his wife as a way of helping the business owner to continue to provide for her family in the coming months. I have been told of people buying vouchers on–line for restaurants that are currently closed, which can be used when things return to normal or move to a new normal to help ensure cafes and restaurants can survive. Can I encourage you to support local businesses where possible, but of course shopping safely which now means almost exclusively on–line.
Secondly, I firmly believe that in these days where life is so very different there will be many people who will be drawn to reading the Bible perhaps for the first time or for the first time in many years. People will be spending time away from others for at least several weeks, even isolation for some, others working from home and certainly not socialising in our usual ways. Some will have concerns, even fears, about the big issues of life and death – and what better way to help them find answers than by pointing them to God’s Word. This is the time to provide people with a Bible who may not have their own Bible.
The Book of Common Prayer is another great resource – full of truth and comfort. When I was in the Cathedral at Downpatrick on Sunday morning to broadcast Morning Prayer it struck me that many people may not have a copy of the Prayer Book in their homes. To have their own copy at home would enable people to join in and follow along with a broadcast service, but also benefit from the other rich resources that are contained in the Book of Common Prayer.
As people spend time at home in the weeks and possibly months ahead my expectation is that thousands of people in our parishes who have not read the Bible much or at all for years, nor used the Prayer Book in their homes, could be encouraged to use both.
Please grasp this opportunity to get the Bible and prayer books into homes in your parish that do not have a Bible, or indeed to send a gift to friends or family anywhere in Ireland. I know of many, including clergy and ministers, who came to faith in Jesus simply through reading the scriptures. What if we could get hundreds if not thousands of people reading the Bible in the coming weeks who have never read it before, and what if many of them turn to Christ and become Christian leaders of future generations.
For that reason, I have asked Richard Ryan of the Book Well to partner with us in the following way. Although the Book Well has had to close its doors to the public for the time being, they will still be operating an on–line service. At present on their website you can get 15% off copies of the Book of Common Prayer pew edition, with free delivery to anywhere in the UK or Ireland. They also have an excellent selection of Bibles to purchase on–line. Do visit thebookwell.co.uk to find out more.
Thirdly, people are beginning to share with me how they are taking opportunities to talk about faith in Jesus in all sorts of ways that might previously have felt uncomfortable for us. Perhaps a conversation from a safe distance in a shop, or over the neighbour’s fence, or in a phone call or email – offering to pray with the person then and there for the things that they are concerned about, and sharing with them something brief of the good news of the gospel.
Fourthly, I would encourage parishes to contact their local GP surgeries and hospitals or any medical staff that they know asking for prayer requests so that you and your people can commit to praying daily into their needs and concerns. Our medics and frontline staff are giving so much and praying for them is our privilege.
Fifthly, please make sure that your parish website is up to date and well–resourced with the materials that the Diocese is providing. Church websites are often the first place that people will look for information, and indeed are a key resource for those looking for spiritual help. There are great materials available – let’s share these with each other, giving and receiving resources from other parishes in our Diocese. Let’s be especially helpful towards and mindful of parishes with less resources than others. Please use the resources on the diocesan website – put them up on your parish website or Facebook page, or distribute them in any other ways that could be helpful to people.
Finally I am currently looking at how quickly we may be able to produce and make available evangelistic resources – using people who are gifted in explaining the gospel in ways that those who don’t yet know Christ can understand, so that by the Holy Spirit working in their lives they may be enabled to make a real, personal and life changing response to Jesus. Please check the diocesan website regularly for more details.
I am so grateful to you for all that we are doing together to make Christ known, not just to those who attend our churches on a regular basis but – in faith – to the thousands indeed hundreds of thousands with whom we have had little contact in recent years but we now have the opportunity to reach, those for whom Christ died.
Proclaiming the beautiful gospel
It is a privilege to be your bishop in these challenging days. Tomorrow will mark exactly two months by date from the day in St Anne’s Cathedral when over 1000 people were gathered for the service of Ordination and Consecration. How things have changed!
On that day Dean Sam Wright challenged us to proclaim in word and deed a brave and beautiful gospel. Sam took as his text the words of St Paul, “God said, ‘Light up the darkness!’ And our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ all bright and beautiful.” (2 Corinthians 4:6 The Message Translation).
I leave you with the challenge of Sam’s words on that day as together we continue to lead with courage. ‘In times of strength and of weakness be brave; light up the darkness as we continue to make known the beautiful gospel of Christ and reach out in love to build the Kingdom of God.’
Let’s keep the gospel the main thing and give people every opportunity to discover God’s love, God’s forgiveness and the hope, the future and the abundant life He freely gives.
May the God of hope
Fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
So that by the Holy Spirit
You may abound in hope.