A Letter from the Vicar, eight weeks after the suspension of public worship

Letter from the Vicar, Fr Kevin Morris

Dear Friends,

This Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Easter, will be the eighth Sunday since the suspension of public worship. After much criticism of a policy that did not allow clergy to pray or live-stream within their church buildings, the Bench of Bishops, led by the Bishop of London, has relented. Clergy are now back in church! We look forward to the day when public worship can resume again, but it is unlikely to be for some time yet.

Of course, there has been a great deal of creativity going on despite this – clergy and lay people have engaged in worship and pastoral work by learning the mysteries of ‘live-streaming’ and ‘Zoom’ conferencing and ‘YouTubing.’ Local churches across the country have been reaching out to the sick, needy, lonely and isolated in their communities who may need a chat or some practical help, as well as keeping foodbanks going and supporting other charities doing vital work at this time.

Thank you …. Please help
All of us, I am sure, are thankful for those working in the NHS, and all who day to day keep us supplied with food, medicine, deliveries, and the various things that keep us going. And aware too of those whose work and businesses are struggling. Please do continue to support local businesses in whatever way you can. Some restaurants are doing take outs, others have an on-line and/ or delivery service. The doors may look closed, but in some ways many of our shops are still open for business. We can help our community to flourish in different ways and this difficult time and shopping locally is one of them.

Church Matters
I like that title: Church Matters.  It suggests the business affairs of a church – its ministry, activities, finances, administration and so on. It can also be a statement of the significance of our faith: Church matters – it really does!  This letter will cover both.

Church Matters!
To tackle the latter first.
Much theological and sociological reflection has gone on since the Archbishops’ guidelines were produced, particularly about the close relationship between buildings and faith in the community – even non-churchgoers love to hear the bell ring and to know that worship is still being offered -and the Church of England’s witness to the nation.

I have been interested to read the work of Meg Warner, a Biblical scholar who has been studying the church’s response to tragedies – Grenfell, the Manchester Arena bombing, the Westminster and London Bridge attacks and so on. She has concluded that during these crises ‘the nation suddenly discovered that churches were there, and that they had some quite valuable things to offer.’

Admittedly, the current crisis is very different in nature and consequence, but Meg Warner describes the task of the church in these times in a very challenging and helpful way. She writes:
‘we need our churches to be sacraments of community,
surgeries of fear and grieving,
and architects of public ritual and meaning.’

I like that!  It is almost a manifesto for us in this Easter Season, when we re-trace in our readings from the Scripture how a group of distressed and broken people became the Christian community because of the Risen Christ, that great Shepherd of the Sheep.
As Meg Warner says, one of the ways in which the Church exercises its pastoral care is through ritual and meaning. The poet Philip Larkin, while himself an unbeliever, talks about the importance of these things in his poem ‘Church Going’. He enters a small rural church and reflects:
‘A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.’

The Christian faith exercises in the sacred spaces we call churches. It has a role in expressing the meaning of key moments in life: birth, marriage and death – and much in between. Church buildings are important to us – they signify meaning, and prayer and God as well as the memories of our life as individuals and a community.  There is a part of most people that longs to be treated with such seriousness and respect: ‘that much can never be obsolete,’ says Larkin. And part of that daily exercising of the Christian faith has been the saying of Mass each day, if not actually in our church buildings then very near to them. In this way we are celebrating the loving commitment of God among us, the priest at the altar offering us to God and God to us. I thank God for the Bishops’ decision to open up churches for prayer again. Church Matters!

Other Church Matters or ‘What is going on?’

On behalf of the Standing Committee, Dinah Garrett our Churchwarden writes:
Whilst the clergy have been looking after our spiritual lives the standing committee of the PCC – Helen Wareham, Alyson Mitchell, Alison Baker and I – have been watching over the day to day needs of the church and parish.   The church staff have either been furloughed or are working from home.  The Parish Managers, Anna and Claire, were able to set up a system to work from home just before lockdown – quite a challenge with our rather antiquated computer system.  They are doing a great job working at a distance and they continue to share office work over the week – sadly taking endless cancellations rather than bookings for the halls.  We are trying to keep in touch with everyone – through the newsletters – but also sending out paper copies to those who are not online.   And the PCC are keeping in touch by phone with as many people as possible.  The building itself is being checked from time to time to make sure nothing has broken and that when it does rain we have not had leaks!

Pastoral work: Fr Thomas Couper writes:
We have put several measures in place to ensure that all within the parish are looked after and reminded that the Church is here and hasn’t forgotten about them during this unsettling time. The clergy have been keeping a list of both the sick and deceased and praying for them daily during morning and evening prayer. Also, they, along with the PCC, have been busy phoning members of the congregation to touch base and check that everyone is ok. We have also amassed an extensive list of volunteers from within the parish who are bursting to help out in any way they can (e.g. buying/delivering groceries, picking up prescriptions, keeping in touch with people by phone). However, the fantastic news is that we have only needed to use these volunteers on a few occasions, as it seems that most of the vulnerable in the parish have close friends, family or neighbours helping and keeping an eye on them. This is a real testament to the character of the community that we live in and is something we should celebrate and be proud of.

Children’s Ministry: Christina Balmer writes:
Though we haven’t been able to meet as a Children’s Church for the last eight weeks, we have been keeping our liturgy alive via weekly ‘Children’s Church Online’ lessons published on the SMAAA website. Each week we take a piece of scripture (this term it is the gospel of the day) and retell it for a younger understanding, drawing out the themes and messages. We then have a series of activities that the children can undertake, according to their age and skills, ranging from craft activities, story-telling and colouring pages, to word puzzles and quizzes. We encourage the children to send in photos of what they have been doing to display on the website and it has been lovely to see some of the super work that has been going on. Most importantly, we are continuing to engage and communicate across our Children’s Ministry until we can, once again, come together to worship.

Charities update: John Clark writes:
Our St Michael’s Charities – the Upper Room, WaterHarvest and West London Welcome – are all playing an important part in supporting the most vulnerable through the current crisis. All have had to find new ways of working and adapted quickly to changing priorities. They are all worried about funding and are very aware that the challenges will not end when the lockdown is lifted. You can read a fascinating update on our website from Nicky Flynn at the Upper Room, highlighting what has been achieved for the homeless during the crisis and explaining the challenges that lie ahead – plus a longer update from me on how our charities are faring.
It is vitally important that we continue to support our St Michael’s charities in our prayers, as well as financially. If you are able to donate, please use the SMAAA charities giving page or go direct to the charities’ websites.
Finally, it is Christian Aid Week next week. The Charity is very much at the front line in dealing with the COVID-19 threat in developing countries. As a church, we raise over £1,000 each year in response to the Christian Aid Week appeal. The familiar red envelopes will be replaced this year by e-Envelopes, in which we are encouraged to send a personalised message to our friends. This is an opportunity to reach more people than normal and I would urge you to follow the link in the Newsletter below and send an e-Envelope to as many contacts as you can.

Green Days and the Bedford Park Festival
2020 will be the first year in over half a century that we will not have held our Fete and Festival, both of which have become a major attraction in West London. However, with five weeks to go, we are looking forward to an ‘Online Bedford Park Festival’ and ‘Green Days at Home,’ as further ways of bringing our community together, and raising money for our charities. Do keep your eyes peeled for further information.

Blessing all creation
Just one final note. Many of us have the privilege of enjoying our gardens and nearby greenspaces. We give thanks for the reduction in pollution and pray for the healing of all of God’s creation.  Every Sunday, I light a candle at the statue of St Francis (yes, I took no notice of the ‘guidelines’) and pray God’s blessing on us as we care for His Creation. Let us pray that there may be a strong commitment to safeguarding the good affects we are now seeing in our environment when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. And so, I leave you the prayer attributed to St Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Fr Kevin

This was sent with our Newsletter on Friday May 8th 2020