Updated 21st September 2021
Pastoral Letter from The Revd David Minns
I’ve been reading again the accounts in the Old Testament of the people returning home from exile. I have a fascination with the stories that come from that time when God’s people suffered devastating defeat by invaders and saw the best of their people hauled off to live as slaves and forced workers in other lands.
Those years of exile in Babylon and Persia saw them re-examine their faith, their understanding of God and what it meant to be God’s people. When, finally, the people of a later generation were released to go back to their homeland they found that the landscape had changed, people treated them with suspicion and there was much work to do rebuilding both the physical city and their own new communities. How would they ‘build back better’? The stories of rebuilding recorded in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the effort involved in rebuilding a sense of community once it is lost.
In many ways our society has proved strong during the past months of Covid, as neighbours stepped up to look after one another, sharing shopping runs or prescription pick-ups. I’m sure some of us got to know each other better over the garden fence or stopping for a chat while out walking. We had a lot of shared tribulations to discuss, frustrations and sadness to share.
However - meeting together in social groups! Oh no - absolutely not! I shared with many the sense of shock and sadness as we received word in March 2020 that our church buildings must be locked and no-one, not even the parish priest, could enter save for checking on the building structure. It brought home the magnitude of the Pandemic that such action was taken. No-one could think of a time when it had ever happened before! And I still feel a sense of hurt and regret - even though it was for good reasons. We’ve all been prevented from meeting each other indoors at home; families and friends have been separated, kept in touch only by technology. It has been a deeply unsettling time for our whole nation.
Now we are back worshipping in our lovely buildings once again, gradually at first - to the point now where we are mostly free of restrictions, though still being careful with one another. We do not share the common cup for Holy Communion, and we move around the building less; hand sanitizer is still available and mask wearing is voluntary. We have even returned to having tea and coffee after services with the gentle socializing that goes with it. How strange it seems, but how welcome. The challenge facing us now is how we come out of this ‘exile’ and ‘build back better’. I believe it is vital that we get our communities up and meeting together again, we need to re-discover social gatherings, being with friends, laughing and enjoying the interaction of all ages that we’ve missed so much.
And I believe the Church has a big role to play as a significant part of the local community. In years past the church picnic or outing, fetes, holiday clubs, fundraisers, seasonal festivals like Christmas, Easter and Harvest Suppers were big occasions in the life of the community. To a large extent the world has changed, and communities have followed suit, we have better transport which allow us to travel, and the internet has given us a whole world of ‘friends’ we will never meet physically. And somewhere in all this the church has slipped away from its central community role. But however all those other relationships form it will always be the case that only your ‘neighbour’ can be there for you when most needed and the best relationships form through our local community.
Jesus was quite clear that relationships are key to Christianity - built on a relationship with God through Jesus, God who lives in the relationship of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the two most important commands are to love God - and to love your neighbour as yourself!
We all have a chance now to ‘build back better’. And the church needs to be there at the heart once more. Our new ‘Churn Valley Community Choir’ now meets regularly in North Cerney Village Hall. It’s a friendly bunch, and keen to welcome anyone who might enjoy singing with others. Why not come along? There is a varied repertoire of songs - you don’t have to read music or be a great singer!
In the New Year I am determined to begin a new worship service in Stratton School Hall. The school Head-teacher, Mrs Towler, is enthusiastic about the idea of having church in the hall one Sunday morning each month. We already have a blueprint from past successful puppet and craft led services and can’t wait to get started. The new service (it hasn’t got a name yet) will begin with a proper cooked breakfast and will feature Bible stories, fun songs and the chance to be creative in our craft slot. I think it will be a great place for children and families and all ages to meet on that Sunday morning, where we can get back to being ‘community’ again. If successful it could be repeated at other places in the benefice.
MY APPEAL TO YOU
So here is an appeal to you to ask if you could be part of our new venture. We’ll need people to help with craft or to set up the room, to help plan and deliver the services, to welcome people and of course to cook and serve breakfast. It’s a big team and we can’t make it work without. But it is all part of the mission of the church - at the heart of the community once again - and I’d love to welcome you onto the team that makes this work! (My contact details are email@example.com T: 01285 655199). In the coming year we have lots of exciting plans and opportunities; let’s get back to being community once again.