Pastoral Letter - 29th May
I was shocked, almost horrified. I had let myself into our, regrettably still locked, church a few days ago and realised that someone else was already there. I hadn't bothered to look around when I had entered, assuming that the place was as empty as it had been in all the weeks since lockdown. Just as I was sitting, thinking, praying, I heard a slight shuffle and then a deep sigh. How could anyone have got in? I had locked the place up carefully the day before. Surely everyone with keys knew not to use them to get in. According to the Bishops and the Diocese, currently only I am allowed access. I turned and saw a hunched figure in a pew half way down on the Prayer Cross side of the church. Whoever it was was covered in some nondescript garment of indeterminate colour, devoid of any style. They were crouching either in pain or in prayer, they were either sobbing or sleeping, it was difficult to tell which. Although I would have been totally within my rights to approach and demand an explanation for what they were doing there, actually I didn't feel able to and felt compelled to keep my distance. Strangely it seemed more their place than mine, as though they had more right to be there than I did, as if it was I who was trespassing and not they. So I waited. I just sat there and waited. Occasionally with my stomach rumbling as I had yet to have breakfast. Eventually, after what felt like ages, the figure, whoever they were, looked up. I saw it was a man, a young man. Mediterranean looking, with a short beard. He'd obviously been crying and pulled the shawl-like cloth which was around his shoulders tighter to himself. He tried to smile but his eyes were not smiling. Someone close to him had just died; perhaps he'd lost his job; been told he had a terminal illness.....my mind raced trying to work out from his body language what was being said. "It's Jeff isn't it?" Well, I have been here for a few years now and my name is on the notice board outside. "Yes, that's right." I said. "You're the Vicar here?" "Yes." "Difficult times." "Yes." "You've come in to pray for your friends and parishioners again?" "Yes." "You care about them a great deal." "Yes." "We have that in common." He stood up and reached out his hand to me. "I don't think we're supposed to do that at the moment, actually." I said. "Ah yes, of course," came the reply, together with a smile. "But we can talk?" "By all means." I said. "Tell me what's been going on." And so I did. I told him all about the people I have been particularly concerned about, about friends who have just died and those who are grieving for them; about a few families who are going through great difficulties; about a teenager who is suicidal and an older man who has just taken his life; about those who are finding being in isolation really getting to them; about those who are frighted for their futures at work; of those with mounting financial problems. I told him about our church too, the reordering project, the drop in income because of the lockdown, about the anger some people were feeling toward the government who to their mind had not taken the right steps at the right time and thus people's health had been put unnecessarily at risk. I mentioned Captain Sir Tom Moore and others who had raised the spirits of the nation, about our concern for countries other than our own where the health care system wasn't as advanced as ours and where already vulnerable people were being left even more vulnerable. I had not realised so much had been playing on my mind until I started to speak, how upset I have been at other people's pain and worry, how inadequate I've been feeling, being unable to intervene and support as much as I would like to have done. I sensed anew how much I missed the creative energy of the Eucharist, the enthusiasm of our children, the exuberance of the music which gives such strength and glory to our worship, the sense of sharedness we have on Sundays at our services. I told him of all these things and more and he just listened. This man, this stranger, this vagabond, he listened, as though absorbing everything I said, allowing it to pass into him, become part of him. I had spent so much of the last few weeks coping, projecting as positive a front as possible, now I was able to relax from the tension of it all and express, completely honestly, the pain, the fear, the heartache, the suffering, the questions, the quiet despair, which, though not really mine, had become mine, so closely had I tried to listen, empathise with those who had expressed these things to me. After I had finished speaking, I was aware of the silence in the church, then a bark from an excited dog outside and a laugh from a delighted child. Then silence again. He hadn't said anything, no words of wisdom, no words of comfort, nothing to express understanding, nothing to give support. But still, all these had been given, were being offered generously, and I fed and felt restored by the waves of love that were all around. "Let's walk." He said and so we did, all the way around the church. "You said you have plans to change things here?" "Yes." I said. "To make the place more flexible, more usable, less restrictive." He smiled. "You know" he continued, "this place will be needed in a new way in a short while. People will still feel the need to sense God's presence in this place, primarily, above all else, that. But do you think that people have also realised that the church can be so much more, can play a fuller part in their lives, that they want to find new ways of sharing more of themselves with others, new ways of supporting and celebrating each other, and that this place could be used for part of that renewal and rebuilding?" "I hope so, yes." I said. "So do I," he replied. "This place is a very special place for me, I have spent a long time here over the years." Like you, I'd had a growing sense of who this person was, but, could I be mistaken? Could it be someone else, a representative, and not the man Himself? It had never occurred to me that I would have such an immediate experience of......you know, Him. Not me. Other people possibly, especially some, but not me. Our circuit had taken us up to the high altar. "Perhaps we should pray together?" He said, then knelt at our communion rail, so I did similarly at His side. And then it happened. Nothing could possibly have prepared me for it. The nearest I can describe it as, is that He wasn't exactly singing, but sounds were coming out of Him which were akin to music. Strange music, such as I have never heard. It was excruciating and yet exquisite, evoking all the pain and fear and desire and hope of which we had been speaking. Offering joy and hope and peace and wellbeing in return. I was almost deafened by what I heard, the authenticity of it, the power of it was almost overwhelming. It was so life enhancing, so spirit raising, it reached right into the heart of me and I knew that all the cries of all people everywhere were being drawn into the sounds He made. He it was who was expressing the most primal, raw emotions ever experienced. He it was who was praying with us and for us. He it was who was weaving into the music, light and colour and fire and fountains. Then suddenly it all ceased and there was silence. A silence filled with presence, not with absence; a silence filled with peace and not with pain; a silence filled with answers, not with questions. All this happened there, in our church. All that energy exploded and the walls and the windows cannot but have been transformed by it. It is a space where our cries have been heard, our fears expressed, our longings sensed, our questions asked, our thanksgivings offered. Christ Himself has visited the place you and I turn to for a deeper sense of Him. You may not have been able to be there to see, but He has been there, His presence will continue to linger there, His love will always be available to us there. So, during however long it takes for us to come into that place of sacred meeting once again, please know that our church is waiting for your return. Our Lord is praying for you all the time, offering you His love and strength and Spirit, every time you lift your hearts to Him in hope and need. And He is inviting you, me, us, to become part of answering other people's prayers. He calls us to offer them a place of healing and hospitality, communion and celebration, refreshment and renewal, as He recommits Himself to living at the transforming heart of our community, wanting us to be part of that presence and commitment. I am looking forward to it. Aren't you? With blessings and best wishes, Jeff
Please join us for our PENTECOST ZOOM SERVICE
at 9.30am on Sunday 31st May.
The Readings will be Acts Chapter 2 verses 1-21 and John Chapter 20 verses 19-23.
Holy Spirit, sent by the Father,
The promised gift of Jesus Christ
To those who placed their trust in Him,
Ignite us with your holy fire,
Strengthen us with the gift of faith,
Revive your Church with the breath of love
And renew the face of the earth.
This we ask in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who lives with you and the Father,
One God, now and for ever.
Coming up: Study Hour, 20th June, 11am
Our second Saturday Study Hour on Zoom will be dedicated to the Book of Revelation, especially Chapters 2-3 (the seven churches addressed by the author).
The Book of Revelation is one of the most difficult, enigmatic and controversial texts in the New Testament. It had a rather long wait to be accepted as "canonical" by the Early Church. Its highly symbolic nature either discourages reading or prompts misuse by radical Christian groups.
We will explore the genre of this book, some images and metaphors as well as its links with history. Finally, we will try to assess its value in our spiritual life.
Fr Piotr will first give us an introduction to the Book of Revelation, then invite questions and discussion from participants. Everyone is welcome!