Faith in a Coronavirus World

Faith in a Coronavirus World

Simon Vibert

At the end of 2020 There was a real sense of déjà vu: Here we go again.

We had just entered Lockdown 2, or, lockdown, the “remix”. I wasn’t too keen on the first lockdown, to be honest. The sudden loss of our freedoms, alongside the challenges of dealing with a global pandemic, took us all by surprise. There was some upside. A kind of a blitz spirit swept across the nation. The roads went silent, the skies were free of the streaks of jet streams, creation breathed. Maybe it isn’t just my computer that performs better when it is shut down, unplugged, and rebooted?

Zoom was our new best friend, and hitherto unknown creativity burst onto YouTube.

The weather was kind: for those with gardens, new adventures were found. Other’s excelled in the kitchen. And Joe Wicks did his best to keep us all in shape.

We understood the seriousness of Covid-19. A highly contagious virus meant we had to distance ourselves from each other – “Hands, Face, Space” were the drumbeat of public health messages. We were glad to go on our doorsteps and “clap for the NHS”. Our Doctors and Nurses were on the frontline, and they were taking casualties.

However, even if you were fortunate enough to have a garden, to stay healthy, and to keep well during Lockdown, it was all still very uncertain, unexpected, and unsettling.

I also sense that the mood was different in Lockdown 2. It was winter, after all. Plus, we were more aware of the mental toll which lockdown takes, not to mention the deep impact on macro and micro finances.

At the beginning of 2021, hopes are running high that the vaccine will be effective, and we can begin to return to a degree of normality. But hugging, singing, and all manner of socialising, is going to be much slower to return.

And, when the world is “rebooted” and the church too is allowed to gather again, to what do we wish to return? Have we learned anything? What do we leave behind, and what do we embrace with enthusiasm?

The impact of Covid-19 is likely to be long lasting. This short book helps you to explore some of the key challenges which the virus raised, yes, personally, but also for God’s Church and his plans for time and eternity.

Stuck in the spin cycle

Speaking very personally, I have been surprised at how unsettling the whole thing has been, and I suspect I am not on my own. Beneath the surface, emotions which are barely hidden under a coping veneer, were occasionally breaking through. Panic, fear, rootlessness, and nagging doubts.

For me, the testing time is somewhere between 3.00am and 5.00am. I don’t think I am worried, but my brain seems to be stuck in a repeat cycle, like a broken washing machine. Sloshing around my mind are half finished conversations, odd slights and niggles, and unformed projects awaiting attention. I remember a dear saint, now with the Lord, who said that during the day everything in life was clearly ordered and my faith is strong, but in those wee small hours, nothing much makes sense anymore.

There are ways to break the cycle, and we will return to this later. For me, it means remembering that my core identity in Christ has not been lost; my worth is based upon the loving price Christ paid for me; and my confidence is in the everlasting arms which uphold me.

The tricky bit is stopping the whirring and breaking the spin cycle. When worrying or panicking, some friends of my mine slowly say the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23. Others, like me, try to write down those things which need proper attention in daylight hours: a notepad and pen by my bed is good for that, even if reading it in the morning is tricky!

This is not just about sleep of course. Although, sleeplessness can be symptomatic. Coronavirus has raised all kinds of questions, from the mundane to the serious:

  • Why am I so tired?
  • Why do I find it so hard to focus?
  • What about Church?
  • Will I even be able to hug my friends and family again?
  • Will I ever be able to travel and see the world?
  • What is normality, and will it ever return?
  • What is my purpose in life?
  • Who am I?

Remembering my core identity in Christ

Many of these questions have to do with identity. Most of the time we do not meaningfully ask the question: “who am I?”. We get on with life.

Our typical routines have very much have been challenged by the viral illness Covid-19, but, more particularly, by the way it has changed our everyday life. Certain securities and certainties keep us focused each day, these include work, family, routine, health, and so on. When our typical patterns and routines are challenged, we start to ask ourselves, perhaps even for the first time: who am I?

Christians have a very clear, but profound, answer to the identity question.

  1. You are a true child of God

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26) [1]

If you are believer then you are already a child of God. Your right to be in God’s family isn’t something you are working towards or try to achieve by your own effort.

We weren’t born a Christian, although growing up in a Christian family has huge privileges. Rather, God has adopted you into His family. You can sit at the family table, you take on the family name; can call God my father (so 4:6).

Paul says here – whether you are male or female – you have the rights of heirs in God’s kingdom!

I need to be reminded of this day after day.

  1. You are adopted into God’s family

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

Our human nature has not changed, nor, often, have all those emotions which churn in our minds. That is a slow process. What has changed is our status. We are adopted into God’s family. That is a huge privilege!

Jim Packer put it so well:

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how he much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. [Adoption] is the highest privilege the gospel offers….That justification–by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance of the future–is the primary and fundamental blessing is not in question ….But…adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.

                                — J.I. Packer, Knowing God, chap 19

This short book primarily has Christians in mind. It is an encouragement to remember who you are in Christ Jesus, and enjoy the privilege of being in God’s family. I am sure, when we ponder deeply on these truths, we will be better equipped to give Faith, Hope and Love to our needy world.

But, if you are anything like me, I need to emerge from Coronavirus with a fresh sense of the privilege of being a Christian even in these challenging days.

The Puritan, Thomas Goodwin put it like this:

A man is walking along the road with his son holding his hand.  The little boy knows that the man is his father, and that his father loves him.  But suddenly the Father stops, – picks up the boy, lifts him up into his arms, embraces him and kisses him… the boy is no more a son when he is being embraced than he was before.  The father’s action… has not changed the status of the boy, but oh! The difference in the enjoyment.

Maybe, just maybe, the global pandemic will unearth some key questions, and perhaps, give Christians the chance to regain their confidence in the God who made, and rescues, them? I hope so.

Where next?

Here are five short looking at some of the key questions which Coronavirus has thrown up in recent months (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpSeSF2qB_8&list=PLWCrsWvXinQ7EtwN4OYsIo2lJr-QwJ75S):

  1. Work and identity How does the Bible answer the question: “Who am I?” And how do I understand my identity, and my work? (particularly when these things are deeply challenged by lockdown and my working practices keep changing).
  1. Suffering and death How do I make sense of suffering, and respond appropriately to it? Living in through a global pandemic raises huge questions. How can I help myself and others prepare for death?
  1. Lockdown and rest Despite the changing patterns of work and leisure, finding real rest is tricky. How do I rest, find sabbath rhythm, and worship God faithfully?
  1. Loneliness and friendship We live in a “connected” by not “committed” world. Connections via zoom and social media have never been easier. But people still struggle to find real friends. What is true friendship and how can I be a good friend when socially distanced?
  1. Hope, Faith and Love People hunger for these core needs: hope for the future, confidence in something that is reliable, and a sense of being loved and showing love. How are today’s trials preparing me for my heavenly home, and advancing God’s kingdom now?

As I have interacted with members of my own Church family, these questions have been very real.

My hope is that we can regroup, as a Church, around some core convictions around our identity in Christ Jesus, and strength our confidence in God, knowing that He is utterly reliable, and still on the throne!


[1] Many translations retain “sons of God” for good reason, for only the Son was the heir to all of the Father’s assets, but, “children” gets across most of that sense for our modern, more inclusive ears.

On-line…In-Person…Hybrid Church

Like most Churches from March to July, all our meetings moved to YouTube and Zoom. And, since then, we have adopted a “hybrid” model – livestreaming our Sunday 10:30 service from Church with a small congregation, making it available to those who do not yet feel able to physical meeting.

We are aware of the many benefits:

  • Certainly, initially, we had very large numbers attending our online services, peaking at Easter with possibly four times our usual Sunday attendees logging on;
  • Online meeting enables people to join Christian worship without the big step of stepping over the threshold of a Church building, and I think we all know of people who have attended church “virtually” for the first time during this period;
  • Services felt a bit different: shorter (!), perhaps a bit more intimate, with people speaking direct to camera, rather than distanced (although that has changed a bit with the return to Church for streaming).
  • Many of you have commented on how good it is for whole families to worship together.
  • Courses, connect groups and zoom meetings have worked well, as a substitute for meeting physically (although I know many of you are keen that we find a way to return to physical meeting).

We are also aware of the challenges:

  • We miss the closeness of Christian fellowship: The hubbub of gathering, coffee after Church, Holy Communion, being able to sing and worship, vocally!
  • There is also a degree of anonymity, yes, which means people can easily join and “pop in”, but at the same time, unless you make contact with me (or join the zoom coffee) then I have no idea who is (or is not) attending
  • The casual nature of the worship experience: we’ve joked about watching in our pyjamas, coffee in hand, and being able to mute the preacher! But it is a serious issue: we don’t want to produce “armchair” Christians, nor do we want the hour of gathered worship to be something we catch up with when we have spare time. Plus, we are called to commit ourselves to a local church – not flit between different online offerings. It is sobering to dive into the analytics and note the short average length of watching of those who log on. The big numbers do not tell the full story.

Looks a bit different now?

For me, the key question is: how can we connect deeply and meaningfully, having jumped into the social media world?

I have mentioned before my concern that in our modern world people are “Connected but not Committed”.

This model of shared lives continues to be our goal and aspiration:

Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

“God’s Work, in God’s World, in God’s Way”

So, a few challenges:

  • Please, as you are able, return to physical meeting in Church. Numbers are growing, which is encouraging, but we are not yet at safely distanced capacity (and we hope to add more services when we are able). Obviously, if you are shielding, or vulnerable, we don’’ expect you to put yourself or others at risk. But, please do come if you are able.
    • We are celebrating Holy Communion this Sunday for the first time;
    • We are expecting to have “live” musicians and singers to help our corporate worship experience (even though we cannot yet have congregational singing)
  • Please do pray for wisdom as we try to further the following aspects of ministry:
    • Our desire to reach out into our community – with Christians care, and with the Gospel message;
    • We want to restart physical meeting with children, youth, students and young adults – for wisdom as to how we can do this;
    • How can we grown in our fellowship and love for one another, whilst remaining distant?
    • We are revising our website, and reviewing our use of all social media, and we need wisdom for this.
    • We believe that Jesus keeps his promise: “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail over it” (Matt 23:9) – the kingdom of God is so much bigger than the local Church: let’s see how we can be sure that we are participating in His work in His world in His way!

True Church

2 biblical pictures of true Church

1. “We are family”.

If you are of a certain age, I would be very surprised if you didn’t finish reading those three words with the rest of the lyrics of the Sister Sledge Song!
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” Hebrews 13:1
It is true, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”.
Notice the way Jesus describes it: He said: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34) Peter objects, “We have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28-31) 

There is enormous privilege in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You find that you have been adopted into a family – the big family of God – which gives you a sense of belonging to brothers and sisters all around the world. Although, this also means taking on the family identity, and being treated as Jesus was treated too. It also challenges the modern view of family life as “mum, dad and 2.2 children”, and should better reflect the extended family that what part of ancient Israel (and continues in many parts of the world outside of the west).

That sense of ownership and commitment to each other lies at the heart of true Christian Fellowship, I think. If your sibling calls you at midnight to say that they need you, you would respond, right? Christians have those kinds of close bonds as adopted children in God’s family, with Jesus as our brother.

Lockdown has challenged these connections and commitments. There is a limit to how much we can connect via zoom! For example I have been concerned about two things as lockdown eases: That we are in danger of producing consumers, not worshippers. Thank God that we have had the technology to join together in corporate worship but beware of a purely passive attendance. Church is not something which we fit into an otherwise packed schedule: it is a place to meet with our family, and it should be our priority. Where we mostly meet “virtually”, I have struggled with the invisibility of it all. I would only know that you are there if you make contact (or I contact you) … who is slipping off the radar? Who is in such a difficult place that they find it hard to reach out? How do we maintain kinship relationship at times like these? Zoom, telephone, distanced meeting, etc all help. It’s time to reconnect with our family! Let’s do what we can to be there for each other.

2. “I have called you friends” (Jesus in John 15:15)

Being a friend is a different type of relationship to being family, and equally, if not more, important.
So many people have few friends. Yes, there are business acquaintances, walking/golf/ tennis partners, and fellow members of whatever club you associate with. These are all important.
But, friends? As I have been pondering this topic for a while, I have deliberately made contact with some friends that I have lost touch with – via text or phone call. It has been encouraging and refreshing to do so. Three brief thoughts on this:

a. Open Up

Friendship requires us to be open and vulnerable – although, not to the same degree with everyone.
Many have noticed that Jesus had different circles or friends:
There was the crowd – fascinated and fickle.
There was the 72 – those sent out on mission.
There was the 12 – an inner circle with whom he shared his plans, food and mission (although one betrayed him, and all denied him).
There was the 3 (Peter, James and John) – they clearly had closer access to Jesus, and he shared his heart with them.
This pattern of friendship would seem to imply that we can’t have the same level of intimacy with everyone. It also shows the importance of meeting together outside of corporate worship on a Sunday – in smaller Home/Zoom groups, and in twos or threes.

b. Go Deep

Although we acknowledge that we cannot have deep friendships with everyone, I wonder whether we have that level of deep sharing, prayer and conversation with one or two people. Of course, we don’t want to create cliques within the Church, and managing our circle of friends is important. But do you have a prayer partner? An accountability partner? Or just, a good friendship, where you feel you can be yourself? Someone who challenges you in your discipleship (without judgement) and can help you be a better you in Christ.

c. Be a good friend

Many lament that they don’t have many close friends, but I wonder sometimes whether it is because we are always waiting for others to make the first move.

Send a text, pick up the phone, arrange for a coffee (or a zoom meet).
As we have started to regather as a Church with a small number meeting in Church, and many more meeting online, how can we be open, go deep and be good friends to each other given the constraints of social distancing?
Clearly there is a more to be said on this important aspect of being Church, but the main challenge is to look out for one another, and ensure that CCVW is a place where lonely people can feel connected with each other, as well as with God their Father.

A slow return to Church – and a challenge to Reach and Grow!

Dear friends,

Carrie and I were glad of a week or so away in our campervan, and look forward to a bit more at the end of August.

I do hope that you have found some time for rest and refreshment over the summer.

You will be aware that we have started “in-person” meeting in Church, alongside our continued YouTube streamed services. Those who attended the trial last Sunday gave positive feedback, and I think we all realised how much we missed meeting together.  It is not the same, of course: We need to be socially distanced and we can’t sing! But I know that roughly 50% of people who completed the survey would like to return to physical gatherings. Our absolute maximum at the moment is 60 people.

For attending church, please use these links:

derek
Unpacking our Vision and Mission
Over the summer months I would like us to continue thinking about what it means to be “In the community, for the community, to the Glory of God” and the 5 main areas of focus which we have agreed.  I will take one each week.

  1. Reaching and Growing – we want to be a Growing Church

CCVW seeks to “reach and grow”, by enabling the Church to serve the community, praying for the community, by being present, and relevant to the community, and by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, with the community. We want to see more and more people coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and be given the opportunity to flourish and grow, in their Christian walk with the Lord.
We seek to build up God’s people through God-focussed Sunday meetings, and courses and events, to equip and inspire, so that we may reach the immediate community with the Good News of Jesus. This includes the Wentworth Estate, Longcross Garden Village, and the houses, shops and social places in our Village.

What does growth mean?

  • Numerical – We have a snapshot of the early Church at the end of Acts 2: they met together regularly, they saw and expected God to be at work, they gave sacrificially, and they shared public and private fellowship, AND, Luke comments, “ … the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Act 2:47).
  • Maturity – Numbers DO matter, but so too does the health of the Church and the spiritual growth of its members. The goal is maturity, “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28.
  • Which means that growth isn’t just about evangelism, it is about connecting everyone to the life of the body of Christ, so that they may truly belong, and become authentic Christian family.
SAILING_TW
How do we reach out?
We call ourselves an evangelical Church. What does that mean? That the evangel, The Good News of Jesus Christ, shapes everything we say and do.

I memorably heard Philip Hacking say this:

  • To be an evangelical is to HOLD ON to the Christian Gospel (making sure we truly believe it and ensure that everything we do as a church is shaped by the Bible, as God works out his purposes among us by His Holy Spirit)
  • To be evangelistic is to HOLD OUT the Christian Gospel (opening our mouths to tell people about Jesus and encouraging them to believe in Him for themselves)

Here are a few pointers:

  • Commend the Gospel with your life and open your mouth to speak about Jesus, as you have opportunity.
  • Open your home (both personally and in “Connect” groups). Have you invited friends, colleagues, or neighbours to drinks, or a meal, seeking to be a good friend and looking for opportunities to make Jesus known? “… in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15);
  • Invite people to events and courses: this is the most simple and non-threatening way to connect with people. Don’t worry, they might say no! But, actually, Churches have found that the gentle entré provided by YouTube means that people can experience Church quite easily. Two of my tennis buddies have started watching CCVW online as a result of a simple invitation over the last couple of months.
  • Be involved in community events. As you serve on Foodbank, or the Residents Action Group etc. you put real flesh on the message of the Gospel. It is a shame that we had to cancel Carnival Capers this year, but this event and others help us go out into the community and show the human face of the Church.
  • Hold evangelistic activities off Church premises. When I was a Vicar in Wimbledon, Carrie and I were invited to several homes of people in the parish along with a handful of non-Christians friends, to meet the Vicar and hear a short evangelistic talk. People were surprisingly open, and we had some lovely meals! Be creative in thinking about ways to do this. Do read anything by Rebecca Manley Pippert (particularly the classic, Out of the Salt Shaker) to find motivation and simplicity in sharing the Gospel with friends.
  • Let me know how we can resource you best, in order to reach out with the Gospel into the community. The Pastor’s prime role is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (see Eph 4:12-16). So, please press me, to ensure that we do all we can do to equip you!
  • Just do it! Every one of us – Vicars included – feel nervous and inadequate whenever we try to share the Gospel. But, “… my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). We must pray and we must act. Acting without praying will not produce any kingdom results. But praying without acting is also not right. We have a Great Commission and a responsibility to fulfil it. It seems that God will only steer a boat that is moving: so let press on with the job of making Jesus known, and God will guide us and bless us in that task.
  • We plan to run several new Courses in September – details are in the new Community Magazine. Please email your interest and think about who you can invite
  • “Faith, in a Coronavirus World” – a 5 week course for anyone interested in exploring the Christian Faith, and seeking answers to questions about suffering and death, facing grief, and finding confidence in God.
  • Parenting Course and Marriage Course

2020 Vision

Dear Church family,

I had hoped that, by now, I would have been able to write the necessary commentary and fuller explanation of our Vision Statement, along with some strategy for the next few years.

The necessary steps we have taken during lockdown are now followed by a slow easing of those steps and a return to a “hybrid Church” of online meeting and “socially distanced”, physical meeting.  All this has taken up a lot of time for everyone involved in Christian ministry. Strangely, I don’t recall teaching future Vicars a course on “Pastoral work during a Pandemic”, nor “preaching and leading via Zoom and YouTube”, but I am not the only one on a steep learning curve on this one!

Pastoring 2020

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, that we do need some greater clarity and direction with respects to the unfolding of our vision. I have decided that my Vicar’s letters over the summer period will try to unpack this further, so that, when we finally do set our priorities for the coming years, we will have a better understanding of our mission and vision.

I think you have all got the strap line
“In the community, for the community, to the glory of God”.
But, you might ask “What does that mean?”

  • In the community

Jesus spoke about His Kingdom people as being “salt” and “light” (Matthew 5:13-16). “Light” we get – a beacon of hope for the community of Virginia Water, shining for Jesus. But “salt” implies being rubbed into the community, to prevent decay and to bring out the flavour of all that is good.

I think the point is that Church is not just about inviting people to events and courses. Sure, that still really matters! But it is also about every single person who knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour being a salty influence where you live, work and socialise.

In 1 Peter 3:15-16 we are told “… in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”.
This implies that, when you are deeply involved in your community: serving in Virginia Water Emergency Response team, or helping at the Foodbank, or Serving at Good News Café, or volunteering at the library or the school – or whatever you do – that people should a) see your gentle and good, Christ-like, behaviour and want to know about the God who motivates you. And, b) as you are able, to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus.

Now don’t misunderstand this: we are always looking for people to serve in loads of ways in the life of the Church (from Sunday School, to setting up Church, to welcoming, to helping with IT etc etc) BUT, there are a few of you, perhaps, who are so busy in Church that you are not out there in the community.

  • For the community

We are rightly wary about being a hypocrite – all ‘talk’ but no ‘walk’. So, we need to be in the community before we ever have any right to speak about our faith. However, it is equally – if not more true – that many Christians are more like the Arctic River in Alaska – they too are frozen over at the mouth! The Great Commission involves us going into all the world and making disciples of all nations. Men and Women and Children only become disciples by hearing the Gospel and coming to believe it for themselves. And that can’t, and won’t, only be done by inviting people to Church.

As you are engaged in this community, when was the last time that you “gave a reason for the hope that you have?” Jesus came for the purpose of rescuing us from our sins – and that is at the heart of the good news we have for our community.

DACarson

  • To the glory of God

So, the goal of everything we do, is that God may get the glory. It is not a bad thing if we have a reputation as a loving, caring, worshipful and holy Church. But far more important is that God gets the glory in everything we do. And again, that happens as you and I are embedded in, and loving our community, for his sake.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

A Working Example
I know that the decision we have made about Connection is contentious for some of you. As I said in last week’s Vicar’s Letter, it has been a very difficult and heart searching time.
However, let me try this on you: Connection was a magazine produced by the parish for the parish. So, you might say, surely that best fits our strap line. And, to some extent yes, although much of the content was not directly Christian, it did come through peoples’ door with the reputation of Christ Church Virginia Water attached.

Now that Connection is stopping, we are going to have 4 dedicated pages in a community magazine, and I do think that there is another way of thinking about our role.

When Paul went to the Pagan city of Athens (see Acts 17) he spent his time looking at all the idols, and was deeply moved at how lost they were. He gets up to speak – not in a temple or a Church – but where all the other philosophers of the day set out their stall. He quotes one of their pagan poets, and takes the opportunity to show how lost and ignorant they are: you worship an unknown God, he says, but let me tell you about the God who made everything, who gave you your next breath, and he called them to expect a day of judgment when they will be accountable before Him. And their response: “we want to hear you again on this subject”

Could it be that, while we are in the community magazine, and we offer input for the community magazine, that the readers might seek after the glory of God and through it find their way to faith?

Conclusion
I have said before that our new vision is not just about shining brightly for Jesus in Christ Church, but rather it was about lighting 200 or more candles (YOU!) to shine for him in this dark world.

In the coming weeks I will look over all the subcategories, and I think we will find a new vision for being Church: which (incidentally) long before lockdown including a strong emphasis on streaming and online presence, plus, a vision for Zoom/Home Groups which act as satellite mini-churches around our community.

Planning for a return to Sunday Worship in Church – July onwards
We are carefully considering our options for a slow return to gathering together on a Sunday.

Please be aware: we are seeking to assess risks and to be wise. Plus we will also continue our “streaming” services and groups using YouTube and Zoom.

However, it would really help us to know what you are thinking about returning to Church, so please fill in this brief and anonymous survey, as soon as possible!
https://bit.ly/ccvwreopening

Many thanks
With love and prayers for you all

Simon and Carrie Vibert

Should I “Stay safe”? Should I “Social Distance”?

We know Boris is a fan of Churchill (and his book, “The Churchill Factor”, is a great read).

Now these Vicar’s letters are never about party politics.
But amidst the bluster, the Prime Minister effectively uses a rhetorical device known as the “tricolon”.
Remember Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”?
So Boris Johnson has employed the war language to “fight” this invisible enemy, Covid-19.
The 3-fold message has evolved over the past few months too,
from: “Stay at Home; Stay Safe; Save lives”
to: “Stay Alert; Control the Virus; Save Lives”
We have become accustomed to the Daily Briefings, where a Government minister is flanked by Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Officer.
From Monday, the lockdown is being eased, with shops, pubs, cinemas, and, yes, Churches, beginning to open.

Implications for CCVW
The Government has given advice; as I write, we await Church of England and Diocese of Guildford direction. Our “Easing Lockdown Team” will meet next week to discuss implications for CCVW.

However, we will do this slowly. The virus still with us, and as we have seen in the USA and Germany, churches are particularly risky places, where the virus can spread rapidly. We also have a duty to the elderly and those who are shielding.

Inevitably, we have asked a lot of questions about “church” over the past few months. But whatever the future looks like, it is likely to be a “Hybrid Church”: that is, a combination of physical gathering and online engagement.

Like many churches, we have experienced a lot of extra visitors to our social media and YouTube channels. For some, this has been their first experience of Church – ever! And we do not want to lose that. At the same time, we want to come back together: to Sing (please!); to share sacraments; to deepen our Fellowship; and “to greet one another with a holy kiss”! (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Should I stay Safe?
Yes: of course.   As Professor Chris Whitty said on Monday, we should not infer from this announcement that the virus has gone away: and an “uptick” in cases is very possible. But, and don’t mishear me, also “no”.  Don’t make silly decisions about yours or anyone else’s health. But do be daring and risky in taking every opportunity to share the Gospel. Remember this great line from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe?

“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Am I being bold and daring – in speaking with my friends, in showing Christ by my love and care, in inviting people to explore the faith during this time? And are we thinking boldly about what “church” in this new world means?

Should I continue “Social Distancing”?
This is an unfortunate term. Of course, whether you keep 2 metres, 1 metre, or 100 metres from other people, staying away from virus transmission is essential.
However, please, please, don’t be socially distant from one another. The invisibility of the current online world is particularly tricky: for the elderly, housebound, and shielding, of course. But also, for all of us: how do we keep socially connected, relationally rich, and in fellowship with one another? Let us not be distant!

We continue to be connected in Church in many ways:

  • Our weekly Church Services – Sunday 10:30; Sunday 18:30 (short reflection on a Psalm and prayer together) and Wednesday 18:30 (from Sunday week this will be released early in the week as we start our new series in James, as a resource for zoom groups);
  • Our zoom prayer meetings, Bible studies, and Fellowship Groups: do you attend one of these?
  • Christianity Explored has just finished, but we will shortly run another course for enquirers.
  • Young Adults, Youth, and Children have their own online activities – games and teaching;
  • We make use of Facebook and Instagram for occasional livestreamed messages and regular updates;
  • Our website is going through a revamp at the moment;
  • We are regularly telephoning members of the congregation: starting with the elderly, but eventually getting to the 300+ members on our list;
  • And, other communications such as this Vicar’s letter.

Should I stay at Home?
At some point, after 4th July, we will gradually return to some corporate worship in Church. In the first instance, we will livestream our services from in the building (rather than pre-record and upload). We will probably open the building for private prayer.
In due course, we will also have smaller, “socially distanced”, gatherings at Church (we need to think through the logistics of numbers, cleaning etc)
So, for most people, for some time, you will continue to engage from home.
Do stay at home if you need to …  but don’t relegate church to a passive activity
Please don’t become an “armchair worshipper”! Be engaged and look for ways to serve and connect. Stay alert and save lives, for the greatest tragedy would be for people to die without ever hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ!

In these strange days, can we find ways to be committed to each other – and to His Church.

Remember these great encouragements from Hebrews 10:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What an Image!

A Picture and its Story: Black man carries suspected far-right protester to safety Look at the faces of both these men.  By now you know the story.  At a #blacklivesmatter protest in London last Saturday men were confronted by hostile far right activists.

Whatever else happened that day, this is the abiding image of the protest; a photo that has circulated the globe.  It shows Patrick Hutchinson, a Personal Trainer from Wimbledon, carrying Bryan Male, a Millwall fan and part of the agitated counter protest. It is a powerful image of a man slung over Hutchinson’s shoulders, and being carried to safety.

Motivated by a genuine fear that Male would lose his life, Hutchinson told Good Morning Britain that he feared that the white protester would be killed if he didn’t quickly intervene.
‘I managed to see my mum yesterday and she is constantly in tears. It’s all very overwhelming; she said she is very proud and I saw my nan as well, and she said don’t let anyone say anything bad about you and to keep reading my Bible.”

What an image! And what a picture of the self-less love of a protector and redeemer. A couple of thoughts immediately went through my mind:

In the Bible, Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd

  • Jesus is like the shepherd who searches for the lost sheep (Luke 15), leaving the 99 to look for the one that is lost, and then carrying it home on his shoulders;
  • And more, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

This marble statue of Christ, in the Vatican in Rome, tells the Christian story:

The Good Shepherd, ca. 300

Last Saturday we were given a powerful picture of strong love in action, in self-sacrificing service for another.

We too are told by Christ that discipleship means taking up our cross and following Him

If we are to follow the example of the Good Shepherd, we should be putting ourselves in the firing line to bring others home. Whatever it takes, let’s make sure that those who are lost, those who are in danger, and those who are far from home, are rescued by our self-sacrifice and bold endeavours.

True Humanity – flawed and loved

I was saddened to learn that Tim Keller has recently been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.

I know that many of you will want to pray for Tim and Kathy, his family, and the global church, which is so indebted to his ministry.

I am thankful for the many areas of ministry which Tim Keller has impacted, across a wide spectrum.

However, there is a single quote of his which I first heard in a class he taught in the States in 1997, which is perhaps the most profound. Still speaking powerfully to our own day, he summarises the Gospel diagnosis of the human condition, and provides the cure, as follows:

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Every human being is deeply flawed, and deeply loved.

This view of humanity needs to be heard today, because it puts all human beings in the one category: we are all able to be creative, altruistic, generous, and loving. And, we are all equally capable of being monsters.

With his in mind, I have been reflecting on the way in which the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol was unceremoniously dumped in the river last Sunday, by those protesting in the name of #blacklivesmatter.

Now, please don’t get me wrong: slavery is abhorrent, and in no way should be celebrated. But does that mean that Edward Colston was only bad, and his philanthropy counts for nothing? What about Winston Churchill: yes, deeply flawed. But can we not still celebrate his leadership in defeating Hitler’s evil?

Professor Nigel Biggar, esteemed former colleague of Oxford University, wrote in the Times this week about the problem with a shallow grasp of history. Contemporary appeals to victimhood, and political power, mask the fact that most of us are a “moral mixture of good and bad”.

@JK_rowling has also come into considerable flack this week, all because she expressed her views about transgender ideology. She has apparently moved from a beloved children’s author to an evil witch in the space of a few tweets. Apparently there are only two categories of people now.

The point is this: you will find no perfect human beings in this world – not now, and not in our history. But equally, even the most flawed human being is capable of some good. Beware of tearing down another person, purely to make you feel better about your moral self.

This is why the Gospel is such good news! There are none so wicked that they cannot be redeemed by the saving love of God when the Gospel is heard and loved. Neither is anyone so good that they don’t need repentance and forgiveness, for even “good people” are thoroughly tainted by sin.

So, what about our statues and memorials of the past?
I am not sure; a debate needs to be had. But, is it not possible that we honour the good that even bad people do; and can we recognise all of us are riddled with sin which affects all that we are and do?

Thank God for the Gospel!

#blacklivesmatter

 

#BlackLivesMatter has circled the globe as a movement to awaken us to the instinctive value of every life, but particularly black lives, that are constantly prejudiced against, treated as of less value, abused, and marginalised in society.

In so many respects I am not qualified to speak on this topic. I am white, privileged, and far from the front line of these conversations. And I have no personal experience of the kind of discrimination felt by black women, men, and children around the world.

But silence is worse. If for no other reason, it is in solidarity and grief that I want to say: #BlackLivesMatter. And more: #YouMatter.

One of CCVWs favourite songs for All Ages is “We’re all the great big family of God” and it is quite telling when we point to each other, look into each other’s eyes and sing “You and you and you…. We’re part of the great big family of God”. Yes, there is plenty of division and prejudice across the family of God, and for that reason the Archbishop of Canterbury, at a recent General Synod, offered repentance for all the ways the church has failed to communicate genuine acceptance of the value of every member of the body of Christ. But beyond this, every human being – you and you and you and you – matter to God. I must look into the eyes of any black person and say “you matter”

I should not even need to ask “why does every life matter?” but the murder of George Floyd in broad light means I need to tell you why you matter, and why #BlackLivesMatter.

Despite the Church’s chequered history, the Bible is absolutely clear:

  1. Every Human is made in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

It was heart rending to hear George Floyd repeatedly cry out “I can’t breathe”. God put that breath in you. You live because He made you. No one has the right to take that away.

2. God loved the world

John 3:16 tells us that the reason Jesus came into the world was because of the love of God. And that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Of course, we all have to respond personally/individually to His love: but that love is for every race, gender, class, age, and culture, across the globe.

3. I’m Blind

And, particularly, I am colour blind – not in the way that some say, as if I don’t see colour. But rather that I am blind to the way I subconsciously make judgments on the basis of colour. Those who say they are not prejudiced may be right; but we are called to examine ourselves, or perhaps more particularly, to allow others, and God’s Spirit, to examine our hearts and show us our blindness, and come to Him to open our eyes. The whole point about prejudice is that I can’t see it in myself. And, therefore, I apologise for all the times I fail to see it.

4. I’m called to love

“The most important {commandment},” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

And that love is to be shown in the kind of practical action of the Good Samaritan.

So, above all else: pray

Pray that you may value all God’s image bearers; that you may share the love of God around the world; that God would open your blind eyes to your prejudice; that you would love your neighbour as yourself.

A Christian is: a mind through which Christ thinks, a heart through which Christ loves, a voice through which Christ speaks, and a hand through which Christ helps.” St. Augustine of Hippo

Check out this brilliant talk by Pastor Agu Irukwu – https://youtu.be/AmBP5dWH9zE

The True Church in Lockdown

Dear friends
I pray for you, as I pray for myself, for patience whilst we wait for the return to normal (whatever it is that “normal” means!). It is sometimes said that patience is the gift that is most needed when it is exhausted. It is a gift from God, too, so let’s ask Him for it: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).
God has made us a part of His body, and put us among the people of God, so we may grow in Christ likeness and wait expectantly for Jesus to return for His Bride. “…we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2.13-14)

This Sunday, 31st May, is the Birthday of the Church – Pentecost Sunday.
On this day, we remember that God poured out his Spirit, and constituted the living Church – which has spread out throughout the world, all through the ages.
As we continue to live with lockdown, and expect that Church – as we once knew it – will not return any time soon, I have been reflecting on the hallmarks of true Church, from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.

Acts 2.42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

i.  What is the Hallmark of a True Church?
Learning v42
The teaching and learning function of Church works quite well via YouTube and Zoom. Obviously, we miss the relational side of learning, but generally, evangelical churches (with a higher priority on preaching and Bible Study) have adapted well to newly acquired pedagogy!

Caring v44f
Telephones, letters, acts of kindness, and, again, zoom, have meant that we can still connect well with each other. But it’s not just grannie who longs to be hugged, and lockdown can still be very isolating for many. I have been impressed with the care many of you have shown to each other.

Worshipping v46 (private and public)
Oh, we miss singing don’t we?!
And, there is something about the communal, gathered nature of Church which is so important

Reaching v47
There have been some opportunities to reach out to people (Akeel’s recent talk, Christianity Explored Courses), but guest events, such as Gerald Osbourne reading Mark, and the Jonathan Veira concert, are on hold for now.
However, we should not forget the role we each play in being salt and light in this dark world: As John Stott wrote, “Come to Christ for worship; go for Christ in mission” (John Stott, the Living Church).

ii. What are today’s challenges to being a True Church?
We expect some kind of return to gathered Church worship soon, but:

–  Initially only small groups so socially distancing can happen.
– Initially, no Sunday school; No refreshments.
– Many Seniors will choose not to come for now.

The reality is that, even when we are allowed to meet together again (from July), there will be some core parts of worship which are missing.

iii. Can we continue to be Church online forever? 
Well, we do the best we can within the constraints we have. But let us be mindful of some of these implications of being a True Church:
– We are called to be worshippers not consumers.
– Belonging to Christ and one another – so, not just for my upbuilding but to build others up too.
– We need to find ways to reach out and make mature disciples.
– Sharing the Sacraments are inevitably public and communal acts.

(I found this article on the topic quite helpful https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/whats-special-church/ )
Please pray for those of us seeking to navigate the future, and trying to faithfully serve God and His Church.