Sermon Text from July 17
So this is our last 11am zoom service. It is a momentous occasion and needs to be marked as such. It ends a phase of our collective life that will go down in memory as the Great Pandemic- the second in the life of this church who also lived through the Spanish Flu.
So what will they say about us in the years to come when this time is just part of our history rather than our own memories? I think that they will say many great things.
They will talk of a church that somehow got through 18 months of physical separation. That it was tough; we missed being together. That some of us have been friends for so long we are more like family. That it was the little things we missed like having coffee, doing things together and of course that we really missed worshipping together. That we realised that we had something special, and we didn’t realise it until we were unable to do the things we took for granted.
They will marvel that we managed to find new ways of getting together very quickly. That in the confusion and chaos of those first few weeks we were up and running at a breath-taking speed. And while worship and getting together was different we managed to be able to support each other during the most difficult collective experience in our country for at least 70 years.
They may also chuckle that we found some of the advantages of being at home while worshipping- a mug of coffee and comfy clothes (and even PJ’s) was a hard habit to break when we got back together.
They may also marvel how we learnt what was evident to them- that some things like Bible Study and some of our meetings were better online. They might shake their heads at the idea of everything centred in a building rather than seeing that church can happen any where that people are gathered in person or online.
And they may be surprised that we were so centred in the building that it was hard to include people who couldn’t get to it in normal times. That the pandemic allowed us to support people where they were.
Indeed, they may say that some of us were supported better than before- that some of people who found it difficult to get here physically were given weekly prayers, phone calls and a dial in service which meant that they were more connected to the daily life of the church than before. They may speak of the generosity of Margret Taylor whose dying wish was to come back to church one more time and who left money that was used to buy tablets to connect people.
They may also gratefully recall that we learnt a hard lesson- that the Church was not a building. And while we had always known this, that didn’t mean that we felt it. That the pandemic showed us a hard and liberating lesson, that we were still the same church whether we were in Britwell Rd or not. And that liberated us.
They may also wag their head with pride that in the middle of this we still managed to do things- that our long-neglected field was bought back into use, that we managed to reach out to the community and that we also managed to beaver away doing much needed changes to the building such as creating room 2 from two small rooms.
They may also be amazed at how much effort in phone calls, letters and later, carefully distanced visits happened to keep everyone connected. They will be amazed that we connected with the community through things like the door displays and the events like Christmas in June were built on year on year.
Indeed, I imagine that they will look back and bless us, that the pandemic did not defeat us but made us realise that change is inevitable and that we realised that unless we evolved, we would die like so many churches around us did in those months after pandemic.
So now that the immediate emergency seems over what will they say about the next few months?
Hopefully, they will say that we had a time of rest over the summer and that we did fun things. The reading today shows that after Jesus performed his miracle that he rested and spent times with friends- and that is what we should be doing over these summer weeks.
Hopefully, they will also say that when we got back together, we spent some time just getting to know each other again. Each of us has had a different experience during the pandemic. For some of us it has been a stressful and difficult time with our jobs. For others it has been boring and isolating. Some of us have been more worried about our families and our own health while others have not. Some of us have lost someone close to us, while others have grieved as a church family.
And this means that we have been affected in different ways. Some of us will be ready tomorrow to cast off all restrictions where some of us will be terrified to do so. Some of us will find it hard to be around people after being in solitude for so long. Others will grasp the socialising opportunity with both hands. Some of us will be shocked at the babes in arms now being toddlers and be saddened we missed this precious time. We will also be delighted to meet Grace and Charlotte for the first time. It will be the first time we will really notice the people who are no longer with us. It will take time and conscious effort to help us all to integrate each other’s stories into our own. It will take patience, forbearance, and kindness.
And then after this rest we will need to begin to plan what happens next. And this is difficult because the future is still uncertain- that we are not sure what the winter brings and that we will be grappling with a budget deficit caused by the building being closed with few lettings and much smaller collections. That some of the businesses and groups that we had known for a long time didn’t make it through shutdown. There is a challenge for us to be imaginative, hopeful, brave and frugal at the same time.
The time we have lived through ends tomorrow in many ways, but the pandemic will continue for some time. This means just like the stories of Jesus we heard today we need to rest and make sure we have the energy for the long haul.. There will be more work to do in the autumn, more challenges to rise to and more successes but in these next few weeks let us pause, have some fun, and begin the next chapter of our lives together.