Trinity 20

Morning Worship for the last Sunday of Trinity at St Margaret’s begins with the hymn “Come Down O Love Divine”:

The bulk of the service can be viewed here:

Due to technical issues, the final part of the service was recorded, and is here:

We finished with the hymn “Brother, Sister, let me Serve You”:

The readings were:

You can read Rev Deborah’s sermon again here:

Imagine the scene. The Israelites have been wandering around the desert for 40 years and finally, after that long length of time of not knowing what was happening, when they would arrive, the boredom, the weariness and the frustration, they arrive at the promised land. Moses goes to top of Mount Nebo and God shows him the promised land. Moses dies (he is 120) and after a period of mourning, Joshua leads the Israelites into a very different world, totally unlike anything that they had experienced before.

Today we are in a very different world from that at the beginning of the year due to COVID. We have had lockdown, an easing of restrictions and now are in Tier 3  restrictions. It seems so long ago since March. During lockdown we had to change our way of doing things.

Like most churches we have pre-recorded and live streamed our usual services, Easter services, wholeness and healing and Messy Church and have additionally provided daily morning prayer and compline. For those with no access to technology, we have been able to provide Sunday worship via the telephone. Practical support has been provided in terms of shopping for parishioners and neighbours, a continuation of porch box food collections (dropped outside church at an allocated time).

Perhaps the greatest area of impact has been that of emotional support and fellowship even though we were. Once in lockdown we quickly established a pastoral care system, which provided a point of contact, built up relationships and many both received and made phone calls.

Weekly service sheets have gone out electronically and magazines have been posted to all on our church family list, as well as cards sent to cheer people up.

Our singing group has continued to meet virtually on a weekly basis. During Holy Week Easter packages sent to parish members which included an Easter card, palm cross, a book of Easter prayers, mini Easter eggs and an angel made by Mary. On Easter Sunday we had a virtual Easter egg hunt in the vicarage garden. A few weeks later, we had a virtual afternoon tea and photographs were sent to go on our Facebook page.

‘Anniversary Weekend’ is a significant time for us. To celebrate this, we had a virtual ‘garden fest’ where photos of gardens tended during lockdown were sent in, vegetable/fruit grown, flower arrangements and scarecrows made which were put on our Facebook page. The vicar made an appearance as a scarecrow! On the Sunday we had a virtual picnic and our Sunday School teachers organised a range of children’s activities and met together on Zoom.

Staycation week is an annual event for our parish, with something happening every day in which people can join in for fellowship and fun.  Because of lockdown, we could not follow our usual format, so we improvised. We had to cancel our two parish retreats so we thought that one day of staycation would be a quiet day, with a Zoom lunch. The theme was ‘we are not alone’. A picnic hastily became virtual as new restrictions meant that what had been planned couldn’t go ahead. A zoom quiz by Chaz and a presentation provided both entertainment and fellowship. The highlight was ‘Lockdown Songs of Praise’ on the Friday evening. Hymns were chosen by members of the congregation, 28 people took part including 4 children, 42 separate video items were submitted of readings, poems, musicians and a virtual choir. There were 15 were singalong items and had a running time of 1hr 35 mins. It is amazing what can be done with a mobile phone and for those without technology, a telephone next to the volume control so that it could be heard if not seen (we had plans to link those without technology or on their own with someone else but local restrictions meant that we were unable to do so). The theme ‘together we are stronger’ as been the essence of our journey through lockdown. It has been all of us, not anyone individual, working together that has enabled these things to come together.

The diocese of Manchester has, in the past few years, has promoted ‘Church for a different world award’. This year Bishop David wanted to focus this year on how churches and chaplaincies have adapted to provide spiritual, emotional and practical support during the coronavirus pandemic so that we can share good practice, learn from each other and celebrate what is good. After umm-ing and ahh-ing, I sent in an application on behalf of all of us, outlining the things that we had done during lockdown.

Ten churches were awarded ‘highly commended’, of which we were one of them. I would like to show you the presentation Carol prepared for us that was shown at the digital award ceremony, where we received this certificate.

So why have I shown this?

  • It represents how we as a church have worked together to support one another. and the wider community. There has been mutual giving and receiving and being there for each other and for the wider community.
  • It shows how we have been able to adapt to changing circumstances, especially in terms of worship and the use of digital technology
  • We have tried to include everyone, whether they have technology or not. The use of the phone to simply ring people up or letters through the post have been simple ways to keep in touch
  • It illustrates the wealth of skills and talents that we share amongst ourselves and what a creative bunch we are.
  • It shows that we are a church family, with Christ as the head
  • And finally, it is a way for saying thank you to you all and thank you to God.

It is also a way of encouraging one another. Many of us thought that once we were out of lockdown, we would return to some kind of normality. However, as you know, we are now in Tier 3 restrictions and all the implications that brings, especially in the lead up to Christmas. I know that some feel weary, tired and frustrated. Others are missing loved ones and the fellowship that we have had in the past. Seeing this video reminds us about what we have been able to do, with God’s help, and what we can continue to do during these challenging times. Together we are stronger.

In this liminal time, between lockdown and post Covid19, we need to continue to encourage and support each other and our neighbours.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is simply asked, ‘which commandment is the greatest’. Jesus response is ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ In many ways, this is what we have been trying to do during lockdown and it is how we will get through the months ahead – through loving God – whether that is worshipping at home, in a church building or digitally. Through our prayer life we will be strengthened and encouraged as we nurture and deepen our faith and that will be shown in the way we love our neighbour – whether that be family and friends, our church family, our neighbours, our community  or further afield.

There is no denying that things are different now, and will be in the future, We don’t know when Covid will end but we do know that God was with us in the past, is with us now in the present and will be with us in the future.

At the end of my report for the APCM, I quoted a verse from Jeremiah. The prophet had witnessed the destruction of his Jerusalem but God said to him,

‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm youplans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)That wasn’t just for Jeremiah in his times but is for us now.

Let us trust those words as we face days, months and years ahead and remember that ‘together we are stronger.’ Amen

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