Saturday, 21 March 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 2 - 22nd March 2020

22nd March 2020
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Mothering Sunday)
Letter No.2

Fr Andrew writes:

It is clear that this is going to be a long haul. Just seven days ago it was perfectly possible for us to meet to celebrate the Eucharist, albeit with the necessary precautions of hand washing, receiving Holy Communion in one kind and no physical sharing of the Peace. Now public worship has been suspended altogether and we have entered the reality of social distancing and isolation. It is bewildering and upsetting; but it is right and part of our social responsibility as citizens.

Social distancing is a difficult concept and it’s difficult to do. Yet I hold on to the deep reality that social distancing does not diminish fellowship within the Communion of Saints. Catholic Christianity has a most vivid sense of the connectedness of all the baptised with the saints, ‘therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven [the saints] we praise proclaim your great and glorious name, evermore praising you…’ We are not alone in the fellowship of the Church.

This crisis will test the mettle of the Church in how we sustain worship in adversity; it will measure the depth of our fellowship. It poses questions to us: how do we express ourselves as One Body in our worship? how does my prayer life sustain me in times when things are bleak? how well connected am I in our church? do I know needs and gifts of others?

I am pleased to say that already those who are in a position to have offered their help in doing shopping for people, delivering it (safely) and collecting prescriptions. In one day last week I made 38 phone calls to ascertain the spiritual and practical needs of people who are on our Minster contact list, and I will be ringing more people this week. It was so gratifying to hear people’s voices and so many in good spirits and speaking of the support and offers of help they have had from neighbours and family. But as time goes on no doubt spirits will flag. That is when we will find our faith and hope becoming rocky perhaps, but also a time to find that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46.1).

Today is Mothering Sunday and what a heart-rending day it is this year. A day that celebrates God’s gift of life that we received through our mothers and the relationships we share, in our families and church family, also highlights just what social distancing will mean. Our normal patterns and routines have been totally turned on their heads. This Mothering Sunday I am mindful of the longstanding reflection on the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, whose heart was pierced with pain. Her tears join ours at the moment.

Our journey through Lent continues. I am indebted to Stephen Willmer for reminding me of the origin of the word ‘quarantine’. It comes from Latin quadraginta ‘forty’ and links directly to Christ’s forty days and forty nights of seclusion in the wilderness. We are in a desert ourselves today. On Ash Wednesday we could not have imagined the sort of Lent we would be forced into this year. We will not be able to gather for Easter this year, but still we will walk together in spirit through the desolation of Holy Week, and the Passion (suffering) of Jesus Christ and the emptiness of Holy Saturday. But the Easter dawn will break. That day will remind us, even if we don’t feel upbeat, that there is a deep, enduring hope in the triumph of life over death which we can hold on to.

So what can we say in the face of all this. Worship – Morning Prayer, the Eucharist and Prayer during the Day - continues to be offered in the church. I am absolutely committed to continuing doing this, for as long as it is possible: that is my duty and joy as a priest for you and with you. I am realistic enough to know that the time may come when I can’t do that. When that comes I will be praying at home, like you, all the more fervently for our parish, nation and world in the face of this virus.

With thanks for our fellowship in the Gospel.

Fr Andrew

Do remember you can connect further through the Minster Website for information and links , via the Minster Facebook (where you can see acts of worship streamed) and Twitter @croydonminster

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