Sunday, 29 March 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter - 5 29th March 2020

29th March 2020
The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passiontide begins)
Pastoral Letter No. 5

Fr Andrew writes:

On this fifth Sunday of Lent the Church now moves to the ‘business end’ of Lent as we enter Passiontide, which leads us to Holy Week (Palm Sunday is next Sunday 5th April).

There will be more to say and reflect on that is specific to Holy Week, but today I want to offer some reflections on the last few days when first church worship was suspended and then the churches closed altogether.

I feel very torn by the closure of churches. On one hand it is absolutely right that as a society and nation we should be doing everything to minimise the spread of the virus. On the other hand I feel deeply uncomfortable about having to shut the church. Yet, that is the situation we are in. There are three points I would like to reflect on in relation to the closure of the church: all will be scattered; the stripping of the altars; and Holy Saturday.

All will be scattered Fr Joe drew my attention to the prescience of this text from St John’s gospel:

‘Jesus said: “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”’ (John 16.32, 33)

These words come in the passage of John in which Jesus is telling his disciples both about the tribulations to come and cost of discipleship in general terms but also, specifically, that at his glorification - his death on the cross - all will be scattered and all will be thrown up in the air.

There is something of that feel at the moment. We are all scattered, each to our own homes. Yet as Christ is not alone because of the intimacy of his relationship with the Father, so we are not alone because of union with him by baptism and faith. Indeed the Holy Spirt continues to bind us together in love even if we are scattered. Those verses invite us to take heart (the literal meaning of courage) because these forces of evil, pestilence, fear and terror that stalk the world have been overcome by the glorification of Jesus in his death and resurrection.

The Stripping of the Altars One of the most poignant moments in all the Church’s liturgy is when the altars of the church are stripped on Maundy Thursday. After the intimacy of the washing of feet after Christ’s example, and commemoration of the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist, all is stripped away. At that moment all that is left is the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated bread of the Eucharist). And then led by the Sacrament, we make our way in procession to ‘watch and pray’ (as the disciples were asked to do – and failed – in the Garden of Gethsemane). That is the founding Vigil of the Church: a vigil being a time of watching and praying.

When the church remained open but public worship was suspended (up until last Monday): the church had a solemn and beautiful feel. People came in to pray - were totally sensible about distancing - and there was a deeply hushed and reverent feel: it was a vigil taking place. It reminded me of how a church feels on that night of Maundy Thursday and then on into Good Friday until the liturgy.

At the Good Friday Liturgy, after the Veneration of the Cross - when we bow before the sign of our hope and salvation and kiss it - we receive the body and blood of the Crucified One and then the Sacrament is consumed. This mirrors the moment of Christ’s death, when nothing is left and all is desolate. The community disperses, just as the disciples fled from the scene: as Jesus prophesied at the Last Supper, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ (Matthew 26.31). Liturgically we no longer have Christ present with us in the Blessed Sacrament.

Holy Saturday Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday, is one of the most unnoticed holy days of the Church. On Holy Saturday no Eucharist is celebrated; the Sacrament is not present. It is a day of absence. Sometimes referred to as Easter Eve or, erroneously Easter Saturday (that’s the Saturday after Easter not before) it is a day that usually sees lots of busy-ness of the quite reasonable preparation of the church for Easter Day. Yet we miss something if we do not pause. Holy Saturday echoes the seventh day of creation, the day on which God rested, seeing all was good. It is the source of the practice of Sabbath, which our Jewish brethren do far better than we.

Hoy Saturday is the day that Christ’s lifeless body rested in the tomb. It is a day of absence, stillness and calm.

I don’t believe it is too far-fetched to say that at the moment we are in an enforced Sabbath, an enforced and prolonged Holy Saturday. That is not to wish coronavirus upon anyone, but as it is a reality that has closed our churches, driven to our homes and made us isolated and cut off. In that reality how do we cope spiritually? Perhaps meditation on Holy Saturday and what it means gives us a key to reflecting on this time that we are in. Sabbath, solitude and silence can be frightening and unsettling, but can be a gift of grace to us as well. There is much to ponder on this and lots of wisdom from the great spiritual writers.

We don’t sabbath enough in our busy lives and world. Creation itself is receiving a sabbath as fewer planes and cars pump toxins into the atmosphere, as fish swim in the clear Venice canals, as the ozone layer begins to repair, as a tranquil silence descends next to busy roads. What of your Sabbath, how can you be refreshed in this time?

The Sabbath of Holy Saturday gave way to the life and abundance of Easter Day, and don’t we yearn for the Easter moment of release from our captivity. May that day soon come!

May God’s blessing rest upon you and your homes at this time.

Fr Andrew

Friday, 27 March 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter - 4 25th March 2020

25th March 2020
Pastoral Letter No. 4

Fr Andrew writes:

Today, 25th March, is the Feast of the ‘Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary’, sometimes known in England as ‘Lady Day’. Historically it was one of the Quarter Days, when rents were due and the new financial year began; that changed with the modification of the calendar and now our tax year begins on 6th April.

Now we’re at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made all sorts of announcements about ‘rent holidays’ and transferring tax payments, yet still there must be concerns, and prayers offered, for the self-employed, freelance workers and those on zero-hours contracts which constitutes many in our parish.

This great Christian festival recalls and celebrates the coming of the Archangel Gabriel to announce to Mary that God has called her to be the Mother of His Son (Luke 1.26-38). Mary of Nazareth will be the one to bear Christ in her womb and give birth to him so that he may be presented to the world, ‘for us [human beings] and our salvation’ (Nicene Creed). Little wonder ‘all generations will call [her] blessed’ (Luke 1.48).

The encounters between Mary and the archangel and Mary and her cousin Elizabeth give us the basis of the prayer ‘Hail Mary’, which recalls the angelic salutation, Gabriel’s greeting, and praises the fruit of Mary’s womb: Jesus.

The Annunciation, like the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas, is a great celebration of the Word made flesh: in other words, the very presence of God becomes human flesh. Christ has an earthly body with human hopes and aspirations, frustrations and temptations. Mary gives her humanity and ours to the great wonder and mystery of salvation in what we call the Incarnation, literally the ‘taking of flesh’.

The Annunciation comes nine months before Christmas; the period of gestation of the child in the womb. It is almost certain that the Annunciation was celebrated more widely by early Christians than Christmas so, properly speaking, Christmas comes nine months after the Annunciation!

Christmas is a long way off – and it is hard to contemplate nine months ahead at the moment, let alone three weeks. Christmas is another time when many people will be spending time with their families. It won’t be an enforced time, such as this Coronavirus emergency, but I trust that we will come through this crisis with a deeper appreciation of social proximity (the opposite of isolation) and will cherish the people around us more - family members, spouses, siblings, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ - even if they rub us up the wrong way. Human society needs that for life, not just for Christmas (or times of crisis).

The Annunciation happens in a domestic setting (notwithstanding some traditions that say it took place in the Temple) in Mary’s home town of Nazareth. Some imagine Mary to have been doing the housework for her family or sitting praying quietly or reading the psalms. Either way the archangel intrudes into the domestic scene, illustrating that we cannot bar God from our homes and more than that that God is Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.

This message of ‘Emmanuel - God with us’ is so pertinent at the moment. It’s a theme that I spoke a little bit about when reflecting on Psalm 46 which begins, ‘God is our refuge and strength’ which has almost as a refrain, ‘The Lords of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge’.

God makes his home with us. It does matter where our home is, or what our domestic arrangements are, for God has made his home with us: as the Prayer of Humble Access puts it, ‘that we may dwell in him and he in us’. We trust too that those who have nowhere to call their home, the homeless, will know the comfort and presence of God in their time of trouble, especially at the moment given how vulnerable they are. Please pray for them too.

Our church, Croydon Minster, speaks of God’s presence in our midst. Like all churches it presents in a rich symbolic language the meeting of heaven and earth, divinity and humanity: it is a sacrament of the presence of God – and don’t we just miss it at the moment? It’s our shared spiritual home! It’s not the same watching the Eucharist broadcast from my sitting room! (Although, if you do want to see that you can view it on the Minster Facebook page or from the very bottom of the Minster website home page).

I do hope you are keeping well and your spirits up. If you share your home with others I hope that you can appreciate one another and seek to be a community of love and friendship. If you are in your home alone, then I hope that you will find the companionship you want and need through the many ways we can keep connected today. Either way, know that Jesus Christ is the unseen, yet ever present guest in your home. May his presence, the Word Made Flesh, hallow our homes and lives, both now and ever. Amen.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 3 - 23rd March 2020

23rd March 

Fr Andrew writes


Announcing the total closure of churches in London, in their letter on Sunday 22nd March, the Bishops whose dioceses include the London Boroughs (the Dioceses of London, South, Rochester and Chelmsford) wrote “The Church continues to be alive and active, but our buildings must close in London”.

What that quote suggests is the long held, and true, idea that the Church is not a building but the people. Or put slightly differently, and a little more theologically densely, the essence of the identity of the Church is to be found in the company of the baptised. That’s why the Bishops can say that whilst buildings are closed the Church continues to be alive.

We do however use the word ‘church’ interchangeably for the building and the people.  That is born of the reality that the identity of Christians is bound up in the fact that we meet together. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, ‘do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some’ (Hebrews XX).

Church buildings are more than just community meeting places, they are also meeting places of heaven and earth, the divine and human: they are, as Jacob said of the place where he encountered God in a dream, ‘how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ (Genesis 28.17). He named the place Bethel (‘Beth’, meaning ‘house’ in Hebrew, ‘el’ one of the words for God).

Church buildings matter because they are places where we encounter God and one another. As the little rhyme that can be enacted using your fingers and hands: ‘This is the church, this is the steeple; open the doors and here are the people’

Meeting together is part of what makes us the Church, as in the Greek word for Church, the ecclesia, which literally means the ‘called out’. We are called out from darkness into light through baptism, and we are called out of our daily routines to meet together in the Lord’s name. Even in times of brutal, murderous persecution Christian met together, sometimes hidden away in catacombs (underground burial chambers in and around Rome).

The key point is that we meet not where we meet. And that is where the Coronavirus outbreak is devastating for us. Distancing ourselves from one another is counter-Christian – or should be!

Social distancing and isolation pose deep questions to us:
·        how are we the Church when we have no church [building]?
·        if the central act of worship of the Church - the Eucharist – (or any act of worship for that matter) depends on a gathering of people how can ‘virtual worship’ really be worship?
·        put really bluntly: is your Christian identity more about your church building or about your membership of the Church, the People of God, the company of the baptised?

I want to suggest that in a time like this, which is so far from the norm, we have to look for ways of connecting and being church that are little contemplated in normal times. And here are three pointers I want to offer:
1.      Spiritual Communion It is essentially a spiritual disposition or attitude in prayer that seeks to unite ourselves intimately with Christ. I am going to write more about this in another pastoral letter soon, as I believe it is very important for us at a time like this;
2.      Mystical Union Being united means being one. We can remain one with someone else even if we are not physically grafted to them. This is true every Sunday already. Throughout the world the Church offers worship, uniting us in praise and adoration each Sunday; we’re not in the same physical place with all Christians, yet we are one with them. I do not stop being a parent to my child just because we’re not in the same room all the time;
3.      Koinonia That’s the Greek word for ‘fellowship’ and ‘communion’ within the Body of Christ, the Church. Deep koinonia is reflected in how well we know one another in church, how we connect and how we ‘bear one another’s burdens’ as St Paul puts it (Galatians 6.2) and how we ‘bear with one another’ (Colossians 3.13). Whilst there will always be those who want to connect with the church anonymously – although their names are known by God! – knowing peoples’ names is a good reflection of the connectedness of a church.

This coronavirus outbreak can and will change the church. The challenge is that it change us for the better, that through the adversity we come out the other side as a church that has deeper yearning to be united to Christ, to the whole church globally and locally to one another.

Those Bishops are right: the Church is alive and active. I know that from the messages I have been getting as people connect with live streamed worship, reflect on Bible texts, offer to pray for the locality, offer practical help to the social isolated and drop off food to those who are stuck at home – all that is happening in our Church – not the building, that’s shut, but amongst the people who call upon his name.

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

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

Coronavirus Pastoral Letter 1 - 18th March 2020

18th March 2020
St Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop, teacher of the faith, 386

Fr Andrew writes:

As parish priest I am writing to all those connected with the Croydon Minster by email. I intend to do this on a regular basis whilst we face and endure the Coronavirus (Covid-19) emergency.

These are spiritually, emotionally and physically challenging times.

I hope these emails will help to keep us in touch, to give information about practical matters - such as when the church is open and how we might help get food and supplies to those who are self-isolating or unwell - and what resources are available for you to read, ponder and pray.

The church has a data protection (GDPR) policy and we will respect that. We have your email address because you have given it to the church in the past. If you do not wish to receive these email bulletins please simply press ‘Unsubscribe’ at the bottom.

The bombshell we learnt yesterday was that the in light of the Government guidance around non-essential contact, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued advice that public worship is suspended until further notice.

They say that churches should be open where possible but with no public worship services taking place. In response Croydon Minster is open for personal prayer at the following times:

Sundays: 10.00am – 12noon and 4.00pm-5.00pm
Weekdays & Saturdays: 10.00am – 12noon

The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed as a focus for prayer. Prayers and devotional reading material will be available for those present.

There will be no acts of corporate public worship until further notice.


Many people will be feeling isolated not just physically but emotionally and spiritually too as well as feeling angry, uncertain, bewildered and plain lonely.

As a church community we can draw on our faith and our fellowship to be sustained ourselves and to sustain others in these difficult times.

One way we’re responding to that is that we will be calling members of the congregation by phone so that we can keep in touch and help with any needs people may have, insofar as that’s possible.

If you know someone who would appreciate a phone call from someone at the church, or to join this email list please ask them to contact and we can add them to the lists.

I’ll be in touch again soon.


The Church of England has prepared prayer material for this time. You can click here ( to find more


Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your disciples, ‘I am with you always’.
Be with me today, as I offer myself to you.
Hear my prayers for others and for myself, and keep me in your care.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.                                         from St Patrick’s Breastplate

I am giving you worship with all my life,
I am giving you obedience with all my power, I am giving you praise with all my strength, I am giving you honour with all my speech.
I am giving you love with all my heart,
I am giving you affection with all my sense,
I am giving you my being with all my mind,
I am giving you my soul, O most high and holy God.
Praise to the Father,
Praise to the Son,
Praise to the Spirit, The Three in One.
adapted from Alexander Carmichael,
Carmina Gadelica (1900)

Before going to sleep
God our Father, by whose mercy the world turns safely into darkness and returns again to light: we place in your hands our unfinished tasks, our unsolved problems, and our unfulfilled hopes, knowing that only what you bless will prosper. To your love and protection we commit each other and all those we love, knowing that you alone are our sure defender, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Church of South India

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Bitesize Catechesis - Penance

Bitesize Catechesis

‘Bitesize Catechesis’

‘Penance’. I wonder what that word means to you?

Perhaps it sounds a bit dark, difficult, burdensome, judgemental or harsh.

Or perhaps it makes you think of a new TV mini-series about to start on Tuesdays on Channel 5.

Either way, like fasting and almsgiving it’s not a word in general circulation.

Penance can refer to two things. First the act of making reparation for something that has been done wrong, or secondly the act of intentionally making confession of our sins.

I want to think about both meanings, but mostly about penance as the act of confession, particularly sacramental confession, which has become known also, and helpfully, as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Now there are those who say that the Church of England doesn’t do confession. Strange, because it does and it does because it’s deeply embedded in the scriptures.

Psalm 51 is a classic statement of confession, starting like this:

Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness: according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me. (Psalm 51.3)

John the Baptist, our patron saint here, calls people to confession ‘proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 3.3). And he does so in no uncertain terms: ‘you brood of vipers…’ (Luke 3.7).

And St James in his letter says,The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. (James 5.15-16)

The Church of England has always retained sacramental Confession to a priest. In the Book of Common Prayer service The Visitation to the Sick it recommends that someone whose life is in danger or drawing to a close should confess their sins:

Here shall the sick person be moved to make a special confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter. After which confession, the Priest shall absolve him…

So Confession is not compulsory in the Church of England, at least not personal confession, but it is to be commended. At every Eucharist we begin with the penitential act of confession which is corporate if not individual.

The prominence or otherwise of penance in the Church of England is by the by, and old debates have moved on.

There’s a deeper issue though and it relates to our sense of shame and/or guilt and fear of being judged, either by other people or by God.

None of us wants to be judged. ‘Don’t judge me’ is one of the cries of our times.

It’s a way of saying, ‘please don’t trample on my fragile sense of who I am. I am a harsh enough judge of myself, without you judging me too’.

Penance seems to be about judgement.

But without judgement we lose our sense of accountability. If I can’t be judged, I can’t be held accountable or responsible for what I say or do.

One way we can engage with what it means to be accountable, and take responsibility for our lives is to subject ourselves to judgement, so as when we make our confession, when we do penance.

But, boy, is that hard.


It’s hard because then being judged gets mixed up with guilt.

Very often penance and confession are associated with guilt. And we have been trained in late modernity to believe guilt to be a dreadful thing.

Knowing that guilt is bad doesn’t make feelings of guilt go away. We even feel guilty about feeling guilty. And then guilt mutates into shame, which actually is rather worse.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is very interesting on this subject.

He distinguishes between ‘guilt-cultures’ and ‘shame-cultures’.

His argument is that in a guilt-based culture you have forgiveness, and the moment you have forgiveness you can say ‘mea culpa, I did wrong’. You take ownership of your shortcomings and know that, somewhere down the line, there is forgiveness.

Today, and social media magnifies it, you are: ‘trolled’; ‘called out’; ‘no platformed’; ‘deleted’. That is a shame-culture and there is no forgiveness in a shame-culture. There is no way back. So in a shame-culture you deny you did wrong, and keep denying it.

Shame cultures create scapegoats. I don’t want to be shamed and ostracised so I point the finger at someone else whatever the cost. Shame feeds more shame and is utterly corrosive. It’s the story of Adam and Eve: they hide; they throw blame around.

One last thought on guilt: it can also be a prompt or spur to act better!


Where does all this get us then?

The church has a means by which we can face up to, acknowledge, name and handover our sins and shortcomings. A place where we can be profoundly honest about ourselves. That is in confession, penance.

It is a place of reconciliation, restoration and forgiveness. It’s a way of rooting out the sins, that like weeds can become pernicious and invasive to our souls

Sin stunts who we are made to be; confession releases tension and self-loathing so that we are freed to be his children once again.

Someone once said that it is the most liberating thing to be called ‘a sinner’. It sounds really odd. It sounds like it diminishes who we are. It sounds like plain old-fashioned hellfire and damnation. But think about it: being declared ‘a sinner’ means there’s hope; being a sinner means we’re made good but fall short, and can be restored and renovated.

St Augustine saw penance as being therapeutic. Confessing our sins, he argued, is good for our souls, it is healing and helps us grow.

This is the spirit of what confession is about removing guilt by declaring forgiveness, sparing us shame and freeing us to be, as the hymn puts it, ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’.

I want to end by commending individual confession, penance, for precisely these reasons and as a way of growing in our faith and discipleship.


Come closer: overcoming fear and isolation

‘The water that I will give will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’. (John 5.14b)


‘Quarantine. Contagion. Social isolation,’.

We’re hearing those words all the time at the moment.

For some people they are reassuring words because something is being done in the face of a threat and something we don’t understand. For others they are a gross overreaction to something that is no worse – surely? they would say - than the ‘flu.

Each person will have their own take on that, and for many people there is either a resigned sense that these things have to happen or a sense that as long as things are in proportion then we should do what it takes.

Here at the Minster we are being careful to minimise any risks especially to those people who have underlying health issues or are very frail.

But what is really important is that, unless absolutely forbidden at some point in the future, the church will remain open for prayer, and divine worship will be offered.

And that is not simply a pragmatic decision.

If we are open to God and to our neighbour then we want our church to be open to both. In times of adversity an open church is a sign of the presence, commitment and hope of God reflected in the life of those who follow in the way of Christ.

What we keep open are the wellsprings of God’s love, warmth and hospitality: contagion does not isolate us from the One who loves us.


Yet, Christians will feel uncomfortable about words like quarantine, contagion and social isolation, not on medical grounds but on theological grounds because they threaten key gospel values. Let me be clear that I am not criticising wise advice about how to respond to the Coronavirus, but rather what underlies our spiritual disposition and response to it.

In the face of quarantine, contagion and social isolation the way of Jesus tells us:

1.     do not fear;
2.     do not neglect to meet together;
3.     do not exclude anyone.

Do not fear. Of course we need to be wise in our actions and behaviours, but if we operate out of our fears, whether in the face of this virus or in any aspect of our lives, then we turn in on ourselves and we whither spiritually.

So in the face of adversity let us root our assurance in God and consider and plan how we respond from a place of confidence not fear.

To that end a pastoral plan is in place so that those who are isolated or lonely can be contacted. And that can be done by anyone. If you are staying inside why not ring others; they will benefit from that, and so will you. Let’s be really intentional in supporting one another. Might it even be that this virus can bring us closer together as a church, albeit initially over the phone?!

Do not neglect to meet together The letter to the Hebrews says, ‘do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10.25).

A reason we find words like quarantine, contagion and social isolation uncomfortable is because we are social animals. We need to be together. Christians are never Christian alone. Fellowship is rooted in being one in the body of Christ.

This current time of the virus should make us cherish all the more the value of being together as God’s holy people in worship. It’s when we’re unable to come together that we realise the benefits of doing so.

That’s our challenge over the coming weeks if people are quarantined, that they don’t feel cut off from fellowship and encouragement. So as and when you ring people pray for them. It may feel odd, but you can pray over the phone with them.

Do not exclude anyone. The priority of inclusion is very much more than a secular imperative: it is rooted in the Gospel imperative that goes deep into the heart of Jesus’ ministry which we see exercised in this morning’s gospel reading (John 4.5-42).

The words quarantine, contagion and social isolation could be applied to the woman Jesus encounters at the well. She is a foreigner, an outsider, of dodgy religious credentials: as the text reminds us, Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans (v. 9b). And she has dubious morals and a complex personal life (vv.18).

All the evidence points to this woman being in a form of quarantine and certainly socially isolated.

She is at the well at noon. In a country like Palestine people don’t go to wells in the middle of the day, you do that first thing in the cool of the day.

And you don’t go alone, unless you somehow transgress norms and what is acceptable. And as a Samaritan woman who is unmarried yet living with a man she certainly falls in that category.

And her behaviour is viewed in that time as potentially contagious itself, and to be avoided.

Yet Jesus talks to her, sits down with her, drinks with her and offers her living water.

And the disciples see this as astonishing.

The woman’s encounter with Jesus - the one who saw deep into her heart and her life - has drawn her out of her quarantine, shown her, and society, that she is not immorally contagious and she is socially re-integrated.


So be prudent and follow the advice, but also remember that on a deeper level you are not quarantined from God; the shortcomings of your life are redeemed by drinking the living water of Jesus Christ and in that you find yourself in healthy relationship with others.

And likewise the gospel reminds us never to quarantine, write off or socially isolate those we find unpalatable, uncomfortable, odd or not like us.

This is Christian mission today too. Through this encounter Jesus demonstrates both the unrestricted, flowing compassion of God and from God’s wellspring she tells others to drink of the living water and they drink such that they can say, ‘this is truly the saviour of the world (v.42b)

‘The water that I will give will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’. (John 5.14b)