Shepton Mallet Benefice and the Coronavirus (covid-19)
A letter from Tony Birbeck
Dear Church Family
Just as things seemed to be improving, with fewer restrictions and a bit more relaxed, it changed again, masks in more places, threats of more closures, local lock-downs. Life’s like that in so many ways, you feel you’re progressing, feel pleased with yourself until, so often, there’s a set-back. It’s like learning a new language, starting to play tennis or golf or bridge, for some of us using a computer or new Smartphone - all going well and then progress stops and there’s frustration.
It can be like that with relationships, both in marriage or with friends; all going well until something happens when love, understanding and closeness seem all of a sudden to be so much more difficult: will it ever be the same again, we may ask ourselves. And of course it’s the same in our spiritual lives, when we are building and deepening our relationship with God and getting to know and feel closer to Jesus. All of a sudden He can feel remote and we can feel on our own. Those hard moments when we thought we were doing ok on our journey towards a closer union with God our Father have been aptly said to be “the dark night of the soul.” It seems so unfair, it’s so easy to feel sorry for ourselves and be tempted to give up. (As we may have done with the French or tennis!)
The reality of our faith and God’s love for each of us tells us that we’ll be upheld and encouraged. Crossing the lake in the storm, Jesus was with them, saying “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8, 23). Then there were the times when those disciples seemed to be giving up, in Gethsemane (Matthew 14, 37) and Peter denying Jesus (John 18, 17 & 25, 26). But these are the very same people who were given the responsibility to pick themselves up, carry on the work and spread the message of good news begun by Jesus.
Even before Covid-19 many were anxious about different things: forces they felt were beyond their control some big like terrorism, climate change or migration, with a distrust of politicians making promises unlikely to be fulfilled. At the personal level mental health issues were (still are) in the news and there were the familiar anxieties about coping with change, growing older and what the children and grandchildren might be up to into their teens and beyond. To these have been added the uncertainties related to the pandemic where progress to once familiar routines is slow and, to the layperson, unpredictable and uncontrollable.
It’s fundamentally not so different from the world of Jesus and those early disciples. He directly faces people’s anxieties, gets to the heart of the causes of fear, pain and evil and makes people look forward with hope, challenging them to believe in Him as the Father’s instrument of life and love. The events of Jesus’ short ministry and particularly his death and resurrection are part of the great drama of God’s love affair with humanity. Where there’s true love for someone you don’t abandon them when they’re in trouble or up against it. You support and encourage when there are setbacks.
A huge strength for us all with all this uncertainty is our faith in the power and love of God and the encouragement and help we’re having in our streamed services. Just now each Sunday we’re looking at one of the songs of hope, the Psalms and next Sunday’s is particularly apt, so maybe read it through, pray it, before and after as well as on Sunday. Re-discover it as words of God’ promise that he will be there with us whatever our circumstances.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord or ever.
Psalm 23 (NIV)
Just as I had finished writing that I received a letter from Bishop Peter telling us that he has been diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, is beginning a course of chemotherapy and will be in hospital for a month. He and his wife Jane will certainly need all the prayer we can give as he enters the dark valley. He says he trusts in the Lord knowing that he will watch over him in the days ahead. Let us make that our prayer for him and Jane. Meanwhile, Bishop Ruth is deferring a planned 3 month study leave for the time being.
With love and blessings
Our recent Sunday Morning Worship Service was live streamed on Sunday 2nd August at 11.00. You can watch again our YouTube channel or by clicking in the player below.
Supporting our fellowship
We are keeping a list of those who are self-isolating, along with any particular pastoral or practical needs so that we can arrange appropriate help. Morag Brown is co-ordinating this. Please let her know of any needs or changes to need as they arise.
Keeping us praying
Praying together as a family is vital. We will be sending out a weekly list of prayer needs for the whole church family and our community. Do try to set aside a time each day to pray - many of us are pausing at 8 in the mornings and evenings to do this, and knowing that others are too at the times is encouraging.
The Lord’s Prayer in the face of Coronavirus
Our father in heaven - thank you for Jesus in whom you have adopted us as your beloved children; help us remember that sickness and death will never separate us from your love, believe you will be with us through whatever lies ahead, and trust you are fully in control and perfectly good;
Hallowed be your name – we pray this crisis will result in much praise for you – that believers will be strengthened in their faith and unbelievers will recognise our human frailty and mortality and turn from sin to worship you;
Your Kingdom come – until Jesus returns to rescue us from this world of pain, as far as this virus spreads, we pray your kingdom will grow further, in the hearts of people of all nations finding in Jesus the sure hope of resurrection into your new creation, free from sickness, suffering and death to enjoy you forever;
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven – Father we rejoice in your sovereign power; in your mercy, please end this crisis soon, deliver us and all your people through this crisis, and may your gracious plans to save the lost be advanced by this season of humbling;
Give us this day our daily bread – thank you for dedicated doctors, nurses and other NHS staff, for our government and its advisors - please grant them the wisdom and endurance they need; sustain us with the daily bread of Christ crucified for our sins, in the living bread of your Word; reassure us when we’re anxious, heal us when we’re sick, strengthen us when we must die, comfort us in our bereavement, and embolden us to share the gospel of Jesus, the living bread we all need;
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us – have mercy where we have presumed upon our health, forgotten our frailty, or neglected to thank you for your daily care and protection; forgive us because Christ died for our sins, count us acceptable in his perfect righteousness, and in the light of your mercy, helps us show mercy to all;
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – deliver us through this time of testing – help us resist every temptation to doubt your love; help us stand firm in our faith against Satan’s lies, knowing that all over the world, your people are enduring the same kind of trials;
For yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
(With thanks to Dundonald Church, London SW19)