Two weeks ago, at the beginning of a sermon, I asked the congregation to identify their background. We discovered that less than half the congregation was Edinburgh born and bred, roughly 30% came from other parts of the UK, 10% were from elsewhere in Europe and the final 10% were born outside Europe. It was exciting to discover that range. We are diverse people, gathered in Christ’s name to worship God and we celebrate community in the world God made.
The threat we share from the coronavirus means that being a world community has never been clearer. It is bringing unprecedented changes and causing widespread alarm in our society and our economy.
One sign of that was the advice I received just before writing this letter. Following a government statement about the pandemic, all gatherings for worship should cease until further notice. This included all our Easter plans for services and events. Even the 2020 General Assembly has been cancelled. The work of church communities and church government isn’t going to shut down, mechanisms are already in place to allow urgent business to carry on, but it will feel very different.
Much of our information will go online - you can look at the website and Facebook page for up-to-date information. Much activity is also taking place behind the scenes, because not everyone wants to get their information from the internet. Many people have also been phoning around to offer help, and some of the younger members of the congregation have contacted me offering to lend a hand if needed. We must all support our neighbours in prayer and practice where we can.
It is not yet clear how long the coronavirus measures announced by the government will remain in place so let’s all commit ourselves to being in regular contact with friends, neighbours and family. And please do contact me or your elder if something needs to be done.
Many of you have been using the LiveLent booklet we handed out in church at the end of February to follow the bible passages in these weeks before Easter. The bible excerpts and short reflections have been coordinated to be read alongside the book the Lent Study groups have been looking at, Saying Yes to Life by Ruth Valerio. Please do check out the short meditations that Mary, Alex and I have been writing for each day in this season. We hope you are encouraged and blessed by these, and look forward to getting your feedback.
It seems to me to be hugely appropriate to think about how we live with one another and together on God’s planet, at a time when we face the common threat from the coronavirus. The theoretical or future threat of climate change has been replaced by the very present threat of a pandemic.
Does the pandemic feel so much more real because it threatens everyone, rich and poor, educated and unschooled, and people of our nation not just the distant ones on the margins? As has been pointed out, the people who almost instantly cleared the shelves of our local supermarkets of toilet paper, soap and vegetables, now know exactly how refugees feel when they grab what they can and flee from natural or man-made disasters. As we retreat into government mandated isolation we must remember the needs of those who don’t have our resources. So let me encourage you to find ways to support the foodbanks in your area – we will continue to collect for FreshStart at the church but supermarkets have their stalls as well. And don’t forget to donate online to Mary’s Meals and Christian Aid (which will be hard hit by the disruption of their fundraising week in May).
In the past our treasurer has urged people to make their gifts to the church through standing orders and online – that needs to continue but don’t forget other charities which do such good work. Like ours their work needs to go on without disruption.
As a very practical point, the contacts we can make by telephone, skype and Facetime, WhatsApp and Facebook are going to be vital for many. If anyone needs help to get their computer/laptop or tablet working with these services let me know and we will find someone to help.
As we draw closer to Easter we celebrate that God in Christ has shared both light and darkness, life and death. We worship him because at times like this we know our trust is not misplaced. We can trust God and his guiding when other loyalties and priorities let us down.