12th June 2020
Well, we have finally got to meet together again. It was so good to be able to worship as a Christian community even if the restrictions made it very unusual. Everything went well and a big thanks to everyone who did the right thing. Unfortunately, these conditions look like being around for a little while yet so we will just have to get used to it.
I have written to the Diocese (yet again) pointing out the stupidity of some of their regulations but I do not expect a favourable answer. Their “one size fits all” attitude and their failure to accept that we are responsible people with common sense is very frustrating.
We will continue to put the service onto our web site each Sunday for those who can’t attend. It requires a lot of work by Frank and he will get it on as early as possible. Again, we will just start to get more efficient when things will go back to normal.
Because we are meeting together again there is no need for a lengthy pastoral letter but I wanted to express my thanks in writing to those who have kept things going over the past 3 months.
- As always Annie has been the backbone of the place. Not only has she manned the office, printed and emailed my letters and been a point of contact for many of you, she excelled herself running the ZOOM prayer meeting each Thursday night. This at least helped some of us to see each other and to pray together.
- We had a problem getting letters to those who had no email and Jan stepped in. Along with Annie she delivered letters for most of Wednesday. With Australia Post so slow, this was a very real help.
- All of the pastoral care leaders deserve thanks because they have kept in touch with people in their care and passed on problems to me.
- Every Sunday you had a chance to participate in a service and a sermon. Thanks to Frank, who spent many hours preparing the recorded material for your viewing. Without Frank’s skill, patience and hard work, I could not have provided these sessions.
- The Wardens have also spent time ensuring that everything practical still happened. I don’t think anybody (except their wives) know how much time they give to us.
There are a few other things I should comment on.
For the next few weeks I plan to vary the service formats and experiment with some variety. The plan is the see what works and what feels comfortable so that when we finally get back to “normal” we can have a bit more variety in our services.
Plans for the rest of the year cannot be made until we see how long these restrictions last. As soon as we go to Stage 3 of the plans, the Parish Council will meet and discuss how to get back to events which will help us to share in fellowship.
It was good to see that a number of people have been setting aside their envelopes each week and the money counters had plenty of work to do on Sunday. It is also good to see that extra people have changed to regular giving through their bank accounts. While we must not get complacent we have not gone backwards despite the lockdown. Without activities occurring our expenditure has not been large. Further, the Diocese organised for Job Keeper for all of their staff which means that wages for Annie and myself have been covered by that programme.
Please keep praying for a new Rector. As I understand it, things are starting to move again, and it would be good to find the right person quickly. I am looking forward to things getting back to normal. Until then, keep safe.
I know that many of you have enjoyed the regular Reflections from Bishop Peter Brain. He may be retired but his pastor’s heart continues to show through. I found the 2 Reflections that follow to be particularly helpful in the current circumstances. There is real wisdom for us to ponder.
REFLECTIONS No.20 Keeping our heads! Peter Brain 5th June, 2020
Without downplaying the devastating effects of the pandemic to many economically and relationally in our fortunate nation, we need to keep our head. I have noticed calls for once in a lifetime changes to our church life and our isolation viewed as devastating. I was reminded of Richie Benaud’s famous one liner to a fellow commentator “The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.”
We in Australia have thus far, been spared a major tragedy or disaster. Dropped GNP for sure, but with aid from the common-wealth, excellent health care, ability to meet via zoom and You-tube, the many wonderful efforts from pastors and fellow church-members in following each other up, supplying copies of sermons for those not with electronic media and a good response to online giving, it has hardly been a disaster. All of this has brought forth thanks to God, and in many cases, deepened the ties of fellowship amongst us, brought more people than usual under the sound of the gospel and enabled us to support those in need. Is there an opportunity to be grasped?
There is a German proverb that runs: the main thing is to make sure the main thing always remain the main thing. There is a wisdom in this that could save us falling into the trap that the opportunity must be found in something new. Perhaps the question should be a positive one: what good work in the past has helped our churches remain resilient and functioning during this time? The recently expressed thought that we must learn new ways of doing church runs the risk of making us uneasy and ungrateful about past ministry, and dare I suggest, subtly move us from our reliance upon the ministry of the Word to a reliance upon technology, prophetic words for our nation, or a one size fits all model (which often means larger and better resourced multi-staffed churches).
My plea for keeping our head is to consider the question: what does the New Testament suggest might be the way of church maturity? Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: but you keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Tim 4:5) is apt. Our present hardship is best seen as a gift to be cherished rather than one to be mourned. We do not deserve the peace and prosperity God has granted us and only good doses of preaching that lead us to gratitude for these gifts (1 Tim 4:4-5), Godliness and contentment (6:6), along with reality about our frailty, warnings about loving money (6:7-10) and our obligation as rich believers to be excessively generous (6:17-19), will enable us to keep our head. Only through the gospel of Jesus preached (2 Tim 1:8-12), and constantly guarded will the main Person, our Lord and Saviour, remain the main thing (1:13-14). Intentionally shared with others (2:1-2), Jesus will enable successive generations of believers to stand firm joyfully in real isolation (1:15-18, 2:8-13), single-mindedly able to endure the real hardships of caving into the world through persecution (2:3-7) or the prosperity our Lord warned us of (Luke 8:14, 1 Tim 6:10/18).
The challenge for us in our prosperous culture and demanding consumer church culture is to produce disciples that can endure real hardships. The Bible, rightly handled (2 Tim 2:15), by patient pastors unfazed by the expectations of others (4:1-5), with proven love for those in their care (1:7), are our primary source of encouragement. Similarly are our brothers and sisters who stand fast under persecution. The testimony of a Uzbek convert Bek has remained a welcome rebuke to my propensity to feel sorry for myself when a difficulty arises: We have a saying, “if you are arrested praise God that you have not been beaten. If you have been beaten, praise God that you haven’t been killed. And if you have been killed, praise God that you are now with Jesus in heaven’”. The words of a Korean believer keep ringing in my ears with their timely encouragement to the benefits of troubles and hardships: we are like nails, the harder you hit us the deeper we go. I am reminded of Paul’s prayer from prison in Ephesians 3:14-21.
The challenges of returning will provide unique opportunities to keep our heads. Pastors whose better resourced media presentations have drawn believers from smaller Christ-centred/Bible believing churches will need to resist the flattery by urging them to go back to their churches. Christians will need to resist the temptation to join a larger church because of better technology or more staff. Christians who keep their head will recognise that prayer not presentation, faithfulness not flair in exposition, ministering themselves rather than funding the ministry of others, and being trained for service in the world instead of being comfortable in church, is the name of the game. Local churches have always been God’s master plan for winning and growing disciples. The proof of the pudding will be seen in a year or so as to how this has sustained us over the last few months. The well proven means of prayer, person to person pastoring, proclamation of Christ from the revealed Scriptures in complete dependence on God the Holy Spirit, have brought us safely to this day and can be counted on to see us safely to that great Day (2 Tim 4:6-8).
REFLECTION No. 21 A hypocrite to my feelings but not to my purposes! Peter Brain 9/6/2020
After looking forward to our first Sunday back for worship together I have been taken-a-back by my feelings. Not only were my feelings somewhat ambivalent as we drove to church but I felt a sense of let-down as we drove home. The service was helpful, the singing encouraging, the preaching edifying and there were a good number of people present. I have spent the last 24 hours or so trying to work out why I, who normally look forward to church and have never in my life gone home sorry that I have been, am feeling the way I do.
I think Christine and I have figured out why I came away feeling deflated. It was in major part because of the sense of isolation many of my brothers and sisters in Christ must feel. This came into sharp focus by the regulated seating arrangements where those who are single, separated, widowed, lone Christians within their families sitting by themselves isolated, and I able to sit with Christine, and families together. It highlighted the joy of Christian worship and fellowship which sees us as a family of believers, both masked and overcome, as we normally sit together.
It has also occurred to me, and I say it lest any think, mistakenly, that I am super-spiritual, that it is too easy to lose a good habit, and even more importantly, the reasons and motivations for that habit, after just a few weeks. I pulled out my copy of Dr Arch Hart’s, Habits of the Mind (Word Publishing 1996) and was helped by his comment without practice, no habit is going to stick. Some may even require a few months exercise time before you see them take root and make a difference in your life. Habits and practice are essential to a happy and productive life in general and especially so for us as disciples (Mt. 6:2,5,16; 7:24;13:23, John 10:9, 27; 15:4,,5,9-10; Acts 20:35; Rom 6:13, 12:1-2, 8, 13; Gal 6:7-10; Eph. 5:18; Heb. 3:7, 14-15; 2 Pet 1:3-11). The good habits that have sustained us during isolation have borne their fruit and the broken habit of not gathering is threatening to keep me from appreciating and contributing whole-heartedly to the normal habit of gathering. Satan is very smart in that the good habits formed in isolation threaten to keep me from the blessings of those formed and proven over 55 years of discipleship.
There is a certain appeal in being independent of others. Thankfully, I know that this appeal must be resisted like the plague since it will do me no lasting good if pursued. Dr Larry Crabb’s dictum has helped me for almost 40 years, is especially helpful to me at this time: I’d rather be a hypocrite to my feelings rather than to my purposes. I have no doubt that as I follow my purpose to be a loyal believer and serving fellow Christian (Heb. 10:24-25, Eph. 4:15-16, 5:15-21) my feelings will quickly follow and catch up with my purposes, which I trust line up with God’s. Put another way practice makes permanent, for better or for worse. Which is why I must intentionally sow to the Spirit (Gal.6:8).
But I am not alone in these adjustments. My heart has gone out to pastors who have worked hard to implement ways of keeping their congregations connected to God and to each other. It has meant a massive learning curve for many in being able to master enough of new technology to do it well. At the same time, many pastors’ thoughts have run along the lines of “I hope they will remain steadfast”. When the adrenalin rush of normal weekly preparation and the good-stress (eustress) of being engaged in the greatest job in the world are combined with the loss of week by week preaching and pastoral face to face contact, most pastors will be in need of good rest. Pastors’ normal restful let-down period every Sunday evening and Monday morning that has been out of sync for the past few months will need to be recognised by them, their congregational leaders and members, as a natural part of the way our Father has made us to manage and thrive through the pressures and deadlines of life. Most of the pastors I know will not see this as an excuse for laziness, and many will just try to power their way through it with longer hours. This approach can only lead to burnout, less being accomplished and a diminished sense of achievement. A great service we can render to our pastors is to see this tiredness not as sinfulness or laziness, but as a time for affirmation and encouragement, to make sure they are taking their day(s) off and perhaps have a day or two extra to recharge the batteries. Needless to say, there will be no greater tonic for them (and us) of our turning up joyfully.
It would be sinful, however, for pastors to forget that as human beings they are subject to the way God has made us, with His loving provisions of: 4th commandment day of rest, night-time hours for sleep, holy-days (= agreed holidays), roses to smell, friendships to nourish and Creation to enjoy; all so necessary for our refreshment and working well. Most pastors, comments Arch Hart, burn out not because they forget they are pastors but because they forget they are people. It would also be sinful for church members to expect the health of our church life to be dependent on pastors alone. One of the great benefits of the isolation has been the wonderful co-operation of pastors and people whose complementarity of gifts, energy and pastoral care have seen great blessings to so many, and above all to the Name and glory of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.