Sunday, 20 September 2020

The Parable of the Vineyard - A Vision For The Local Church In A COVID World.

 

The Prime Minister said recently that a second wave of COVID-19 was inevitable and he will be spending this weekend considering whether to tighten restrictions for at least a time which are being dubbed a ‘circuit breaker’.

I am left wondering who this circuit breaker (designed to protect against a short circuit) is designed to protect? We know that the circumstances we are in as we navigate continuing to live with the coronavirus pandemic will affect different sections of society differently. Children who have been schooled at home may have been supported by good lessons on-line. They may have been able to access computer resources. With parental help a small child might have learned to read, learned their tables, learned computer skills. But some children had no computer and no support. Some people had jobs which were essential, some had jobs which could be done on-line from home, and some found new employment arising out of the crisis. But some felt cast aside and unwanted, with no prospect of returning to a fulfilling employment which they had enjoyed. Some elderly people thrived, with accessible internet access, supportive families. Some are in care homes with no visitors, or dying alone of Covid-19 with no access to family.

The future for many hangs in the balance - the reduction in air travel has a huge knock on for airports and aircraft manufacturers. Much of the arts industry remains closed. Restrictions in gathering in groups bigger than 6 may impact on some work and the future of the care home system hangs in the balance. We live and work and worship in uncertain times. This is true for the church in our parish.

We have seen a decline in numbers of Life Events since the last APCM. This has been exaggerated by the pandemic and restrictions on movement and public worship. We have seen a reduction in our electoral roll and in available financial resources, in group activities and outreach, but we have seen a growth in a sense of isolation as the church became dispersed into homes across our neighbourhoods.

As a response we have sought to innovate  - pushing our worship, study and schoolswork (up until early August) online (with some paper resourcing too) and we have seen people have gain new skills - not least of all learning how to use Facebook and Zoom adn we have established a Pastoral Care Group to ensure that church members are kept in touch are cared for.

Let me talk briefly about worship. Before lockdown we were holding 4 sometimes 5 services across the parish on a Sunday and 2 midweek services. Attendance at those varied enormously. Since lockdown we have grown a Zoom Sunday congregation of up to 30 people, and with the resumption of public worship in some of the parish, we are seeing similar numbers return to our buildings. It is midweek services that have astonished me though. We have offered a service most weekdays with between 30-60 people taking part/watching/interacting which infers two things - the faithful were looking to be sustained in their faith by something they could rely on - the worship of the church and the presence of God - but also our fringe (people on the edges of the church) were looking for the same.

As we continue to co-exist with the coronavirus we need to look afresh at what it means to be the church and how we minister in these days. This morning’s gospel gives us some hints.

The landowner comes to the marketplace looking for workers. God comes patiently looking for us again and again and again over the course of life’s day, and invests in negotiation with those who are there seeking labour. Even those at the end of the day - though they are dubbed ‘idle’, aren’t - they are waiting in the right place for the employer to come - watching, trying catch their eye, being ready to talk about their skills and see their gifts used.

Now it seems to me is the time for us to be waiting in the marketplace of the church. This doesn’t mean that we stand around idle all day, but rather we hone our skills, ensure we are healthy and well nourished and we are attentively looking for the landowner.

In the year that lies ahead of us I’m calling on each and every one of us to pray; to call out to the landowner, offering our employment. Prayer is the privilege we have of offering the world to God, but also of attentively listening for his voice calling us into His employment. We need to know when we are being called and to what. This autumn I will be making contact with you individually and as groups encouraging you to join me in becoming a people of vital prayer.

If we are to be ready for ‘gainful employment’, (to continue the metaphor), our skills need to be honed - prayer is part of that as it intentionally aligns us with God’s life, but immersing ourselves in scripture is the other. Scripture has historically shaped God’s people’ life and actions. We will be spending time together reading scripture and reflecting on it. We will share a passage together over a period of time to allow us to become familiar with it, to grow in it and for God to speak through it to us.

If we are to be sustained in what God calls us to we need to stay healthy. We need to be fed by the Sacraments of the church. By participating in the Eucharist or a Service of the Word and making our Holy Communion, Christ dwells in each of us, transforming us more into His likeness. 

I’ve never ministered in a global pandemic and in some ways,what it means for us to be the church in (and I suspect) beyond these days, will be unknown. Our world is a different place, but by waiting attentively in the marketplace of the church - we are in the right place to seek His call to work, we need to be physically and spiritually ready to work when the landlord’s call comes.

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