Each week during the epidemic, Neil sends out a message in our weekly Newsletter which is sent by email. Here are the most recent messages.
Service for the Sunday after Ascension 24th May
As I write this, the reports are beginning to come in of the devastation Cyclone Amphan is wreaking as it tracks through India and Bangladesh, and on towards Bhutan. It’s a reminder that coronavirus has not made everything else on the planet stop. Though a great deal of the world is living under some kind of lockdown, the weather carries on regardless – and storms, droughts, floods, fires, volcanoes and earthquakes will not pause and wait until COVID-19 has been brought under control. And the need for millions of evacuated people in these areas to try to maintain social distancing as they have to rely on emergency temporary accommodation only makes things more difficult.
Some of these events appear to be completely beyond our control, yet others are being affected by the changing climate and human activities such as deforestation. I’m sure you have seen the astonishing pictures of the reduction in pollution visible across parts of the world, or seen the graphs of the reduction in CO2 emissions during this time. Can we use this time of enforced watching and waiting to see and understand and be able to shape a new and better reality for the future?
In the Christian calendar, we find ourselves in a similar place – living in a time of watching and waiting, between Ascension and Pentecost, experiencing the loss of Jesus’ physical presence yet looking forward to the promise of a future of new possibilities with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples used their time well, they devoted themselves to prayer, and were ready to move and live in the power of the Spirit and be part of a whole new world. I pray that we too would use this time well, perhaps by using some of the Thy Kingdom Come resources I mentioned last week and joining us for the Partnership Prayer morning on Saturday 30th, and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us, the church and the world to follow God’s path.
Sixth Sunday of Easter 17th May 2020
On Thursday it’s Ascension Day when we mark the end of Jesus’ physical presence on Earth and look forward to a new chapter, empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For the past few years, this period between Ascension and Pentecost has been the focus of a global, ecumenical effort to promote prayer and the sharing of our faith, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ echoing the words of the Lord’s Prayer. This year things are a bit different, obviously. The particular focus is on ‘Prayer and Care’ – Care for those you are praying for, pray for those you are caring for – so often we can separate these things and pray for people or care for people, but not do both.
There are loads of resources available to help and I’d like to encourage families, house groups, groups of friends, to gather on the web, or on the phone and pray and care for each other and for our community, city and the world There’s an app coming out which you can use day by day to help and you can find out more about it all at https://www.thykingdomcome.global/. If you can’t get hold of things on the web, you can order a special prayer booklet, which you can use each year. They are £2 post-free and can be ordered on 01603 785925.
I pray that this will be a time where we see God’s Kingdom coming, in many different ways and in many different lives. Our world may look different at the moment, yet the Spirit of God is still active and powerful.
Fifth Sunday of Easter 10th May 2020
This was a weekend when many plans had been made for celebrations to mark VE Day, and sadly things have turned out very differently and we have had to remember in alternative ways. VE Day was a great day for many, many people, but not everyone – because it was not the end of the war. Many people were still fighting further afield and many more casualties were coming.
As I write, there are the reports that next week might see the easing of some of the lockdown restrictions, and I’m sure many of us will rejoice at some of the new-found freedoms. Of course, this isn’t the moment of total victory either, but a marker post on the way, and there is still much that needs to be done to combat the danger of the coronavirus – and even when we have reached the end of the journey in this country, there are other places where the battle will not yet be won.
Which brings me neatly to Christian Aid Week, which starts on Sunday. The coronavirus has the potential to be even more devastating to those countries where healthcare provision is already difficult and where people live in so much need. As well as the direct health effects, the slowdown in richer economies has also had a massive effect on some of the poorest people too. For example, the fashion industry has cancelled orders made, with no compensation for those who make the garments and are paid so little for doing so (see https://traidcraftexchange.org/fast-fashion-crisis).
Christian Aid’s work is more important than ever at the moment, so please help if you can, especially as the usual fundraising can’t happen. You can donate online at caweek.org/payin.
Fourth Sunday of Easter 3rd May 2020
I’m writing this on the day when we’re hearing the wonderful events on the 100th birthday of ‘Captain Tom’. His story has been an inspiration to so many people and a bright light amongst the difficult news that we’ve been hearing in recent weeks. There have been so many tributes and honours from so many places, and it’s so brilliant to see how something that started in a small way, aiming to make a bit of a difference and making an effort to do what we can, can capture the imagination of everyone. In a world where there are so many people who are seeking the limelight and are doing and saying things to get recognition, it has been so refreshing to see how a genuine small voice can achieve so much.
This Sunday’s gospel reading reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know him and they know and trust his voice. They don’t listen to someone who says they are the great shepherd if they’ve never heard of them. They don’t listen to someone whose words don’t match their actions. They listen for, and listen to, the voice that they recognise and they have a genuine relationship. I pray that even in the time that we’re currently living in, we can keep on listening for and to the voice of Jesus and trust and follow him.
Third Sunday of Easter April 26th 2020
So, as was expected, the social distancing regulations have been extended and that things will be carrying on the way they have been. I don’t know if it’s just me, but looking back to how things were: when we could meet in church, when we could go where we wanted, when we wanted, feels like going back much longer in history. When there is great change or uncertainty, time can do strange things, it appears.
I wonder if the disciples felt a bit like this just after the first Easter Day? Was it only a couple of Sundays ago, that we came into Jerusalem and everyone was cheering Jesus? Was it before or after he said that he would be betrayed and would die that he said ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’? Which day did you see him last week, before or after Thomas? It wasn’t easy for them to get their head around things and they had to be patient and wait for when Jesus chose to appear and listen to what he wanted to say at that point. And as they were patient, and listened, the new path became clearer; as Jesus ascended and the day of Pentecost came, the church was born in a new way.
We are trying to frame a new reality on a timescale we can’t control. We can’t decide what the new ‘normal’ will look like and how close it will resemble what’s gone before. Yet we can still influence what is built, and we know who is walking the journey with us. If we are alert to the Holy Spirit as we go, we might still feel anxious or confused, we might still want things to move faster, or slower, yet we will be able to recognise, and grow, God’s kingdom in the world as it will be.
Second Sunday of Easter April 19th 2020
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
It was brilliant to be able to share those words with so many of you last weekend. And the sentiment is true, however we feel about the situation at the moment. For the world out there, Easter is over – the eggs etc. would be gone from the shops, except perhaps for a few sad ones on the reduced shelf, and we would have moved on to the next occasion, perhaps looking forward to the summer holiday season. In church though, Easter is a season, it is for a longer period of time, and I’m glad of that, even more so this year. In this season we hear of the disciples meeting the risen Christ and we hear of them trying to work out what faith in Jesus means now and working out how live and worship in this new reality.
As we work out how we are to be in these very different days, I believe that we can learn much from these episodes, from the way in which the disciples new pathways and new patterns. They took what they knew from before and what they were experiencing now and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, created a new community of faith. May we ask the Spirit to be with us as we seek to live out our faith in this time, and on into the future.
Sunday 12th April 2020 Easter Day
Hello again. This was not the Easter we expected, is it? Things are strange. And though in some ways we are getting used to the new ways of being, in others things are beginning to fray around the edges a bit, which is perfectly natural but doesn’t always feel very nice.
Usually I’m writing as if it were Sunday, and celebrating the resurrection. This year it’s going to be going out to each of us earlier, when we’re still experiencing Good Friday. And maybe that’s helpful, actually. Because this year we are all in a difficult place. The women of Jerusalem are weeping. Many of us are in isolation, without our family and friends, alone and frightened. This is a path Jesus has walked before us. Some of us are facing hard times and it feels like the disciples have scattered. Some of us are in a place of danger, at the foot of the cross with Mary and the women who cared for Jesus. Go back to the story. Read it slowly. Find yourself there. And know that God who holds the world in being has walked this path before, is walking it with us, and holds us in his arms. And know that Friday is not the end of the story. Know that Saturday, with Jesus in the grave and hope smashed, is not the end. Sunday is coming. Death cannot hold him, or us. The temple curtain will be torn in two, and NOTHING can separate us from the love of God
Sunday 5th April 2020
Hello, again! It was lovely to be able to see lots of you last Sunday at our service on Zoom, it was quite overwhelming to have contact with so many people all at the same time again. Thank you for your comments and we will continue to build on what we do and learn from experience. I know that not everyone is able to join in with all the web-based things, but we are trying to make sure we use lots of different ways to allow you to join in. Please do keep a look-out for what’s happening!
As we enter this Holy Week together and journey towards Easter, we can’t join together in the ways we’ve been used to, but we can still join with God and encourage each other. You might like to start the day by reading the Bible, I’ve put suggestions later on. There is also a great set of resources for different ways of exploring the journey done by Chelmsford Diocese, called ‘Holy Week at Home’, which you can find here: https://www.chelmsford.anglican.org/holyweekathome
Through all this, we will find bits that we really miss from the usual pattern, but there will be new things we discover. I pray that you will see something afresh this Holy Week as we walk this path together and with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sunday 29th March 2020
Looking back, it’s astounding to see how much the UK (and the rest of the
world) has changed in a few short days. As I write, it’s only been a couple of
days of the newest restrictions and I don’t think I’ve properly taken in how
things will be over the next three weeks at least. Church is now closed, for
everything. Not even the slimline weddings, baptisms or funerals are
permitted – though minimal funerals can go ahead at the crematorium or
I hope you were able to use the service material we sent out last week. This
week, the Bradwell Church website (see below) will include a service for you to follow yourself, with clips to click on for music, readings etc. as you go through. Documents to print out are also also sent out with this bulletin.
Some of us have been able to meet across the web, and we’re looking to
extend that. Please keep in touch with your contacts, on the web, on the
phone, even by letter if your daily walk passes a postbox! We need to keep ourselves and our community safe, yet we also need to help each other wherever we can do it safely. We also, most of all, need to remember that God is with us this week, just as every week, and there are so many ways we can be helped to keep close to God even if we can’t be close to each other in space. If you’re struggling to find something suitable, please do give me a call.