A Message from David Holloway
"We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God … not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Rom 5.1-5)
Coronavirus is a huge problem. It is causing chaos and suffering in so many ways. So how should we react as Christians? Can I suggest four responses?
One, suffering is always problematic. It produces sadness to which Christians are not immune. But it is amazing how in different ways it produces hope and, of course, that includes hope in the context of death. Sadly, we see in our society so many "having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2.12). So we should treat the current crisis as an opportunity for Christian witness and service.
Two, we need to take all the proper precautions not just to avoid the disease ourselves but to avoid it so that we can heed Paul's command to the Galatians: "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6.10). We also need as a church and individually to think how we can benefit our communities outside the church in practical ways. But certainly, we need to work hard to make sure people in our own fellowship are helped. And one way to help everyone is by prayer, and not least, but "first" according to Paul for national leaders: "first of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Tim 2.1). So pray for Boris Johnson, the Chief Medical Adviser and the Chief Scientific Adviser. And pray for our Archbishops and Bishops who in this matter are wanting the "common good" and have said there should temporarily not be public worship services or midweek gatherings.
But, three, we've got, therefore, to work to provide alternatives. For we have also to heed the command: "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb 10.24-25). Thank God that we have Clayton TV, and so we are able to stream two Sunday Services, and also we are planning for virtual small meeting groups, such as Home Groups. Please forgive any initial hiccups, but God willing we are to be starting this Sunday 22 March 2020, Mothering Sunday, with two services, morning and evening.
Four, we should not be unduly worried. Peter said to people who were, or about to be, facing outright persecution:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5.6-8).
Testing times provide temptations. I understand one such temptation in churches (and the world outside) at this time is to division, with some thinking not enough is being done to combat the disease, and others thinking too much is being done (at JPC we are following the official government advice and the central Church of England advice). So Peter says in the next verse (9): "Resist him [the devil]." However, why was Peter confident that God cares for us so that we can cast all our anxieties on him? Answer: he knew, from historical experience, that Jesus hadn't just died for our sins, but he then rose again from the dead and now is reigning, and Peter personally heard him say: "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me … and, behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28.18,20).
May we all share that confidence and hope at this testing time.
These are unprecedented events but we're working hard to find new ways of linking up to pray, study God's Word and encourage one another. We also want to support those most vulnerable in our community. Here's what we've got planned so far:
Although we are not meeting for our services in person, we are planning to provide a weekly stream of both a morning (10:30am) and an evening service (6:30pm) on www.clayton.tv. These will be two different services, with Bible readings, songs, prayers and a sermon. The 10.30am service will also include a short 'Family-Service-style' talk, which will have accompanying downloadable worksheets for ages up to and including Pathfinders. How about setting up a conference call group (e.g. with Zoom) for a virtual 'tea and coffee' session before and/or after the service?
You can find this from the front page of our website (jpc.org.uk) or on the 'Corona Live' pages on clayton.tv. Please plan to watch those if you are able to. We thank God for clayton.tv!
We are not going to be able to meet together in person for midweek groups (such as home groups, Women's groups, Focus, JPCi, CYFA, Celebrate Recovery etc). However, we encourage those able to do so to link up as planned electronically – contact your group leader for more information about that. If you are not currently in any Bible Study Group can I urge you to join one at this time. To do that contact Jon Teasdale
We are concerned for those in our congregation who end up self-isolating when they live on their own or are in vulnerable categories. We want to do all we can to help. So please let Catherine Robinson or Carolyn Hosie know if you need extra support, or if you can help others practically (perhaps by helping set up technology, helping with shopping or simply ringing up and making contact).
Loving Our Neighbours
We don't want just to look after ourselves, but as Christians we are always called upon to "love our neighbours as ourselves". That's one of the ways we show our love for God, by loving others! So, let's pray for opportunities to speak; perhaps we could check in on neighbours, colleagues and friends, whether in person (if it is safe to do so) or on the phone, especially those who are elderly and frail, to offer practical help. It may be appropriate to offer to pray for them and with them. Contact Jonathan Redfearn if you'd like advice or help with this.
Here are two great examples. First, Emily Wallace, a JPC member, has helped setup a local Facebook group called 'COVID-19 Mutual Aid (Jesmond)' to help care for those in need locally (and there are equivalent groups in other areas). And many have been posting simple cards offering help to neighbours on their street – see www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/love-neighbor/.
I realise there's a lot of uncertainty around at the moment, both within and outside of church life. Life is going to look very different for some time but I hope this answers some questions of how we're looking to operate initially. I'll be in touch again as things develop, but feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.