Pastoral Message – Sunday 19th July

Dear friends

As I sat down to write this week’s pastoral letter, I was feeling something of a sense of loss.  Why?  Well, just a few hours before, my nephew and his fiancée had got married in Cornwall and I wasn’t there to share in the occasion.  Many other members of their families and all their friends weren’t there either, so I’m not alone in feeling that I’ve missed out.  But I suppose I’m really feeling the loss because you see, in Jordan and Melissa’s original plans, I was to be the one conducting the marriage ceremony!

They had originally planned to be married in the church of which they are a part on July 24th.  I was invited to conduct the ceremony and their own pastor was going to preach.  All their family and friends should have been there and we would all have been part of a big celebration afterwards in a marquee at the bride’s family home.

But then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and disrupted all their plans, causing them to think again about what to do.  It was clear early in lockdown that they were unlikely to be able to see their original plans through so there was a choice to be made about postponing the whole thing for a significant amount of time, or getting married at the earliest opportunity in a way that was far from the ideal scenario for them.

Having completed the purchase of a house just at the start of lockdown and not wishing to live together before they were married, they concluded that the most important thing was that they had the opportunity to seal their commitment to each other in a legal ceremony, so that they could begin their married life together.  They chose to forego the large celebration with all the trimmings and celebrate their love for each other in a much more minimalistic way!  The relationship itself was by far the most important thing – the celebrations can wait!  There is huge regret about the lack of a Christian ceremony at this stage – but that too will come later!

In many ways, this pandemic has stripped everything back and we have been forced to take stock and make challenging decisions about what is most important in our lives and what is essential to our wellbeing and in some cases to our very survival.  We’ve needed to slow down and in that experience many of us have been more appreciative of the things that we had previously taken for granted.  That is perhaps a good antidote to the consumerism that had taken hold of our society and caused a culture to develop where everything, including people, often have a price but are considered to have little value.

It’s perhaps ironic that whilst Covid-19 has forced us to physically distance ourselves from one another in order to slow the spread of infection, it has at the same time reminded us of just how vital our connections with one another really are.  We have realised again how much we need those who work in roles that had previously been overlooked; we have noticed our neighbours again as we have stood on our doorsteps with them or delivered shopping to them; we have noticed how hard it is not to see, or hug, or visit our family and friends.

So, in all of this, like my nephew Jordan and his bride Melissa, we have been reminded that the trappings and the trimmings of life pale into insignificance alongside our relationships with one another.  In order to come through this pandemic as families, as communities, and as nations, we need not to be in competition with each other but to co-operate, we need not to stock up on what we need but to share, we need not to worry about things but about people.

As followers of Jesus, we have perhaps never had a better opportunity to show what it really means to express love in our relationships with one another in the way that God encourages us to.  As we attend to our own relationship with God and are reminded of the depth of his love for us in Christ, we will be inspired and motivated to focus on what is most important – our relationships with one another.

In the Message paraphrase of 1 John 4, we hear these words “My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God and experiences a relationship with God.  The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love – so you can’t know him if you don’t love.  This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.  This is the kind of love we are talking about – not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.  My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.  No one has seen God, ever.  But if we love one another God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us – perfect love!”

It has been hugely encouraging to hear stories from right across the District about all the ways in which many of you have been expressing God’s love where you are as you look out for one another and as you reach out to those in your communities who are most vulnerable.  So, whatever we feel we may have lost in the course of this pandemic, may we never lose our desire to sustain our precious relationship with God in Christ and may we never lose sight of what a powerful symbol of God’s love for the whole human race our love for one another can be.

Every blessing,

Gill Newton, District Chair