1st August 2020
How are you keeping? This phase of the pandemic is beset by uncertainties. We continue to pray for our leaders and for society as a whole as difficult balancing acts are undertaken to allow social and economic activity to resume, whilst not allowing the virus to spread rampantly again. Indeed, as I’ve been drafting this letter the rules have changed again for our area, to prevent meeting with others in homes and gardens. Individuals also face difficult decisions, especially as official shielding is ‘paused’. At the same time many are feeling the effects of the massive economic slowdown, with the consequences for people’s jobs. All this means that this period can be emotionally draining and challenging. Let’s continue to look out for each other and be sensitive to the variety of ways in which we are personally experiencing all this.
For four Sundays now, our churches have been open once again for public worship. Throughout August services in church will continue to take place just once a week in each parish – at the usual times of 9:30am at St James’ and 11am at All Saints’. The second Sunday – 9th August – will again be family-friendly. Adult numbers have been in the high teens at Altham and the low thirties at All Saints – and each week there has been a number of children present. I have been pleased to see how well it has been possible to conduct worship safely and how people have followed the instructions. Some things are quite strange – such as giving the communion bread without saying anything and not sharing the consecrated wine together. Many valued things are missing, including refreshments afterwards as well as hymn-singing. But gradually a temporary normal is becoming established – now also including face coverings in churches as well as in shops. Please note that from 8th August face coverings will be a legal requirement in church (apart from those with an exemption).
I don’t really like the phrase ‘new normal’ for these kind of things, because it is right to remember that they are exceptional and we pray for the day when they can be lifted. ‘New normal’ is, I think, a better phrase for those things which will emerge as long-term changes. Ones we pray will be for the good. Greater concern for each other, proper provision for the care system, more families out walking together, better provision for cycling…and, dare we hope, a greater awareness of the preciousness of life and our dependence on God.
Those in church are very conscious of those who aren’t with us physically, but are in spirit (and in the Holy Spirit). Don’t forget that anyone with an internet connection can view the 11am service from All Saints – either live or later on. You don’t need to have a Facebook account. Just go to www.facebook.com/allsaintsclayton. The daily online services will, however, pause over the next two weeks, during my holiday time, but will then resume. I love the fact that people are joining together to join in the prayer of the church via this means and we will have to find a way of this being an ongoing part of the new normal.
Back in lockdown VE Day stood out as a day of glorious sunshine and of togetherness. It came just as we edged out of the peak of deaths. And it helped us remember that we have been through massive challenges before and that we will get through this one, too. It is sobering that around 61,000 lost their lives in this country to German bombing throughout the war, and that excess deaths this year so far are running at 53,148 (51,264 of them with COVID-19 on the death certificate as either the main or a contributory cause of death). On 15th August the nation will mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War on VJ Day. Do listen out at 11am as the church bell/s will ring out from both our churches in commemoration. Unlike in 1945, we are far from the end of our encounter with covid-19, but we must pray that we have the courage to build a better future as our parents and grandparents did emerging from the war.
A little word about money. Both PCCs are very grateful to those who have continued to support our churches financially during this time. Obviously, church income has dropped considerably with no collections in church and no weddings or funerals having taken place either. If you’ve not been able to give during these months you might like to make a catch-up, via cheque or bank transfer. Just ask if you could do with the bank details. For those from All Saints’ who give via weekly envelopes, as and when you come back to church you will find your box of envelopes waiting for you. Or perhaps this would be a good time to move to giving by standing order – again just ask. Standing order allows you to work out what is the right amount for you to give and to give that bank regardless of whether or not you’re in church or have the right amount of money in your wallet. And you are entirely in control – you can change the amount or stop the order entirely whenever you wish.
Also, a word on buildings. You may remember all the water damage at All Saints’ early in the year. Well, the new boiler was installed just before the lockdown, and plans are in place and permission granted for gale breaker material to be fitted in the tall lancet openings to the tower, so that driving winds don’t blow lots of rain into the tower. Fencing is going up along the boundary between school and church, and the shade of green chosen means that it shouldn’t be too obtrusive, whilst deterring those who have been breaking-in recently, and anyone else seeking to gain unauthorised access. At Altham the south aisle roof is being refurbished (following work on the nave and the chancel in previous summers) and some stunningly effective and efficient LED lighting has been installed. At Altham School a beautiful new modular unit has been opened to house reception.
I hope that the remaining part of summer will give everyone some opportunities to recharge their batteries. Not everyone will be able to get away on holiday, but if you can find opportunities that are safe for you do try to get a little bit of a change and some refreshment before autumn and winter, with the extra challenges that will bring.
Those of you who have been attending or following the Sunday services online will know that I’ve been focusing on the readings from Romans over these last weeks. I hope they’ve
given us all plenty to think about, and to affirm us in our faith. This Sunday’s reading reminds us that the bible is honest and realistic about the condition of the world and the suffering and death that occurs. At times there is nothing to do but to groan with a groaning creation, as we lament lives cut short, livelihoods lost, life disrupted in all sorts of ways. We are called to our knees and to the cry Lord, have mercy. From that position of grieving with those who grieve we are called to practical action to help others, action which points to the love and justice of God’s kingdom. And we are called to live as people of hope, who have the conviction that the future ultimately lies in God’s hands, that he is a good, good God, and that one day the present labour pains will give way to the full life, joy and peace of his new creation.
Yours in faith, hope and love, Revd Toby