It is a tradition that our Minister writes a letter every month which is printed in our magazine, "The Messenger". Here is Revd Stephen's letter written for the April edition, just as we were receiving news that in a prudent response to the pandemic but with deep sadness churches would have to close their doors.
As I write, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), and the associated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), having been filling our news channels and social media feeds. It is an unprecedented crisis for our country, but there are some things that we can think about in order to put it into perspective.
First of all, it is not the Black Death (Bubonic Plague). When that was rife, Martin Luther had this to say:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God."
[The Annotated Luther, Volume 4: Pastoral Writings, page 404]
Yes, people will get ill, and sadly a percentage of those will die. But many will exhibit mild symptoms and make a full recovery. It is serious enough to make us take all scientific advice to heart, but also not so dreadful that we need to panic and thereby make everything worse.
Secondly, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a global emergency. At least not in the same way as malnutrition, famine, genocide, typhoid and malaria, which between them account for 10 million deaths a year. When we are used to a comfortable, relatively disease-free environment, the arrival of a virus seems like devastation..
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, God does not send disease. Ever. This is not God’s response to something we may have done or not done. This is a virus and it is making people ill. The virus is causing the sickness, not God. Secondly, it is not up to God to fix it. It is up to us to follow the advice of scientists and epidemiologists and to protect the vulnerable. Yet God is definitely present in our midst, amongst the bereaved, amongst the dying, amongst the carers - amongst all of humanity, weeping with us in our broken world. When we pray, we ask God how we can be God’s hands and feet in a world filled with fear and worry. How can we show our love for God and our love for our neighbour? Perhaps we need to re-interpret the Scriptures to read “Share your hoard of loo paper with those who have none”.
We are likely to see some disruptions to our regular pattern of services and fellowship meetings over the coming months, so please keep an eye out for the latest news. If you have email, make sure that you let Susie in the Office know so she can send out occasional bulletins from the Stewards. Likewise, Peter Cashmore has set up a new WhatsApp group for FOMC, so if this means anything to you, please let him know. We have an active website and Facebook page where more permanent notices can be placed, so do check these at least once a week. Ian has created a dedicated “Coronavirus” page on the website which will carry all the latest advice and updates.
Many of you, I know, do not live with “this modern technology” so it is ESSENTIAL that you keep in touch by phone. Everyone in your friendship circle can do their bit to check on the others and to relay the news sent via email. Do let one of the stewards have your details if you think you might get missed out! This is how we show our love for our neighbour in a pastoral way. The Methodist Church website had this to say”.
Churches may want to consider carrying out pastoral ‘visits’ by phone. Now is a good time to be thinking proactively about who in the Church might need extra help.
Friends, let us not be alarmed, but let us continue to watch over one another in love.
God bless you all.
Reverend Stephen Froggatt