As church buildings across the Derbyshire North East Circuit reopen on Pentecost Sunday, Superintendent Minister Revd Sean Adair has shared his message for returning congregations and those who will continue to 'be Church' in other ways.
Do you recall what you were doing on Sunday 15th March 2020? I do, for on that Sunday I preached at a 'normal' church service for the last time.
There have been 62 Sundays since then. Practically overnight we had to discover a whole new way of being Church, develop a raft of new skills, and find answers to questions that we had never asked before – or even thought about.
Within weeks we were discovering how to put material online. We started using 'Zoom' and soon learned how poor our broadband services were (and in some cases still are!).
We started to speak of 'hybrid church' recognising that when physical acts of worship were limited or unavailable, worship could still be facilitated online, by post and by phone.
For a short period in September/October, the restrictions eased a little and we were able to hold limited in-person services in many of our churches, but then a further lockdown occurred in November. Since then, to support the NHS and allow time for the vaccination programme to roll out, we have not met in-person. I know that most of our people supported the decision to not meet physically and thanked us for all we were doing to keep them connected in other ways. I also know some felt strongly that because the government had allowed within their guidance for the continuation of public worship, we should have remained open. Certainly, all of us have felt the want of human connection for what has felt like a very long time.
This coming Sunday 23rd May sees the return of in-person services across the Circuit. It will be the day we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Let us be clear: these limited, physical gatherings for prayer and reflection will not be what we had before. Our buildings will be as safe as we can make them. In each setting we will be very careful about how we get people in, where they are directed to sit, and how they leave. The services will be shorter than usual, without congregational singing, and we will learn to do the best we safely can for weeks to come. However, this Sunday, on the birthday of the Church, we will celebrate our ability to meet again.
Meanwhile, we will continue to be a hybrid church. The postal ministry and 'dial-a-Sermon' service will continue. We will live-stream and broadcast the morning services from Central and Brimington Hall Road. Evening worship for the whole Circuit will continue on Zoom at 6.00pm. Online, physical, postal and phone outlets for ministry will all be made available to resource the lives of the disciples of our Risen and Ascended Lord, who comes to us by His Holy Spirit.
At Pentecost – the Church's birthday – we have an opportunity, as some of us meet in-person once again, to celebrate our being a part of something quite incredible, the Church – Spirit-initiated, Spirit-sustained, and empowered by the Spirit in its mission. As it was on the first day of Pentecost, so it is now. It is in every part of being a hybrid church.
We might feel sorry for the person who is asked to read the opening verses of Acts chapter 2, with its long list of different groups of people that gathered on the day of Pentecost. Whether we feel sorry for the reader or not, the important point is that when the Spirit arrives, the apostles are empowered to communicate and connect with people from different settings and backgrounds. There is the miracle of being able to communicate in previously unknown languages, but there is also the miracle of hearing and the workings of grace by which hearts and minds are transformed.
As we continue to celebrate our hybridity and serve those around us in a variety of diverse ways, may we know the empowerment of the Holy Spirit so that we can communicate and connect well. And may we also know the enabling grace of the Spirit that connects all our hearts with God's and may we all be transformed.