During Lent we are raising money for the Additional Curates Society. You can collect a box from church and bring the box in after Easter, or you can give online via https://additionalcurates.co.uk/support-us/
Each week I’ll be sending you the story of a Priest who was supported by the Society and what it means to the parishes involved. Here’s the final one:
“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”Ecclesiastes 7:14
It was with enormous trepidation that we entered into lockdown last March and I was forced to undertake what only 48 hours before had been unthinkable: to close the church to public worship indefinitely. Yet, even in those fearful and uncertain early days, the words of the Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes gave me hope. For so long we in the West have felt unnaturally secure in the world – masters of science and technology, in full control of nature and all within it. We had made ourselves into gods, even to the extent of accruing to ourselves the power of life and death. Yet now, suddenly, we were at the mercy of an unseen enemy with no cure and an exponentially rising death rate. The true powerlessness of man had been exposed, and in that I could see an opportunity to speak truth and comfort into this situation. How many times in the history of salvation has God humbled the pride of man, not out of spite, but out of love, in order to remind us that it is in him we find the source of life, hope and salvation? Jesus challenges us, asking, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36.
These thoughts characterised my own Christian response to the pandemic and how I sought to communicate that to others in my care. Immediately, along with thousands of churches across the country, we began livestreaming Mass online in order that, although tragically cut off from the sacraments, our people were still able to hear the word of God preached and gain a much-needed wider perspective on the events we were all living through. As the days and weeks progressed, our proficiency in this area increased, as we acquired better cameras and sound equipment, and the introduction of online singing improved the experience of worship.
In addition to online worship, our youth worker, Jordan, produced a series of interactive videos encouraging young people to take part in seasonal craft activities, and along with Fr Edward produced educational videos for use in school once the children had begun to go back. These included a tour of the church, explaining its various contents and features and how they relate to the worshipping life of the community. We also produced a video dedicated to explaining the Mass, its various parts and what they mean. These were accompanied by quiz sheets to help the children remember what they had learnt, and it’s our hope that this approach has kept them familiar with the building over was has been a long absence. We’ll see how much they remember when confirmation classes start in September!
Christmas 2020 was a particular high-point in the past year. Realising we couldn’t have our usual family Christingle Service in church, we had an outdoor family Carol Service in the churchyard, which brought over 150 people together at a time of great uncertainty and disappointment and brought the good news of Jesus’s birth to many in the parish who would otherwise not have heard it, since no other church in the town was open at all. Afterwards I was overwhelmed with the number of people who so clearly appreciated what we’d done, and the video we put together of the event quickly received several thousand views across the local area.
It has been hugely encouraging to see new people continue to join the church family over the course of these past difficult months. Since the beginning of lockdown last March we have eight new members of the congregation, with three confirmations in May and more to follow in November. It is astonishing to think that only now are they beginning to see what a ‘normal’ Mass looks like, with the resumption of singing and refreshments after Mass, allowing them to develop personal relationships with other members of the congregation. It was also important for me, personally, as a priest, to get back to the basics of what I was ordained to do. I must admit that the sense of purpose with which we began the pandemic, to which I alluded to above, began to give way somewhat to a sense of drift and lack of purpose, particularly with further restrictions imposed in January 2021. But to be able to sit down with confirmation candidates, none of whom had been to church before they started coming to St John’s, and teaching them about God, the relationship he wants to have with us, and the reconciliation we can have with him through faith in Jesus Christ in the family of the Church was a tonic to my soul. It was a great pleasure and a very happy occasion when Bishop Glyn visited the parish to conduct those confirmations on a glorious Sunday in May. It not only encouraged me, but gave a great lift to everyone, and renewed our determination to continue the work of the gospel unimpeded once the time comes fully.
I am sure that the small things God has done here in Mexborough against such a difficult backdrop were only possible because of our determination as a parish to cultivate an atmosphere of calm and perspective, reminding ourselves of our Easter faith, and taking sensible precautions that created a safe environment while avoiding creating panic – something which has sadly happened in all too many parishes, which as a result are now finding it difficult to transition to normality.
Nonetheless, we are looking forward to the future, particularly as we prepare to welcome our new Children and Families Worker, who will be instrumental in helping us to reach out to new people, relaunch some of the activities that were suspended, and discover new ways to reach those we have sometimes struggled to connect with. We are immensely grateful to ACS for their continued support for St John’s at a time of financial strain, and we ask for the prayers of all who read this that our parish may grow in number and in spirit as we go forward in faith.
Fr Edward Morrison