Letters from Chris
Saturday 11 July 2020
It has been a few days short of four months since I first wrote to the fellowship to inform you that, as a result of Government Guidelines and on the advice of the Baptist Union, we would be ceasing all public gatherings at ABC. In that time, we have all experienced many things that we could never have anticipated including corporate worship over Zoom and we will no doubt recall these experiences for many years to come. That said, we continue to be in uncertain times and so this letter is intended to update the fellowship in the light of recent changes in Government guidelines and the advice of the Baptist Union.
As you will be aware, the Government stated that it would be possible for places of worship to open for public gatherings as from 4 July. Following this announcement and the publication of the government’s guidelines for reopening, the CLT at ABC chose to wait for the Baptist Union to release their own guidance. After the publication of these guidelines we met via Zoom to consider the issues related to reopening our building for public gatherings. Due to the timing of a request for a funeral to take place in the building, we were able to reflect on the practical implications of the guidelines in a real-life scenario. Whilst there is an inevitable desire as a church to return to gathering together in our church building, following careful and extensive consideration of the guidelines for gathering for public worship, the CLT believe that an imminent reopening of our building is unlikely. This we believe is in line with the spirit of the recommendations of the Baptist Union. Whilst it is ‘possible’ to open buildings for public worship the restrictions under which this can happen mean that our experience of meeting together would be significantly limited.
Before opening the building for public gatherings an extensive risk assessment will be required.
Painting a picture of what a Sunday morning might look like under such restrictions I hope will help you to understand the CLT’s current thinking. What follows only covers some of the restrictions:
· The physical lay-out of the worship space would be determined by social distancing requirements, ideally maintaining a 2 metre distance or the 1 metre plus which would require the wearing of face masks. The wearing of face masks is strongly recommended in the Baptist Union guidelines whatever the distance.
· This would inevitably mean a limitation on the numbers able to attend. As a consequence, those wishing to attend would need to state their interest in doing so ahead of time.
· In the event that more people wished to attend, alternative arrangements would need to be made. This could include consecutive services, with time to fully clean the building in between or alternative congregations over a period of weeks, with those unable to attend tuning in via Zoom if able.
· Once the number attending has been determined, the names and contact details of those folk would need to be recorded and securely held for three weeks and then destroyed as part of the government’s Test and Trace programme.
· In advance of reopening the building, the creation of a one-way system will need to be created, with clear signage indicating how to move around the building and reminding us of the various practices necessary to ensure the wellbeing of all those in attendance.
· All efforts are to be made to maintain good ventilation throughout the space where people gather, which where appropriate, would include the opening of doors and windows.
· When actually attending a service in the church building the guidelines recommend minimising the amount of time that any person spends on site both before and after the service.
· On arrival attendees are required to queue outside the building maintaining social distancing whilst each person is asked by a ‘greeter’ who would be wearing appropriate PPE to confirm that they have not experienced any of the symptoms related to Covid19 – fever, persistent dry cough and loss of taste or smell – during the previous 14 days.
· On entering the building hand sanitiser will be available for use.
· Seating would be allocated according to household groupings –which would be socially distanced. Children would be required to sit with their household.
· Although toilets will be open, the guidelines ask that, wherever possible, people avoid using them. If they have to be used, each person is required to use the sanitiser wipes provided to clean any surfaces they have touched and then place the wipes in foot pedal bins (which we will have to purchase).
· During the service movement and participation will be kept to a minimum.
· The recommendation is to not hold separate activities for children and young people especially for any age other than those attending secondary school, but they too will require extensive application of specific guidelines.
· At this time the guidelines do not permit congregational singing or the playing of wind instruments – apparently humming is permitted!
· Ideally there would be no offerings taken, but if they are, they have to remain in a secure location without being touched for 72 hours.
· All surfaces that are regularly touched – hand rails, door handles – would be cleaned a number of times.
· The church Bibles would not be in use.
· All spoken words should maximise the use of microphones as loud and expressive voices increase the presence of particles that could potentially carry the virus.
· The one positive recommendation (for some) is that every effort should be made to minimise the length of any service, including shorter sermons!
· Following the service there would be no refreshments.
· People would be asked to leave the premises in their household groups and informal chats that prevented others from safely departing is discouraged.
· Everyone would be asked to use the hand sanitiser as they depart.
· All items used for cleaning surfaces would be binned using double bags and could not be placed in general waste for 72 hours.
As stated above this is only some of the guidelines that would need to be implemented. The purpose in setting out the guidelines in this way is to demonstrate the rationale of CLT’s conviction that at this time such restrictions are not conducive to an atmosphere of worship or fellowship when gathered in a physical space. This has been reinforced by the planning of a funeral using the building where the emphasis in planning has been heavily weighted on the practical side of things rather than the relational.
However, this is not the only reason for CLT’s cautious response to the possibility of reopening the building for public gatherings. Firstly, there are a significant number within the fellowship who, due to shielding, would not be able to attend until at least 1 August. Secondly, there may well be a significant number of people who would not yet feel confident that gathering even in limited numbers would be safe at this time. Significantly, as the numerous government strategies for easing lock down restrictions are still in their early stages we do not yet know the full impact they will have on the spread of Covid19. As a result of these considerations the CLT is concerned that it would be premature to open our building for public worship at this time, but due to the ever-changing nature of all guidelines we will be continually reviewing this situation – in fact as I was writing this letter I received notification that the Baptist Union guidelines had been updated and so the content of this letter has been adapted accordingly - and will seek to keep the church fully informed as best we can.
As a Baptist church we do value the principle of hearing what the congregation thinks in regard to all matters and so we would welcome your thoughts. Whilst there has been a provisional date for the a possible church meeting (16 July) CLT did not think a meeting via Zoom would allow for a helpful sharing of responses and so we have asked Home Groups to meet over the next week or so to share responses and to feed them back to CLT. Obviously not everyone is able to attend Home Groups so please feel free to contact a member of the CLT via phone or email if there is anything you wish to share. CLT will be meeting on Tuesday 28 July to reflect on these responses.
Whilst nothing has yet been confirmed for the future in regard to a time when we are able to open the building with appropriate consideration for people’s well-being, it will be important to carefully and more importantly prayerfully consider the many lessons and experiences of being church during Covid19, particularly the place of technology for allowing folk access to a worship service. But that is for a point further in the future.
For now, though, I thank you all for your incredible support during this period of time and your great patience as we have sought to understand the times we are in and the implications for being the church. The steady nature of attendance via Zoom over the Sundays of lock down has been a tremendous encouragement, although I do long for the day when I look up from my sermon notes and see real people sitting in front of me and not a screen full of tiny boxes, albeit with wonderful smiling faces! But only when we can be assured that the vulnerable among us are not at risk by being in church.
Please continue to join CLT in prayer as we seek the Lord’s leading in what remain unprecedented times.
Thursday 30 April 2020
Give thanks to the Lord … for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)
I’m sure that many of us have to think long and hard to remember when it was that lock down began and to even remember what day it is as one day looks very much like the previous and the one before that! Not the most cheerful of openings I admit, but an experience I suspect shared by many, but as people of faith we do not need to overwhelmed by such thoughts and feelings, rather as the Psalmist encourages us, in fact as the Word of God we are commanded through Psalm 136 to ‘give thanks to the Lord’ for it is in giving thanks that we are reminded that ‘his steadfast love endures forever’.
As we read Psalm 136 the Psalmist recalls the activity of God from creation through to the present day and every step of the way his remembering stirs up in his heart prayers of thanksgiving, not simply because of WHAT God has done, but also because of WHY, namely because of God’s love which endures forever. Whilst we may struggle to remember when exactly our current circumstances began or even what day it is, we do not have the same problem remembering all the works of God through history and in our own lives of faith. As we do our eyes are lifted from our own circumstances and our struggles within them as faith is stirred up in us as we recall all the ways the Father’s love has been consistently expressed through his ‘great wonders’ (Psalm 136:4)
That love is ultimately expressed in God’s gift of his Son, our Lord and our Saviour. In Jesus we see the fullness of God’s love for us and as the writer of Hebrews tells us, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (13:8). Therefore, that love never changes, it remains the same yesterday and today – even when we can’t remember what day it is – and forever. There is no circumstance that will ever change who Jesus is, what Jesus has done for us, or his love for us when we place our trust in him.
Last Sunday (26 April 2020) we started our study of the Book of Hebrews in which the author writes to a group of believers who had become overwhelmed by the circumstances they found themselves in and were tempted to abandon their trust in Jesus, resorting instead to their old ways of believing. In response to this temptation to fall away from the Lord the author reminds the Hebrews of the fact that there is no-one quite like Jesus, that he is superior to all things in every way and that through his willing sacrifice on the cross establishing the way for all who repent to be reconciled with God the Father for all eternity is the BETTER way, the best way to live our lives even if that life involves experiencing difficult and challenging times. Reminding this band of discouraged believers of who Jesus is and the love and faithfulness of Christ was the method the author used to encourage them to renew their trust in Jesus for he had revealed to them and he has revealed to us the steadfast love of the Lord which endures forever.
In these unique and unusual days in which we find ourselves we to may be tempted to question our trust in the Lord, but as with the author of Hebrews we are reminded that our life in Christ is superior to anything the world has to offer and invited to remember all the ways in which the Lord has been faithful since before the world began and through all our days and by way of heartfelt thanksgiving to see our faith renewed. We are not required to do this alone. Scripture reminds us that we have been given the glorious gift of the Holy Spirit who ‘will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you’ (John 14:26) and we have each other to encourage one another in our remembering and thanksgiving.
Keeping in touch
One of the great joys since having to meet together via Zoom on a Sunday morning is our very own version of the Walton’s family greetings (folk of a certain age will get this rather dated reference) both before and after the service. However, with so many of us (usually around 70 folk tuned in) we can do little more than say hello and goodbye and with the little boxes moving around the screen it can be difficult to ensure that everyone is included and so the opportunity to catch up with one another is very limited. We have recently discovered that Zoom allows for participants to meet up in smaller groups (called break out rooms) and so this coming Sunday (3 May) we are intending to attempt to enable folk to spend a bit more time catching up with one another after the service. The plan is to allow a few minutes for people to say their greetings and farewells and then when those that for any number of reasons don’t wish to stay on line have departed the remainder will be ‘randomly’ allocated into smaller groups in our best effort to recreate our gathering in the hall after the service! We will do our best to explain this further before the service on Sunday! I am very grateful for the patience and understanding of the fellowship as we have been learning both what might be possible through the technology and how to use it in the life of the fellowship, so thank you to you all.
Keeping in touch with what is happening at ABC during Lock Down
As we journey together through the Book of Hebrews I am aware that not all of us are able to join together on a Sunday through the use of Zoom and that some will access the teaching through the church website and others will not be able to follow us at all. As with many things right now we are doing all we can to help keep the fellowship connected and to have access to all that we have and hope to provide to support and encourage one another. For those able to do so, we would encourage you to regularly check the website to see what has been added, whilst for those who cannot please do contact me, a member of the CLT, a member of the Pastoral Team or a Home Group Leader to request information or a hard copy of any resources produced. We have already attempted to ensure that all who desire to access the recently produced Home group material for this term have been able to.
Hebrews Sermon Notes
During this study of Hebrews as well as the sermon being available on the website there will also be a written outline of the sermon provided – which can be located with the audio of the sermon – to help as a reminder of what has been covered and hopefully will serve as a useful ongoing resource for further study. On the recommendation of one member of the church the outline to accompany the introduction to the Book of Hebrews includes a link to a YouTube clip with an exceptionally useful animated overview of the book which is well worth a look.
Whilst we are restricted to Sundays happening digitally I appreciate we don’t have the opportunity to discuss what has been said in the teaching in the way that has been possible previously so if you have any questions arising out of the teaching please do send your questions to me by whatever format suits you best and I will do my best to respond.
Reading Hebrews Together
I have already encouraged us as a fellowship to be reading the Book of Hebrews and as a further encouragement Carolyn (Ray) is arranging for us to gather together via Zoom on Saturday 9 May at 2pm to read through the whole book together. The plan is to have 12/13 volunteers who will read a chapter together (or part of the longer chapters) and this will be recorded and made available on the website as an ‘audio book’ which can be accessed by folk who will then be able to hear the whole book read by familiar voices. If you would like to participate in this venture please contact Carolyn at carolynray46 [at] gmail.com. It is hoped that we will not just have readers joining us on that day but that we will have many others who join in just to be blessed by the reading of God’s word.
Family Worship Resource
For those who have been using the family worship material prepared by Carolyn journeying through the Gospel of Luke during April you will now find May’s material which focuses upon the numerous characters found in Luke’s book of Acts available on the website. The purpose of this material is to encourage families to spend at least a short time worshipping together around God’s Word. If you haven’t had a chance to look at Carolyn’s introduction to the April material outlining the value of families sharing in this way I would strongly encourage you to take a look at the April material.
Friday 3 April 2020
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to
the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
‘The Lord is always faithful to us. We never need to doubt that he is working out his good purposes for us, and we must cling to this truth especially when we cannot understand what he is doing. In fact we do not need to understand what he is doing; we need to know he is always perfectly faithful’. (Tabletalk March 2020) https://tabletalkmagazine.com/
Dear sisters and brothers,
It is just over two weeks since I wrote to the church on behalf of myself and the CLT following the advice of the Baptist Union and other organisations including the Government to suspend all face to face activities at ABC. In the time that has passed since writing, our day to day experience of life has changed beyond all recognition – as has our way of ‘meeting’ together and worshipping as the people of God. I had never heard of Zoom just over two weeks ago and I don’t think I’ve made as many phone calls, texts, WhatsApp messages and emails in a lifetime!
Whilst these are unique and unusual times it has been a great blessing to see how within the life of the fellowship there have been so many generous acts of kindness and care for one another and so many creative ways of keeping in touch and focusing on our growing together as the people of God. In the last few weeks we have seen the rich fruits of our sowing into relationships over many years and I simply want to say thank you to all and to encourage us to keep going for however long these circumstances remain our ‘normal’.
The words above were part of my Bible reading notes from earlier this week and as I read them they powerfully resonated with the circumstances we find ourselves in as we live under the restrictions of lockdown which continue to include our being unable to gather physically as the fellowship at ABC. No doubt we have all wondered what God is doing (or not doing) in the midst of Covid 19 and we will have and have heard lots of different answers to our question. At this stage, I sense that we can catch a glimpse of some of what God is doing at this time – but a full understanding may not come for some time. In the meantime, the one thing we are able to do is trust in the fact that God is indeed steadfast and true. Some of us will remember the saying, ‘God is good all the time and all the time God is good’! Although the word ‘good’ in our day is a rather weak term, the meaning of this saying is simply that God is unable to act (or not act) outside his nature – which is perfectly-loving. In that way there is actually something that is impossible for God! It is impossible for God to act in any way other than out of perfect love. And it is because of this wonderful truth that we can trust in him when we don’t fully understand all that he is doing (or not doing). As we were reminded last Sunday as the old hymn says,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
here we find the secret to trusting in the absence of understanding all that is happening to and around us, focusing upon our Lord Jesus. What a wonderful invitation this is to each and every one of us at this time.
Following our most recent CLT meeting (on Zoom again!) we felt it would be helpful to highlight a number of things that are already in place or will be in the coming days as we continue to discover how to continue the life of the fellowship:
· Hopefully you are all now aware of the fact that we are holding ‘virtual’ services each Sunday through Zoom. For those unable to access this, the service and or sermon are recorded and available on the website. As we become more familiar with the technology we are attempting to include more aspects of our corporate worship and involving others in them.
· Each Sunday there is a weekly news-sheet available through the website that includes the link to the service, prayer pointers and some lockdown humour. Again we are looking for opportunities to develop this resource for providing information for the fellowship.
· Many of our home groups are also utilising the various technologies available to ‘meet’ together or stay in touch.
· Our pastoral team is working continually to ensure that we are aware of and where possible meeting needs within the life of the fellowship. We are aware that we will not recognise or meet every need which, of course, is a source of frustration for us all. Each member of the team is supporting the leaders of our home groups and we are also doing all we can to keep in touch with those who are not members of a home group or who have recently begun to attend ABC.
· Thank you to all the fellowship for your ongoing generosity in all sorts of ways including financial giving through standing orders. Thank you also to those who usually give weekly in our services for getting in touch to see how you can continue to do so whilst we are not physically meeting. Details for this are available on the weekly news-sheet mentioned above,
· There have been a number of resources made available from various outlets in recent weeks on the theme of helping families to worship together. Inspired by this we have a monthly activity sheet designed primarily for families (but not limited to families) to read a couple of verses from the Bible together and reflect upon them. There is also an expanded activity for each of the Sundays in the month. This is also available on the website.
· Prayer has always been a priority in the life of ABC and we are well aware that there is a lot of prayer activity happening throughout the fellowship at this time. To help with those who would like to share in prayer with others we are hoping to encourage prayer triplets in which people share together in prayer to support and encourage one another in ongoing discipleship. Further information on this will be available on this week’s news-sheet.
· The Baptist Union website is an increasing fount of helpful and practical information on a whole range of issues springing out of life in lock-down and Covid 19 so we would encourage people to check in on that from time to time.
Finally, we are rapidly approaching Easter and our celebration of this very precious season in the church calendar is going to be quite like no other. In order to help us celebrate Easter this year the following plans have been made:
· Sunday 4 April - Palm Sunday Service via Zoom
· Thursday 9 April at 7.30pm – Maundy Thursday Reflection and Communion via Zoom
· Friday 10 April – Good Friday Reflection – material available through the website
· Saturday 11 April – Easter Saturday Reflection – material available through the website
· Sunday 12 April at 10.30am – Easter Sunday Celebration with Communion via Zoom
With both communions we are simply encouraging folk to have bread and wine (real or otherwise!) available to use at the appropriate place in the service. For the more theologically astute of us we will not be partaking of the one loaf (but on our usual service we use four!) but we will certainly be sharing ‘together’ in a very significant way.
For the Maundy Thursday reflection, as in previous years it is hoped a number of folk will be kind enough to volunteer to read. This will mean that you are fairly comfortable with using Zoom and have a working microphone on your gadget. If you are willing to volunteer please either text or email me ASAP.
As we celebrate the glorious truth and reality of Easter you may wish to listen to the new Easter hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty which can be found on YouTube https://youtu.be/OibIi1rz7mw
Well, in a time brimming with information I will draw this letter to an end by simply saying, brothers and sisters, keep trusting in the steadfastness of our glorious Saviour.
Greetings in the Risen Christ,
Wednesday 18 March 2020
Dear sisters and brothers,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that all gatherings in the life of our fellowship at ABC have been suspended until further notice. CLT took this decision at our meeting last night, following the advice of the Baptist Union, the Yorkshire Baptist Association and in line with other denominations in regard to the coronavirus. We recognise that this goes against the natural instinct of the family of God, which desires to meet together at every opportunity and that for each of us this will be painful news to hear. Sadly, in the light of such unprecedented times we believe we have no choice but to comply in the best interest of the immediate and long-term well-being of all.
There are many practicalities to be considered and initiatives to be explored. To help sustain the life of the fellowship in the constantly-changing circumstances in which we find ourselves – both personally and communally – we would ask for your prayers as the CLT and others seek to respond to the various challenges and opportunities that arise.
As always, our priorities as a fellowship continue to be the spiritual life of every believer, our general well-being and a desire to share the gospel. However, we are now looking to fulfil these priorities in a setting very different than any of us are used to.
Whilst it is now impossible to gather together on a Sunday morning to worship our God, we hope to use various aspects of modern technology to make it possible to come together in some way through social media in the near future. We will seek to keep you updated as any future plans come together. Plans will also be explored to include those who do not have access to or are not familiar with using such resources. In the meantime, a sermon will be recorded and made available through the website at some point on a Sunday morning. Beginning this week with a conclusion to our series on Galatians, followed by sermons and other resources helping us to prepare for celebrating Easter.
We also hope to prepare some short reflective material that can be used throughout the week in the absence of Home Groups, which will allow us as a fellowship to be worshipping with a similar focus.
One pressing issue that arises out of the cancellation of next week’s scheduled Church Meeting is the appointment of the Children’s Worker. Following a conversation with David Whyman we have been able to establish that a delay in getting approval from the church meeting will not create any undue stress on him or his current circumstances. Although it is disappointing that we will not be able to go ahead with this at this time we continue to hold this before the Lord in prayer.
Essential to providing whatever support is necessary for all parts of the fellowship in the days and weeks to come will be our Home Groups. As a CLT we are very much aware and grateful that many groups already have good ways of caring for and supporting one other. However, we are aware that not everyone is connected to a Home Group. Also we appreciate that need will increasingly outweigh the resources to meet those needs. Through the Pastoral Team we will strive to provide as much practical support and encouragement to fill those gaps.
In order to succeed to any degree in supporting one-another, we need to rely upon one another to share those needs that require assistance (others will not know how you are if you don’t let them know). Whilst we hope for most people the starting point will be family and friends, then Home Groups. If these sources of support are not available or sufficient then please contact Karen Frodsham, Kathy Frary or me and we will seek to do all we can to help.
I would appeal to everyone for patience and understanding as we seek to respond to a situation that few, if any, have ever planned for. We are receiving a great deal of advice from various organisations and it is a lot of information to filter and absorb. We hope that we will get a great number of things right, but it is inevitable that as the needs rise with the impact of the coronavirus on people’s health our resources to meet those needs will be reduced.
As a CLT we will be seeking to keep you updated with as much helpful information as we can, but more importantly we will be doing all we can to fulfil our primary responsibility to keep our attention focused firmly on the Lord Jesus and encouraging us to continue to worship him in the midst of these difficult days and to manifest his wonderful love to one another and to our neighbours and friends.
On at least a couple of occasions in the last day or so Psalm 46 has been quoted in the context of all that is happening in the world at this time and the opening verses provide an important focus for us as we venture into these unfamiliar waters:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging
Praying the wonderful truths of Scripture is one of God’s great blessings to his children and so I would encourage each of us to draw richly from this great gift from our heavenly Father.
It is my heartfelt prayer that in the midst of great uncertainty and confusion that we will each experience the peace of God’s presence and the blessing of his promise and provision.
With love in Jesus,
Last updated Sat 11/07/2020 (BAF).