The Parish Office, 5a Plymouth Road, Tavistock, Devon PL19 8AU Tel: 01822 616673 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Brother and Sisters in Christ,
A Second Lockdown
We have all been affected by the Coronavirus and the response that has been necessary to control the situation. Many of us hoped that the problem would be gone by now but sadly that is not the case. We are going to live with the reality of the virus for some time to come. This fact has presented us with new challenges as a community of faith. We have seen many positive responses to the situation. In our churches new ways have been found to reach out and support one another. How we worship has called for creativity and fresh thinking. The use of social media and the provision of online services has grown and is helping our churches to reach new people. As Christians we have been reminded about what is important in terms of our faith. Sadly, the Government has said that during the November lockdown no public worship is permitted in our churches. Locked-down church buildings can stay open for individual prayer subject to COVID-19 precautions being implemented, and it will still be possible to record acts of worship and hold funeral services, but not weddings. St. Eustachius’ Church will continue to be open from 10.00 am until 2.00 pm for private prayer on a Sunday and Wednesday.
Speaking about the lockdown, Bishop Robert said: “For many of us, this second lockdown is a body-blow. However, we must not pull back in exhaustion or fear. Earlier in the year, we learned that it is by drawing on the well-springs of our faith and reaching out to those in need that we mitigate isolation and smooth the abrasive edges of lockdown. As Paul writes, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair’ (2 Cor. 4.8). This is the moment to draw together in mutual support and renew our trust in God who journeys with us”
Our Archbishops have called upon the Church of England to make the month of lockdown a month of prayer.
All Saints’ Day
The service for All Saints’ Day from Tavistock was recorded and posted on our social media sites. The Gospel reading came form Matthew 5.1-12. I reproduce below the sermon preached by our Reader, Liz Bastin:
A child was once asked, ‘What is a saint’. Her answer? Someone who lets light in. She may have been looking at the light streaming in through the beautiful stained-glass windows which so often depict the saints. But, how right she was. Through the saints the light of Christ has been revealed to the world. It is not only the apostles, those who have been canonized by the Church, like St Augustine, St Benedict, but those such as John Wesley, and Billy Graham, also belong to the communion of saints. And although it’s not common to consider sainthood as a part of our own spiritual lives, the Bible definitely conveys this to be so. Those called to true faith in God, through the saving grace of Jesus Christ are called saints in the Bible.
So, on this, All Saints day, we have an opportunity to remember and honour, those faithful people who have lived in the service of our Lord over the centuries, and with them, to remember those we have known and loved, who have died in the faith. So how do we follow the example that the Saints have set us?
We have heard in the gospel reading today how Jesus sat teaching his disciples from a mountainside. Although there was a vast crowd of people following Jesus, he spoke mainly to a close band of followers. It was almost a concentrated course on how to build their faith, and service to God, through the teaching of the beatitudes. God’s blessings.
The great orator, Charles Spurgeon suggests the nature of these blessings, to be, like going up the rungs of a ladder of light. One blessing builds upon the next. Each one is a step of purest sunshine, enabling growth in the freedom of new life through the work of the Holy Spirit. This contrasts with the Law and commandments given through Moses – also delivered by God on a mountain, which, due to humankind’s unrenewed heart and spirit, proved to be a form of bondage. God sent Jesus to bring us new life from within, free from the bondage of sin, and wishes to bless us as we walk more closely with Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The first beatitude: ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ calls for a putting away of all that glorifies self. Until we agree to less of ourselves, recognising our soul’s state of destitution and our need of repentance, we cannot obtain more of God. Jesus seeks those who need him, not those full of self-righteousness. His eye of favour rests on those with hearts and spirits humbled before him. This is the road to purity of heart. We must not be satisfied with external religion; we need more than a form of godliness. We need the ingrafting of the Word of God into our spirit through His Spirit. Then, ours is the kingdom of heaven.
The second beatitude; Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. This is not the mourning for a lost loved one, but the mourning for sin. For personal sin, for sin in others, in the Church, in the nation and in the world. Sin dishonours God and works ruin in humankind, but God comforts with the pardon for sin through Jesus Christ, bestowing the blessing of comfort through a peaceful conscience.
The first two beatitudes express deficiencies but the third: ‘blessed are the meek’ show the Holy Spirit has been working by the grace of God. It is like the first two but goes deeper. The first has more repentance and self-surrender but the third has become an abiding in God. Having been born again, there is a gentleness of spirit and a quiet disposition of the soul, neither harsh nor arrogant. This person imitates Jesus, by making himself of no reputation, but takes the form of a bondservant and has faith in God, whatever the circumstances.
These people will inherit the earth knowing that they are children of God, heirs and joint heirs in Christ Jesus. ‘Inherit the earth’ can also be translated as inherit the land. This is the promised land, the heavenly Canaan, full of joy and peace when Jesus returns.
The fourth blessing comes when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. Note again the contrast between the old and new life. Under the old Law humankind is forbidden to do certain things but under the new covenant we are offered grace by God, -His free gift of unmerited favour, – to create the desire from within, to hunger and thirst for righteousness. To overcome bad habits and to carry on the regeneration started by the coming of the Holy Spirit. But also, Christ is the Bread of Life. He offers his gift of the Eucharist for our spiritual food, our sustenance, to enable us to dwell in him and he in us. To work towards God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace coming here on earth.
Blessed are the merciful, the next rung of the ladder, initially confers benefits on others, but by being merciful one will be shown mercy. The merciful character grows out of the preceding blessings. Mercy may be shown through our Lord’s instruction to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit those in prison and spiritually by sharing the gospel, the good news of Jesus, praying for others and by forgiving from the heart.
Next, we hear how the pure in heart are blessed for they shall see God. Impurity of heart causes spiritual blindness but the power of the Holy Spirit to renew the human heart is boundless. We still struggle with the old nature, but the process of purification causes the heart to seek holiness, pining after perfection and through the saving grace of Jesus we will eventually see God.
God blesses the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God. They will be seeking to control angry outbursts and promoting peace, forgiveness and compassion in all they do.
Eventually we get towards the top of our ladder of light, hearing of the persecution for standing for God’s righteousness. One is not blessed for being persecuted, but suffering it is being loyal to God which will accrue great blessings and will lead us into the kingdom of heaven.
You may have noticed, that the ability to climb this ladder is facilitated through the Holy Spirit. When we came to faith in Jesus and were baptised or confirmed we were each sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. A seal tells the world to whom we belong. It is a free gift from God, a pledge, a deposit laid down that we might be enabled to grow to understand and act on the hope and calling that God has on our lives. A pledge of a far greater inheritance.
We cannot obtain the blessings of the beatitudes on our own. Becoming a child of God and experiencing the Kingdom of God can only be accepted when we choose to make Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives and to live our lives faithful to him.
Then Jesus will say, you faithful saints are blessed, and the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. Blessed are you merciful for I will show you mercy. Blessed are you who mourn for sin and pray for others, for your prayers will be answered. Blessed are you who speak up for peace, justice and righteousness for you are god’s children and heirs of his kingdom.
So, let us join that great cloud of witnesses and run the great race set before us, being aware of the tremendous light and life that awaits us when one day, along with the saints gone before us we truly reach God’s Kingdom of Heaven in all its glory.
It is now clear that public worship in Church is not permitted on Remembrance Sunday. The Government has issued guidance to Local Authorities which will allow a “limited” outdoor service, with very restricted numbers, to be held in Bedford Square. I intend to record an act of Remembrance in Tavistock Parish Church and I will post this on our Facebook page and website by the 8th November.
I remain hopeful that it will be possible to hold a service on Christmas Eve at 11.30 pm (Midnight Mass) and on Christmas Day at 9.30 am., but, of course, this will depend on Government regulations in force at the time. For those self-isolating, or unable to attend, I will also prepare a Christmas video service for broadcast on the evening of Christmas Eve. If it is possible to do so, our Christmas morning service will also be recorded.
Mission of the Month
Finally, please remember our Mission of the Month. You have been so generous in recent months supporting these in our website donations, and in retiring collections at services. With services now suspended, we will be relying mostly on the online donations. For November, the Mission is Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and if you visit our website you can read all about their work, and make a donation. You can use this link to get there.
Please continue to share and cascade this letter to anyone you know who has little or no access to email, or our social media sites. It remains vitally important during this second lockdown to keep everyone informed of, and involved in, our ongoing Church life. Thank you.
Please stay safe and well and be assured of my continued love and prayers.
Supplementary added pm 5th November with new information about the month of prayer:
Dear Brother and Sisters in Christ,
In my last letter I said that our Archbishops have called upon the Church of England to make the month of lockdown a month of prayer.
I have received further details of this afternoon. The House of Bishops has decided that this call to prayer should take the form of an invitation to every Christian and person of good will to pray at 6pm every day, beginning today, Thursday 5 November, for the period of this present lock-down.
This call is going far and wide – and the hope is that many of our ecumenical partners will join us.
The Archbishops have provided some resources in the form of different styles of written prayers with a particular thematic focus for prayer each day. The weblink to the resources is https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches/call-prayer-nation.
In addition, there is a direct link to a simple printable prayer booklet, which is intended to be shared with all members of our congregations – Prayer Booklet. This material is intended simply as one tool to enable participation – the hope is that individuals and worshipping communities make these times of prayer their own. There is no desire to be directive in this – rather simply to encourage all to be united in Prayer for the Nation.
Please share and cascade this letter to anyone you know who may wish to be involved. It remains important to keep everyone informed of this initiative. Thank you.