History was made last Saturday when the first Mid North Coast Online Presbytery meeting was held. The attendance was not much less than our normal meeting, which was outstanding considering that we tried to keep representation to one per congregation. We have some 24 congregations and in total 32 preaching places, and by my calculations 27 of these were represented on the day. Well done team! It was a valuable time to catch up with friends and meet some new ones. COVID-19 is teaching us to adapt in many ways and our online experiences are a good example of this.
EASING OF RESTRICTIONS
There has been an easing of rules on the numbers of people in gatherings. However, as I have said previously we must not see this as licence to return to gathered worship, even if our numbers are such as to fit in to the new parameters. There is still a great risk of infection and particularly so amongst our older citizens. For now, the recommendation of our combined Synod and Presbytery leadership is that we hold our present position:
‘With the safety and well-being of our community in mind, Presbytery and Synod leaders agreed on 11 May 2020 that Uniting Churches should not open for public worship or meet face to face in church buildings.
It is anticipated that the effects of COVID-19 will continue to impact our lives for the foreseeable future. In the coming months we will need to make difficult choices between conflicting priorities. We must avoid framing our situation in terms of a false choice between reviving the economy — or our churches — and saving lives. Our commitment to supporting the safety and well-being of people must remain our priority. If we don’t continue our efforts to contain the virus, a new wave of infections and deaths could well cause further pain.
All that has been gained in this time of isolation could be quickly lost. Reopening our buildings gatherings prematurely, even with the practice of social distancing and careful hygiene, could unfairly force the choice between personal health and the desire to re-join the beloved congregation.’
I am very excited to let you know that we have managed to snare the whole ‘Saltbush – Uniting the Scattered Community’ team for this year’s annual retreat! Rev Mark Faulkner leads a team of three, with Rev Tim Jensen and soon to be Rev Geoff Wellington filling out the numbers. You no doubt already have it in the diary but if not put aside Thursday September 17 to Saturday the 19th. We are hoping that restrictions will have eased enough for us to meet at Yarrahappini as usual, but if not, be assured it will happen, in some form.
Our home backs onto a reserve with many large old trees and our backyard also has several trees, with our big one a favourite haunt of a good variety of feathered friends. While I enjoy the solitude of sitting on our deck, it is rarely quiet. A variety of parrots, pigeons, drongos (the bird in this case), miners, butcher birds and magpies are a part of the clan. Magpies are regular visitors and you always know when they are around. However, we have a couple of birds who will appear that you never hear arrive or leave. Yes, Mr Kookaburra has a very distinctive call, but in flight there is nary a whisper or a crazy flap of wings. He just arrives, sits a while – rather regally - and leaves just as quietly.
I do not know about you, but I get unnerved with loud Christians who simply must make their presence known and have little self-awareness of where they are or who they are with. I prefer the Kookaburra approach. Yes, we are called to be witnesses, but I do prefer the stealth approach.
Readings: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10 & 32-35, 1 Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11, John 17:1-11
This week the gospel reading focuses on what has become known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. The John reading has such depth and offers so great a hope and promise, that I struggle to get my head around all of the meaning held within it. If we have not got the gospel promise by this point in the narrative, Jesus gives us little wriggle room from here onwards.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown many of us have learned new ways of being church. The technology available to us today has opened doors that were beyond our thinking fifty years ago. Faced with the challenge of these times our leaders have been tested and have prevailed in their endeavours to not only care for the flock but even extend their influence. In many ways, I believe that this time of isolation may well be the moment when we discover our greatest unity.
As chair of our Synod Placements Committee, now a monthly meeting via Zoom, I wondered how we might cope with 20+ people in a virtual room, seeking to pray and discern the move of the Spirit in our church. It has been a revelation as we have tackled at times difficult situations and yet have found a unity and a desire for the common good that seems to have transcended our personal wish lists.
Our recent presbytery meeting and our weekly presbytery Online Worship are both examples for me of our putting aside our perhaps selfish desires and coming together for the common good. Hopefully, we can all think of our own examples of this.
Of course, there are many of our older folk who do not have access to the technology so many of us may take for granted. My reflection above does not absolve us from caring for those who yearn for a return to face to face worship and acknowledging that for many this remains a hard time. My hope is that when our church doors do open people will discover a new renewed church??
We are just a week from Pentecost Sunday. Perhaps we can covenant to spend this week praying for God’s church and that unity Jesus desires for all of his followers.
And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Perhaps the verse above can be our starting point.
‘There was a gift for each of us left under the tree of life two thousand years ago by the one whose birthday we celebrate. The gift was withheld from no one. Some have left their packages unclaimed. Some have accepted the gift and carried it around but have failed to remove the wrappings and look inside to discover the hidden splendour. The packages are all alike: In each is a scroll on which is written, “All that the Father has is thine.” Take and live!’