A moment of rebirth, rather than ‘back to normal’

Peter Seal, 18 April 2021

Zephaniah 3: 14–20; Acts 3: 12–19; Luke 24: 36b–48

It feels so good to be back and worshipping with many of you this morning in both our churches, as well as by live-stream.

Today with this country, the Commonwealth and so many others we give thanks for the life of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. I know that so many people found the service yesterday exquisitely beautiful and deeply moving. If ever there was an example of ‘less is more’, then yesterday was it.

So much has been said about Prince Philip’s remarkable life. I suggest that, as church members, we hold before us just one thing: his example of selfless service to others. His funeral, and the offer of our worship during this Easter season, remind us week by week how we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death.

Over the past year a truly valiant team of folk have worked tirelessly to bring us weekly worship – both, when we could, from church, and every week online. This has been a massive achievement, and with you I say a huge, heartfelt thank you to those who have made it possible.

As lockdown begins to ease we often hear the phrase ‘back to normal’. As resurrection people this is worth exploring a bit. When Mary Magdalene realised that the gardener who had met her near Jesus’ tomb was Christ risen from the dead, she tried to hold on to him. His reply: ‘Do not cling to me’. He had not been resuscitated, but changed for ever. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Jesus lived again, but in a new way. His resurrection body was different from his pre-crucifixion body. Jesus wasn’t ‘back to normal’.

My sense is that we will discover during the coming weeks that ‘back to normal’ doesn’t quite describe what we’re experiencing, or indeed wanting. The most vulnerable, both locally and worldwide, certainly don’t want ‘back to normal’, and nor does Creation itself.

As we pray our way through this Easter season we are witnessing through our Bible readings the formation of the first Christian community – something quite new. One of the things we’ve been discovering in recent years is that many elements of church life need renewing, and Covid has accelerated this process. I believe we’re at a moment of rebirth, and it’s a bit daunting, even scary; but at the same time also energising, even exciting.

Many elements of church life need renewing … a bit daunting, even scary; but at the same time also energising, even exciting.

Let me give you some practical examples. Mary Copping, Liz Stuart and I, with your churchwardens, particularly at St Paul’s, will testify that many of the rotas which enable our ongoing weekly worship need a rethink in order to meet new times. Coupled with this, a number of folk have been reviewing their commitment and they want to give up things that they’ve previously done. In particular, a number of Parish Visitors have decided to retire from their involvement. We need to recruit new folk to be trained.

We have an immediate and an urgent challenge here at St Paul’s. It’s practical but it’s actually about mission and evangelism. We’re desperately short of volunteers to operate our sound system. In addition we need to train folk to work with John Schulz – who has covered every Sunday since the beginning of lockdown – to become proficient operators of our streaming equipment. Live-streaming has become an essential part of Sunday worship; it’s being requested for baptisms, for weddings and funerals. If we don’t have the volunteers to make this possible then it simply won’t be able to happen, and that would be sad beyond measure. We also need someone to spend about an hour a week managing our YouTube channel.

My aim is that enough sound and streaming operators are trained so that your turn on the rota comes up, say, not more than every six weeks. I commend these challenges to you: for your prayers, and then for the question, ‘Could it be me?’

Some very good news is that your PCC has boldly set out to recruit a part-time Site Manager to work across both our churches. Martin Bennett begins work next Monday. His role will help us to make the very best of our buildings. This is another example of mission and of evangelism. We want to be able to offer our buildings – places that are welcoming, safe, well-run, appropriately equipped – for both church and community use. Here at St Paul’s lots of enquiries are coming in. Hooray! It’s what we wanted.

It’s a long time since I spoke publicly about money, but I need to now. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to read the letter from me and your four churchwardens attached to my email of yesterday.

Because of the pandemic every parish in the land is experiencing serious financial challenges. So we’re not alone. I can tell you from experience that talking about money in this way can cause inward sighs and a sinking heart. That’s not what I want! Before I continue, and most importantly, bold and underlined, thank you once again, for all that so many of you already give, financially and in other ways.

The money we each have is one of the most tangible gifts from our beloved Heavenly Father. Every £ that we possess is actually gift from God. It’s really more like a loan, for our use during our lifetime. Along with your churchwardens, what we are asking, please, is that you make a gift to your church and its daily life. There are three particular ways you can do this:

  • firstly, by a one off gift
  • secondly, by increasing your existing monthly standing order
  • thirdly, by starting a monthly standing order.

In saying this, we’re very aware that some people in our country are suffering dreadful financial hardship. If you or one of your loved ones are among them, simply ignore what I’m saying. For the majority of us, however, as a result of lockdown we find that we have additional money that we haven’t spent during the past year. Think of it this way, in the form of a prayer, which might go something like this:

Lord, I’m deeply thankful that I’ve survived his cruel pandemic. I feel lucky to be alive. I want to express my thanks to you in a tangible way. I want to make an additional gift for the daily running of my local church, which means so much to me. Lord, you gave me all I have. I’m simply giving some of it back to you. I feel good about this. It’s actually a liberating experience.

In conclusion: thankful for Prince Philip’s life of duty and of selfless service, we offer ourselves anew to God, in the name and for the sake of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.