Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Friends, Easter is not simply a day, one Sunday in the year when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. Rather, we enter into the season of Eastertide which takes us right up Ascension and to Pentecost.
I had planned that from Ascension Thursday until Pentecost we would gather as a Diocese each day for a Diocesan prayer event. These events were to vary from breakfast gatherings to a gathering of select vestries from across our Diocese to a service of sung evensong and others. These events during that ten–day period will look very different in the light of the worldwide pandemic that is impacting just about every aspect of all of our lives right now.
While much seems uncertain, we have as a Diocese continued in recent times to bear public witness to Jesus Christ. We rightly have sought to give a lead in calling people to follow government guidelines. We continue to pray for heavenly wisdom for all those faced with making decisions as to how best to protect us from Covid–19 and care for those who become ill because of the virus.
We have at the same time sought with all the resources of modern social media at our disposal to provide online worship opportunities, to care for people’s pastoral needs in days of death, and to combat isolation and fear as best we can with all the resources available to us. I am very grateful to everyone – clergy and the people of the diocese who with grace, tenacity and good humour have risen to this challenge. We are not a people overcome by a spirit of fear but a people who look to the Holy Spirit to lead us and anoint us with grace and with strength, with compassion and with power to meet the needs of this hour. However, I believe it is important that we recognise the limitations that are currently ours, for while what we offer by way of worship opportunities online are wonderful, the physical gathering together of God’s people is something to which we long to return.
Meanwhile, in this Eastertide season, there are three areas of church life we must give ourselves to afresh with energy, conviction and with continued good humour.
Firstly, outreach to those on the fringes of our congregations and even those beyond our fringe.
I have encouraged our clergy to use every means to keep in touch with their parishioners and to clearly signpost the public to worship services and assistance both pastoral and practical. Thanks to all of you who are playing a part in this effort. I am also keen that we get Bibles into as many homes as possible so do speak to your rector who may be able to resource you in this way.
Zoom and other communication methods now provide new opportunities to share the gospel message. I’m delighted that one of our Diocesan Evangelists has volunteered to run an Online Alpha Course that all of us in the diocese can point people towards. It will begin on Monday 27 April and run for 10 weeks. You can sign up right now by following this link. Please share widely.
Our Youth and Children’s Department have produced truly excellent resources and we have just begun to post a series of outreach videos entitled, Bible Verses That Changed My Life. May I particularly encourage you to share these encouraging messages on your social media channels.
The second area that I’d like us to focus on over Eastertide is that of prayer.
Day of Prayer and Fasting
Since St Patrick’s Day I have constantly sought to provide resources to enable our people to pray not least for the Palm Sunday hour of prayer that the four main church leaders and others called us to. I now want to call every parish in our Diocese to a Day of Prayer and Fasting on St Marks Day, Saturday 25 April. That day seems an appropriate day for us to set aside time to earnestly seek God as we engage in mission and ministry in this Eastertide and as we cry out to God for healing in our land. Incidentally it will also be exactly three months from my consecration in a packed St Anne’s Cathedral on 25 January 2020. Fasting has down the centuries been a biblical discipline often too much overlooked and to help we will shortly share some guidance on fasting, it’s practice and purpose, on the diocesan website.
Recently one of our clergy contacted all six of the neighbours in his cul–de–sac and invited them to stand at their front door at 8:00 pm and join him in saying the Lord’s Prayer. All of them took part in this simple but powerful act. Do you think we across the diocese of Down and Dromore could conclude our day of prayer and fasting by inviting our neighbours along with our family and friends wherever they are to join us at their front doors as thousands across our Diocese and beyond pray the Lord’s Prayer together? Could we mobilise our entire Diocese to engage in this simple but powerful act?
Finally, the third area that I’d like us to give some focus to in this Eastertide period is that of generosity.
Like you, I’m very aware that some of the people in our parishes will be without work after this pandemic ends and others are already struggling financially. The church needs to be willing and ready to support those in need. Some will be in a position to be more generous than at any time in their entire lives. This is, for those of us who can do it, an incredible privilege. We love and serve a generous God and generosity has characterised God’s people at key times in church history.
When I began to follow Jesus, I was taught the centrality of tithing. I’ve since discovered in church life that there is a principle of generosity by which we should live. In parish ministry churches, parishes and even individuals get to keep what we give away. These are days when the church needs to be generous and we are working with parishes to make giving easier whilst we are unable to meet together. I don’t think we should ever feel the need to apologise for encouraging people to become what disciples of Jesus are called to become; generous people.
I’m so grateful for all that food banks and others are doing to bring relief to many in these days. Thank you, a sincere thank you to all who give to the work of Christ in the parishes of the diocese of Down and Dromore.
So, in this Eastertide May God the Holy Spirit fill his church with the life of the risen Lord, empowering us to do his will and daily live our lives for his glory.
God bless you and yours this Eastertide.
Yours in the love of the risen Jesus,
Down & Dromore