My own devotions with the Lectio365 app have been taking me through the life of the early church in the book of Acts and there has been much challenge and encouragement within this. But when I step back to reflect more broadly on the experience of these first Christians, whether in Acts or records we have outside of Scripture, it is clear that the followers of Jesus faced some monumental times in their own historical context: the start and development of the church; its persecution and scattering; the growth of the church across the Roman Empire; and then later the threat of further persecution even amidst plague and other catastrophes. Many things stand out across the span of these years: the faith and fortitude of the church to adapt to and engage in the circumstances of their day; the support they drew from one another yet never taking their eyes off reaching out to their neighbour in action and with the Good News of the Gospel; and the constant presence and leading of the Lord Jesus Christ by His Spirit. In our day we are mirroring many of the practices and experiences of the early church in our own challenging circumstances and so I would like to bring some recent updates to your attention.
Firstly, the Kirk Session met on Tuesday 21st July and had discussions on a range of issues. From this I can confirm that we will not be opening the church buildings up for worship or prayer until such time as restrictions are further eased. At present, we are not allowed to sing, sit closer than 2 metres, use the balcony, share in refreshment or extended fellowship, and would have to put in place extensive and restrictive measures including seating arrangements, a booking system and a contact tracing system. In summary, the Kirk Session believe that the arrangements currently in place are sufficient to provide avenues for worship, prayer and preaching, and that to have a service in the sanctuary would not necessarily provide a meaningful experience for those who attend – and many people might be dissuaded from attending at present anyway. Consequently, we will also not be celebrating Communion at the beginning of September.
I realise that this may come as a disappointment to some and the Kirk Session are sympathetic to this, for everyone is missing the benefit of meeting together for worship and fellowship. As such, the Kirk Session is aware that the weakest area of our church life at present is probably in the area of community/fellowship, as this is not easily or regularly met via virtual and/or telephone methods. Consequently, we have asked a team of folks to explore how we might facilitate the development of community within the congregation for it may be some time until we restart services on a Sunday, and even then we will likely still face significant limitations. If you have ideas on how we might develop our communal life at this time, then please do contact us via the church office or the church email address.
In addition, the Kirk Session also agreed to move forward with the plans to adopt a revised pastoral care system. You will remember that we undertook a survey of the entire membership in early 2020 and from this came your feedback that about 60% of home visits by elders were not required. Consequently, a team are now revising the previous districts into “pastoral groupings” and when these are adopted by the Kirk Session your new elder will be in contact, probably around October. Where possible we are trying to provide some continuity, especially where people requested home visits to be continued, whilst at the same time change to a more nuanced system that is responsive to the wishes of members. All elders still see pastoral care as fundamental to their role and the benefit of the congregation, yet some of you will receive that primarily via our Sunday services and midweek activities, whilst others will continue to receive home visits. We would add that if you have a change of circumstances, you are welcome to change how you receive pastoral care and we will keep the system under review as well.
Furthermore, I want to keep you up to speed on wider developments in the Presbytery, for the Presbytery Planning Group are due to bring an updated Presbytery Plan in September. Whilst the impact on the Braes area churches may be little different from last October, there is still the expectation that congregations in each area are to move forward with plans for the future shape of ministry and how to function together as a more tightly knit group of churches. As such, the Kirk Sessions will likely be asked to meet individually and jointly with other Sessions in the Braes to further these plans, and so you will be hearing more on this in the coming months.
In the meantime, however, we have the final weeks of summer and during this time there are a number of opportunities and events coming up. On Sunday 16th August we will have our Moving Up Service for the Sunday School groups, which has always been a source of encouragement as we mark this important transition. On Tuesday evenings, we will continue to have alternatives to a Tuesday Evening Sermon: 11th August – we will have an additional time of prayer focussing on schools, families and the Braes area as the holidays come to an end; 18th August – another quiz night (with a twist!); 25th August – an evening of praise with a YouTube playlist made up of your suggestions. Whilst all these events are only live online, we can provide CD and DVD copies of any of these after the event, so please do let us know if you wish to catch up via these media.
As we navigate our own changing and challenging circumstances – not only due to coronavirus but equally in the midst of a rapidly evolving culture with no interest in the church – let us draw strength and inspiration from the example and experience of the early church. Let us adapt where needs arise (Acts 6:1-7); let us see opportunities amidst difficulty to further God’s purposes (Acts 8:1-8); let us prayerfully support one another (Acts 12:1-5); and let us be attentive and intentionally seeking for the Lord’s leading (Acts 13:2-3; 16:6-10) for He has promised to equip and be with us for the journey ahead (Acts 1:4-8; John 14:15-31).
Peace be with you all,
your brother in Christ,
Tuesday 28th July 2020