Pastoral Letter 31st January

I wonder how many of us have stopped listening to the news. As someone who regularly preaches and leads public worship, I used to be quite an avid follower of the news, because it’s important to keep up to date so that spoken words reflect current events. Nowadays, however, I find myself avoiding it, because there’s really only one topic and I don’t want to be constantly reminded of the storm that rages around us and, the unthinkable death toll that has now gone beyond 100,000, making us one of the countries that has suffered, and continues to suffer, most from the effects of COVID-19. As for words, it’s impossible to find the words to describe the suffering and heartache that it has caused: one of the times when prayerful silence speaks louder than any words. We have been shocked into silence and, as I hear the cars constantly going by our house in Wychbold, I find myself feeling increasingly insular in a world of unreality, to the extent that I feel like standing on the pavement and shouting, “don’t you all know what’s going on?” They do, of course, but everyone has their own way of coping with it. We seem to be trapped within our own worlds, worlds that we neither like nor appreciate. It seems to alienate us, even from ourselves, in the same way that serious illness does. At the heart of all this are two emotions, loneliness, feeling alone, and fear, plus, for the loved ones of the 100,000, absolute heart break and sorrow. Loneliness, fear and sorrow: emotions from which we, as Christians, are not exempt, just as we are not exempt from all the potential and actual effects of “Storm Covid-19.” Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty, saying to myself, “why aren’t you not feeling stronger as a man of faith?” Perhaps you do too: but such guilt is neither helpful nor relevant. I’m afraid that, as with sin, we’re just like everybody else and, in the eyes of God, that’s OK. We don’t have to pretend that we’re something or someone that we’re not because, before our loving Heavenly Father, it’s fine to be truly yourself. 

No, faith is certainly not a vaccine, but it is a panacea: an ever-present help, however shaky, in times of trouble. I’ve found myself drawn back, once again, to the words of one of my favourite hymns, “In Heavenly Love Abiding.” I couldn’t have said this in the earlier years of my life, but now, bearing the scars of having lived four score years and ten, I find them immensely comforting. 

“The storm may roar about me: my heart may low be laid: my Father’s arms surround me; how can I be afraid?

My shepherd is beside me and nothing can I lack: His wisdom is for ever: His sight is never dim: His love deserts me never: and I will walk with Him. 

Green pastures are before me: which yet I have not seen, bright skies will shine with glory: where threatening clouds have been: my hope I cannot measure: my path to life is free: my Saviour has my treasure: and He will walk with me.”

Yes, we walk blindly through life but what’s wrong with blind faith? I’ve never really known where I was heading in life and what the next day might bring and I still don’t. You might say that, as a pastor and minister, it really is a case of the blind leading the blind! Our eyes may never see each other but our hands and our hearts can still touch. It reminds me of those incredible images from The First World War where long lines of blinded soldiers, with bandages covering their eyes, were holding on to the shoulders of the soldier in front of them, as they made their way through the “blasted earth” of the battlefield. The blind actually leading the blind, but in front was the one man who wasn’t blind, who wasn’t wearing a mask, and who was leading them to the safety and security of home. As far as The Mission is concerned, I am not that man because I’m just as blind as anyone else, but God alone is our comforter and our guide. He is neither wearing a mask nor a blindfold and He knows exactly where He’s leading us: to green pastures and a Haven of eternal joy, peace and love. He will not forge ahead of us and He will not push us from behind: but will gently and lovingly, take us by the hand and lead us on. Jesus is holding your hand right now, just as and where you are, and I promise you, He’s far far closer than any two metres! And He will travel at your speed until you reach your destination. 

St Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:7 “we walk by faith and not by sight.” There is no denying the loneliness of the path that we’re treading right now but we are not, and will never be, alone. Jesus says, “I will be with always even to the very end of time.” (Matthew 28:20) There is no denying the fear that it engenders but Jesus says, as He said to His terrified disciples, “Peace I leave with you: My peace I give you: I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) There is no denying the heartache and sorrow of this moment but, as Jesus said and still says, “Your sorrow will turn to joy: for in a little while you will not see Me: but then, in a little while longer, you will see Me.” (John 16:16) And your tears of sorrow will turn to tears of joy when we see each other again. We may not be as tuned in to The News as perhaps we once were, but I pray that each and all of us will stay tuned in to The Good News: our ever-present help in times of trouble.

God bless you all and all my thoughts and prayers as we steer our boat through these troubled waters. Our boat may be windswept, beaten and bashed, but we’re still afloat.

With much love and blessings from Peter.


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