Last Sunday was the second week of our return to public worship. The previous week we had assembled in the church; this time we gathered on the lawn outside, under the shade of the trees. A dedicated team of volunteers had prepared everything for worship, including a sound system and chairs spaced carefully apart. It was a warm day and a gentle breeze provided relief from the heat.
It was also my final service as interim rector. I had badly wanted to celebrate the Eucharist with members of the congregation before I departed, and so, God willing, it happened. For many, it was the first time they had attended a public act of worship in over four months. As I looked out on the congregation and recognized the faces behind the masks, I felt a mixture of joy and sorrow. We had all been on a journey, at first together and then separated by the coronavirus. Except, our separation was not absolute, because in the four months away we were held by the hand of God and united in one spirit: the spirit of love, which knows no distances or spans of time.
In my sermon I said that we had pressed the reset button, because here we all were, but it felt as though we were having to start again. Here is some more of what I said:
“We are blessed to be here, after four months’ absence. This is a new beginning for St Barnabas. But today we seem to be a small congregation. Don’t let that mislead you. St Barnabas is like an iceberg, and today we see the tip of the iceberg, but there is a large part unseen. For reasons of personal health and safety, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are absent today, but they remain present in the Church in their intention one day to re-join us here.
“So let’s work with what we have; the main thing now is to be faithful and to slowly build up the church once more. Our parable today seems appropriate: it is about the “mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.” We are small again. The many things we used to do, we no longer do. In a way, we are having to begin again. So, to make it easier for everyone, I suggest you think small. Think of yourselves as like a small seed. This is not the time for grand sweeping gestures, or bold statements, but of small resolutions, of returning to the simple and humble practice of following Jesus.
“You know, we are more frail than we realize. This is a time to be mindful of one another, to care for and enquire about one another, so that we re-build the church based on the mutual love and support of one another. This is a time when the family needs to come together.”
My time among you as interim rector is now at an end. I joined in June 2019 – it seems a long time ago now – and much has happened since then. One parishioner wrote to me recently, saying, “Your time with us was certainly not boring – building renovations, services in the Great Hall, and then Covid.” These changes have been opportunities to re-think and re-imagine what the church means. I never doubt that God is among us and guiding us – the Covid experience has been, certainly, a test of faith.
I leave with a deep sense of gratitude for my time among you. You have been gracious and welcoming and I have made many friendships here. I know that for many this will be a time of uncertainty, not helped by the memory of past changes in leadership, which I know you have borne with patience and resilience. You are fortunate to have the services of a resource priest, the Rev. Sarah Nelson, to guide you until the new rector comes. You know how to keep going, and you are blessed with a large number of brothers and sisters in Christ who do a great deal of valuable work behind the scenes on behalf of the Church.
I want to make special mention of your new church wardens, Ed and Joanne. Since their election, they have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the job of running the church. In a church of this size, this is no small undertaking, so please give them your full support.
St Barnabas is blessed to have a world class musician in Dr Michael Larkin and I have very much enjoyed our working relationship. Sister Cassandra is a loving pastoral assistant and her heart is in the center of the church’s life and ministry. The same is true for the Stephen Ministers. I am grateful for Beth, who runs the office with love and care, and for Young, our hardworking sexton. Thank you to the members of the Vestry for your leadership and thank you to the previous wardens George and Stephen – without them, none of the improvements to the church would have taken place.
Thank you to all who prayed for me – I needed every one of those prayers! At times it felt as though I was floating on a cloud of prayers which you had offered up, and that helped me to get a good overview of what was going on. What is going on here is the Lord’s work. Sometimes messy, practical, getting-your-hands-dirty kind of work; at other times quiet, meditative, prayerful and healing work. It’s all the same to God.
At the end of my sermon I read the closing lines of a short poem by David Whyte. The poem is called One Day.
“And if my faith is good
then we’ll meet again
on the road
and we’ll be thirsty,
and drink together again
from the deep well of things as they are.”
God bless you.
With love and thanks
Father David Beresford