Letter from John 

17th March 2020

Dear St Mary's family,

I am sorry not to have been in touch before. We actually spent most of yesterday planning our response - only for everything to change after the last Government briefing. As you will now probably know, we aren't able to meet on Sundays or at others times during the week. But we aren't planning to disappear! Oh no.
We are going to livestream The Prayer Course at 7.30pm tomorrow night. We will be streaming this via an application called Zoom which we recommend signing up to (it's free!).

This will lead into the return of The Hour of Power, which we pioneered during the 24/7 week of prayer last summer. This includes an opportunity to hear the Bible read out loud and then to pray for the wider picture and for personal needs for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, five days a week. You can join via Zoom and we shall send out links via social media and the website soon. This should provide a consistent way of staying in touch with each other, reminding ourselves of God's word to us and praying for what is obviously an ever-developing situation.

We are going to livestream our services (though this Sunday the talk, worship and message from myself will be pre-recorded as we get up to speed technologically). We will send out more information about this closer to the time.

Lisa and Kirstine are putting together online resources for youth and kids respectively that they can engage with at home and will be in touch with parents soon.
Obviously, I encourage everyone to adhere to the Government guidelines, especially in relation to self-isolating if you have symptoms for the proper length of time and in relation to not engaging in non-essential contact with others. It's not for us to think we are somehow an exception or that Christians will be immune from this virus or don't have to take seriously our responsibility to try and limit the spread of infection.

That said, let us still do what we responsibly can to belong and connect.

I find it interesting that the Holy Spirit has been leading us to explore what it means to truly belong to one another and connect as a community in accordance with our BCI vision. Also, that we have recently had a go at eliminating financial needs and sharing our possessions. It's almost as if we have been given opportunities to prepare for a time like this!

The heart of belonging at St Mary's is being part of a small group. So can I appeal to every member of St Mary's to ensure that they belong to a group near where they live, if they don't already. You will then know that a specific group of people has your back should you need practical and/or spiritual support. We may not be able to meet for a while as groups but we can still meet online and thereby stay in touch and make sure that everyone is OK. This is how you can join a group.
It goes without saying that we have to be especially careful to look after our vulnerable and elderly by finding out if they need help or prayer. If anyone is in need of help, is feeling unwell or overly anxious, you can also contact us at [email protected]  Mental health charity Mind have put together some helpful advice for those unwell, self-isolating and experiencing feelings of worry and anxiety.

We are doing a maildrop to our parish and school offering practical support and prayer. If you would like to help and be part of a volunteer force that aims to meet practical needs in this locality, please email [email protected] 

We are also acutely aware that some of us will lose most, if not all, of our income as a result of the virus and that others struggle financially at the best of times. To donate to our Fellowship Fund please click here and email Sally to let her know that you would like your donation to go to the fund. This way we can help those in situations of financial hardship. This will probably become a vital means of support for some members of our church. Also, do you already know someone in a tenuous position - a creative, a single parent or a student? Would it be possible to offer them consistent support over the next few months?

Let's 'I' [include] until we die

Our citizenship in Christ isn't limited to looking after members of our own church. Let's consider ways in which there might be opportunities for us to display the love of God or extend his Kingdom at this time. People are usually more open when there is a crisis and the usual props to life feel less reliable.
I advise that everyone finds out what Facebook or other online support groups, food banks or other means of community support have been mobilised to help in their area. In particular, it would be good if we could all make ourselves available wherever we live to reach out to our neighbours who are having to self-isolate, check on the elderly on our street and offer to help practically and pray for those in our communities. As I said, we are focusing on our parish and our school and you may want to get involved in this too – if you do please email [email protected] 

Let us pray

We are not in a position of neutrality or passivity in situations like this. In particular, we are called to pray for the transforming power of God to be released. I am confident that livestreamed prayer is as effective as if we were all physically together. Now is the time to engage with the Hour of Power or join a Facebook group dedicated to praying for any in need in our church or wider community, for all those in authority and for a halt to the spread of infection. If you check out our website and Instagram feed you will see ways in which we are still meeting with one heart and mind and calling upon God to help us. We would love as many as possible to fully engage with this.

We believe that God hears us whenever we call upon his name.
We also believe that his peace can guard our hearts and minds against the fear and anxiety that these sorts of circumstances stir up in us. Philippians (4:4-7) are great verses to meditate on as we pray for ourselves and our community.

Given that this is an ever-changing situation, we will be updating the website, our Instagram and our Facebook page as the situation develops so please do keep checking back in for more information.


John and the leadership team of St Mary's.