Along with many other people, over the course of lockdown I have been following what other churches have been doing as part of their online ministry.
I recently came across a very creative series which Belvoir Parish Church in south Belfast has started called Letters to the Post-Lockdown Church. On their YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRfo9UDA6ze2aT1grDLDu4Q) they describe the letters in this way: "We're sending letters to the future! No, you haven't stumbled across a Doctor Who episode - but our Letters to a Post-Lockdown Church series at Belvoir. How can we inspire and challenge the church of tomorrow with the insights of today - and especially, the lessons learnt over these last few months?"
Each week a member of the church writes and reads a letter during the service. I first came across the series when I watched Michael Wardlow read the second letter. In his letter he quoted some words from the writer Fr Richard Rohr:
"We will normally do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart, yet this is when we need patience and guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Change happens but transformation is always a process of letting go, living in the confusing space for a while."
The third and most recent letter written and delivered in last week's Sunday service was by Jonny Watson who was accompanied at one stage in the video by his cat.
In his letter Jonny used as a refrain throughout his piece the famous words from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" as he set out some challenges which the churches could take up.
After a beautiful rendition of The Lord hears the Cry of the Poor sung by John Emmanuel Mullan, Jonny raised the issue of mental health problems and wondered what part churches could have in responding to these. I loved his phrase: "How do we in churches extend our walls and open our doors?"
He also talked about the issue of poverty, framing it in a scriptural context and the clear concern of God for the poor and the ministry of Jesus as he brings the Good News to those in need. In his video letter Jonny surmised that when we move further out of lockdown and the furlough scheme ends it will be only then that we will get an idea of how Covid-19 has impacted not only the economy but many people's lives.
As well as considering the impact of Covid-19 at a local level, Jonny then widened out the discussion to include global issues. In relation to the search for a vaccine and the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to find one, he expressed the hope that if a vaccine is developed it will be a generic one for the good of all humanity and not only for people in wealthy countries where there are the financial resources to pay for it.
In this third letter, Jonny raised the idea of the cancellation of debt of the world's poorest countries to give them some possibility of being able to deal with the present crisis.
I particularly liked his question: "How do we leverage our influence to change systems to bring about a fairer world?"
In the last part of his letter Jonny ended with a reminder that it was in Jesus where people will find their rock and that he will be with them as they face life's storms.
Reflecting on this series of letters, my question is what do we do about the challenges they present?
Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of St John's, Belfast
Apt Bible readings
Some Scripture readings for the week ahead:
Monday - Psalm 34:6
Tuesday - Mark 4:39
Wednesday - Exodus 3:7
Thursday - Luke 4:18
Friday - James 2:17