Newcastle Coronavirus – A different sort of message

Dear friends in Christ,

Being the Easter people

Our Holy Week journey begins on Sunday and it will be a Holy Week like none of us have experienced before.

I’ve heard some suggest that we should keep Lent going until we can return to public worship. I’ve taken a different view. In the liturgical calculation of Lent being 40 days, the Sundays are excluded. Sunday is always a feast of resurrection.

No matter what we are going through we are Easter people. We carry within us the promise that death has been defeated and sin has been overcome. We are transformed into a people of hope because of the cross and the empty tomb.

Zoom meetings with clergy on Holy Wednesday
We are in the process of making arrangement for incumbents and chaplains to meet in groups with the bishops using Zoom on Wednesday. I am looking forward to being with them around the time we would normally gather in the Cathedral to renew our ordination vows.

Holy Week Services from the Cathedral Youtube
Next week we will continue to stream two services per day through the Cathedral Youtube. They are available around 8.30am and 5.30pm. The services for each of the great three days will be adapted for this streaming format.

If you are streaming services, I draw your attention to the Holy Week ideas promoted by the Church of England.  There is also a link to guidance on spiritual communion.

Safety net and understanding government support
The Diocesan Council, the Newcastle Anglican Church Corporation Board, the Diocesan Staff and episcopal team have been working diligently to develop a safety net for parishes and understand how we can access government financial assistance. Coralie Nichols, our Diocesan Chief Executive and I hope to be in a position early next week to give guidance to clergy and staff as well as Churchwardens and Treasurers.

I want to acknowledge the phenomenal level of work that has been done everywhere across the Diocese to adapt work and ministry for these changed conditions. There has been a moving generosity of spirit evident from the care work in Anglican Care and Samaritans, through to pastoral and spiritual care in parishes, to administrative changes.

Naming our experience well
Someone posted “You are not working from home. You are at home in a time of crisis trying to work.” There is a powerful dimension in this statement. We are nowhere near life as usual with a simple change of work location. So much about the way we live has changed with everyone seeking to sustain their families, their work and their ministry.

I am urging people, whether they are part of the church or not, to take time to nurture their soul –

  • to rest,
  • to reflect,
  • to spend time with words of blessing (like the scriptures),
  • to pray or meditate,
  • to reach out to others with compassion.

I have appreciated this prayer from the Diocese of Lichfield

Ever present God,
be with us in our isolation,
be close to us in our distancing,
be healing in our sickness,
be joy in our sadness,
be light in our darkness,
be wisdom in our confusion,
be all that is familiar when all is unfamiliar,
that when the doors reopen
we may with the zeal of Pentecost
inhabit our communities
and speak of your goodness
to an emerging world, for Jesus’ sake. Amen

The journey ahead – planning and preparing now

I think you will be helped by the reflection on the Phases of Disaster by the Rev Gay Jennings who is the President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. She provides a reminder that a disaster impacts each individual and each community differently.

She refers to the Phases of Disaster model developed by Zunin and Myers.

I am not sure how you would describe the phase we are in as a community at the moment. We have something of a blend of being warned about the disaster and the honeymoon of responding well as a community. We are being warned about the impact of the COVID19 crisis and seeing a largely generous community response to the requests being made of us.

Looking at the model, we will see people oscillating between the emotional highs and lows, which is certainly something I have witnessed. I suspect that there is more oscillation occuring than would in response to a specific event. I am deeply aware that this comes after drought, bushfire and flood. Perhaps, we have witnessed the worst of COVID19 impact in our region and ‘the curve has flattened’ but there is a real possibility of more confronting news of illness to come.

This model recognises that there are two major phases as a disaster begins to pass. They describe these as – disillusionment (where stress and fatigue take a toll and optimism gives way to discouragement) communities which have previously known fracture might witness these again but with greater intensity. Jennings writes, “We cannot afford to get stuck in disillusionment because it will suck the life right out of our leaders and our communities.” We will experience disillusionment in the three or months of social isolation.

Then there is a period of reconstruction which involves creating the new way of life. It has reminders, setbacks and grief as people begin to adjust to new circumstances but also a great focus on growth and opportunity.

Jennings reminds us of something we know well, that spiritual questions always surface even for people who are not religious.

There are many opportunities for ministry throughout the crisis – in these early days it is ministry to those who are ill and anxious as well as to those struggling with loss of community and isolation.

We will have to do some important work together about the shape of ministry look like during the reconstruction phase. There is another significant area of work which we can do and prepare for now – helping people reflect, grieve and reimagine. This ministry will require ministerial wisdom and imagination through which we draw on our distinct ways of seeing into and interpreting the world to assist others to do the same.

I want to encourage people to spend time in reading and reflecting so we can sharpen this aspect of ministry and engagement.

I am finding myself reflecting on the period of exile in the Old Testament where we see the emergence of story-telling, ritual and rhythm as ways of guiding life and celebrating the goodness of God. Through a traumatic period, God’s people recollected and remembered the deep truths of their faith and founds ways of integrating them afresh in a foreign land.

Please be assured of my regular prayers for you all. I attach a briefer form of diocesan prayer list aimed at ensuring that over a two-week cycle we pray for each part of the Diocese.

In Christ’s love,