They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This is how we understand ourselves, at our best. The gospel proclaimed, the needs of our community addressed, meals shared, people coming to faith in Christ – worship, witness, and service. All of us, together.
However, here we are, in our homes, on our screens and phones, venturing tentatively into the world around us. Wary of any kind of physical contact, washing our hands at every turn.
There is great pleasure in sharing a meal with friends, and worshipping together, in silence and in song. I love incidental meetings, bumping into someone in the shops, or the street, and that almost never happens now. Now, every meeting is planned; we sit, scheduled and sequestered, behind the screen.
Some of us are inclined to see this time solely as imposition; the strictures of governments and Synod add to this feeling. We can’t do things the way we want to, the way we always have. It is easy to feel disgruntled, especially when a lot of what we knew seems uncertain in these times.
It’s easy to think that the patterns of our church life are the best (the only?) way to be the church. If we can’t gather to worship, are we church? If we can’t have bible studies or visit friends, are we failing as disciples? Our heads know this isn’t true, but perhaps a bit deeper, inside ourselves, we wonder.
And there are certainly deeper concerns. People are at risk in their homes, which should be the safest place to be. Some face violence, some find being continually alone almost intolerable, some are physically ill or disabled, and need the care, the tangible presence of others.
How are we caring for those who are most in need of hope, and help? How are we offering the gospel, with our hands and voices? How are we making contact, sharing a meal, or inviting them into our new community?
The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church is able to live and endure through the changes of history only because its Lord comes, addresses, and deals with people in and through the news of his completed work. Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist. Basis of Union, Para.4 What an opportunity we are offered!
We offer the gospel, and worship and gather, and serve in different ways, not despite our circumstances, but because of them. We gather, and pray and worship across the internet - across the world - and people are sharing in that for the first time. People who would never walk through a church door are signing in through Zoom. People from small congregations are gathering with new friends each week. People for whom the journey to worship, or small groups is too onerous, emotionally, or physically, are able to share with others about their faith, and even their fears.
We are becoming more aware of how to meet and serve our neighbours – not the theoretical ones, but the people who live next door. The gospel inherent in Jesus Christ is not static. It doesn’t tolerate isolation. The Spirit of the risen Christ is not constrained; it finds its way, to acquit, give life and create anew.
What are the gifts from this time, that we will carry with us, into the next season of our faith? What have we learnt about hospitality, silence, and community which we will need to remember as we emerge from this sheltered time? What is the Spirit saying – has this time better taught us to listen?
Rev. Simon Hansford, Moderator