Dear Friends

Quite a number are asking ‘what next’ for church life in the light of Covid19 and all that we are hearing nationally and locally. As you know we get advice from the Diocese of Chichester, but we also get advice from the national church and Government – and not always the same! Ultimately, your safety is your responsibility. However, as a Church we are responsible for mitigating risk and following safe practice.

In consultation with Churchwardens and Safeguarding Officers we have drawn up a Parish Continuity Plan in line with national church advice which assesses risks and the churches capacity to resource services and events during this time of Corvid19 pandemic.

Further to this, the decision has been made that as of Sunday 15th March, and until further notice, one act of worship will be offered in West Wittering at 10am, Birdham at 9.30am and Itchenor alternating 8am with 11am. No refreshments will be offered at these services. All other services, church meetings and church run activities held in the church building, St James Centre and Wittering Church Room will be suspended until further notice.  However, we will continue with children’s services e.g. ‘Littles’ and activities until such time as schools close or we are told to stop them.

It has not been easy to come to this decision, but it reflects my very real sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the congregations committed to my care. We are very blessed to share in active, vibrant and caring churches. I hope the following pastoral and spiritual provisions will give us confidence and encouragement in the days ahead and that Harbour Churches may continue to be a blessing to our communities.

Love of God, love of neighbour – love of self (Mark 12.30 cf)…

This is clearly a time of real anxiety.  Let us not lose sight of God’s love and faithfulness for us and the hope we have in Christ. We can all use this present situation to make the most of additional time at deepen our relation to God in Christ. Be encouraged in prayer and let your prayer be an encouragement to family, friends and neighbours. Look for God’s goodness in the world around and in the acts of courageous loving kindness that will be the blessing of this time. Read a ‘hopeful’ book and maybe avoid ‘those’ newspapers… And don’t forget the love God has for you and the fullness of life which is God’s gift in Jesus.

Don’t get isolated (even if you have to self-isolate)…

This is also a time of great potential loneliness. It’s important to stay connected with other people and to communicate well, even if you have to self-isolate for a while.

So DO pick up the phone and let people know if you have health concerns and especially if you are having to self-isolate. Give folk a call even if you’re well! Please let the Parish Office know and we can be in touch to offer pastoral and practical help and support e.g. prayer, appropriate visiting, shopping, prescriptions and dog walking etc. Very shortly we will be publishing a list of ‘Prayer Phone Friends’. You can call a PPF at anytime to share in prayer and be encouraged – whether you are unwell or not. This is also a situation that reminds us of the value there is in investing time and attention in all our relationships, both within the home (yes – get out the Monopoly!), community and further afield. And remember, a caring voice on the end of the line is so much more meaningful that an email or even a card through the letter box.

Stay physically well…

Turn hand-washing to prayer!  Since we’re all standing at the sink more frequently than usual, why don’t we adopt a prayer focus during our hand-washing routines? Perhaps you could simply pray the Lord’s Prayer or use the time to intercede for a particular person who is scared and vulnerable right now. Currently we can still meet together. We will continue to hold a Sunday service on the Lord’s Day and offer Holy Communion until we are told to stop. Clearly if you are unwell or feel especially vulnerable, you should stay away for now. The writer of Hebrews says: ‘Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, but encouraging one another…’ (10:24-25)

However, before entering the church building or facility we ask that you wash your hands at the place designated and that in church we are careful to keep a ‘safe distance’ (approx. an outstretched arm apart and no less than 1metre). We need to avoid contact e.g. hugs ‘n handshakes and as you know we won’t be having wine at communion. And please no elbow-bumps – they mean you’ll get too close!

The church leadership are continually reviewing the situation and we’ll give you ‘stay well’ updates as we get them.

Stay spiritually  well…

Prescient but true, the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters, one that means ‘danger’ and the other ‘opportunity’. A crisis is an opportunity to deepen our own spiritual lives and also to live more openly the good news we proclaim. People all around us are asking deeper questions than usual, because everything that previously seemed secure is being shaken (health, economy, jobs and their normal routines). What words of hope and encouragement will be our good news for them? Is it time to talk faith?

We’ll also be giving information of inspiring websites and Apps for prayer and spiritual guidance and support. And don’t forget that when we pray to our Father in Heaven we are in fellowship with all the community of saints across time and space.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbours – practically.

There’s so much we can do just as we are to be a practical support to those around us. As a church we are aiming to offer a ‘Helping Hub’ with volunteers able to meet a range of practical needs but please don’t wait – do what you can, how you can, when you can. However, with our church families being 90% over 70 themselves, we are an at risk group and very vulnerable. So, yes, let’s be loving in word and deed but please, please, be WISE in works and do not do yourself harm in trying to help. If you are a less vulnerable member of the church family this is a time when we (‘cause I am) can rise to the challenge of self-giving service.

And last but be no means least….

In the Psalms we read:  ‘The Lord is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.’ (46:1-2). And in Christ, God has promised to make all things – even these present challenges – work together for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). We have a long way to go yet and things may get very difficult for a great many. Nevertheless, we have a Gospel to proclaim and it is good news to women and men in all the world.

I’d like to share with you a testimony that I read in a letter sent out by Emmaus Rd Church, Guildford – whose advice I have found so helpful.

A follower of Jesus in Wuhan, China, where the Coronavirus began, just wrote this on her 48th day locked-down in her family apartment:

“Here is GOOD NEWS from the epicentre of the coronavirus: Our family life has never been better. We’ve learned how to accept from others. Spring here is absolutely stunning. My cooking has got way more creative! We take naps in the middle of the day. We’ve all been reading so much more. We had church by internet this morning. Coronavirus wants you to isolate and stock up and take care of your own first. Instead, look to Him first while you take care of others. In community we can do so much more than we can do on our own.”

At a time of such uncertainty and isolation, it is a blessing to be part of a community – a family – Harbour Churches.  Thank you for the blessing you are – and may God keep you and +bless you.

As ever