Reflection by the Reverend Trevor Jamison for the
St Columba’s United Reformed Church
Annual Church Meeting, September 30th 2020
At this point in our agenda we have an item which is titled, ‘The Life of Our Church 2019-2020.’ Normally, that would be a set of reports from the different groups that comprise the ongoing life of the congregation, but, of course, times are not ‘normal’. This delayed meeting is taking place at the end of September, and these reports cover the period from April 2019 to March 2020. So, as an alternative, I’m offering a reflection about this church’s life, thinking about where we were at our previous Annual Church Meeting, in April 2019; where we are now, at this meeting; and where we will be at our 2021 ACM.
Most people still use the terms BC and AD: ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’, or ‘The Year of Our Lord’; these intended to declare two eras in world history, both defined by the birth of Jesus Christ. Thinking back to April 2019, this church was living in the BC era; not ‘Before Christ’, but ‘Before Covid’.
In an Elders Meeting after the morning service. We gathered in a semicircle in the church, as others drank their teas and coffees in the church hall. We discussed whether to postpone that coming week’s Church Meeting, given growing concerns about Covid 19, and whether it might impact upon the North East of England. We decided to press on, emphasising that those with concerns were absolved from any obligation to attend. As it happened, events, and government intervention overtook us; the meeting was postponed.
Since then, no church activity has been left untouched, Sunday after Sunday and every day between. This includes not only our ‘in-house’ activities, but those that reach out beyond the congregation into the wider community, and our ability to host other groups’ activities in our premises. And as well as that, members, adherents, families and friends of this congregation have experienced lockdown and shielding, and continue to be constrained about where and with whom we can meet, and what we can do together. If we look back to our previous ACM and compare, it’s hard to avoid a profound sense of loss.
That’s where we were then. Where are we now? Well, we’re still here; still functioning as a church. After all, you have to be alive in order to be able to look back.
Where are we now? We’re online, as for example, in this meeting. We have gone online for Elders Meeting, Church Meeting, worship, Bible study, and a whole host of other meetings. In the calendar year 2020 we have comfortably surpassed the record for the number of Elders Meetings in a year, and there’s still three months of the year still to go.
As well as being online we are on the line – the telephone line – keeping in touch, staying in conversation, being a fellowship. And we’re achieving this sense of community with some people who had been more marginalised in our ‘BC’ church life because they could not get into the building on a frequent basis.
We’re also back in the building, at least for worship on Sunday mornings, at least for the moment. If we thought it was hard to close the doors and walk away from the building, we also discovered that it takes a lot more work, involving a lot of people, to get things up and running again, as, for example, those who moved the chairs from the church to the Lishman Hall could tell you!
So, if comparing ourselves to the 2019 ACM involves a sense of loss, then, I suggest, here at ACM 2020, we’re in a period of loss and gain. Which just leaves the question, ‘Where will we be when we get to the 2021 ACM’?
God knows! And I mean that in two senses. First, yes, God does know where we will be in 2021. Ultimately, things are in God’s hands, and that is the basis of our hope for the coming year. The good news is that it does not depend on us, though that does not excuse us from trying to do what we believe God wants done in current circumstances.
Second, ‘God knows’ in the sense that we don’t know how things will be by the next Church ACM; too many things are out of our hands as far as that is concerned.
One of the parts of church life that is making a come back is our church magazine, though in a different format from previously; now primarily an online publication, with some paper copies for those that require them in that format. In the From the Minister article, I write [SPOILER ALERT!] that “I suspect we will never return to a magazine that is primarily a printed item. I also suspect other aspects of church life that have changed in the last few months will never return to being [exactly] the same either. In fact, church is never going to be [exactly] the way it was before, which is both frightening and hopeful.”
It’s frightening to think how much of our 2019 ‘BC’ ways of being and working have changed in such a short time – what we’ve lost. Yet it’s hopeful to discover that in a changing world churches too can change, yet live – gains as well as losses. Not only that, God knows, we might return, changed in ways that enable to look forward to more effectively sharing with others the love of God that has been made known to us in Jesus Christ.