From the Rector

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

We didn’t expect this when we moved back to Edinburgh and into the Holy Cross Rectory. A member of the congregation has just pointed out to me that I said I wouldn’t change much at first but I have just abolished all services in our Church!

The Covid-19 pandemic is a unique crisis. It has been pointed out that school exams in Scotland have never been cancelled before and I believe that all public worship was last suspended in Scotland in 1328 when the Pope placed the country under an Interdict because of Robert the Bruce. Our Episcopalian worship was last stopped in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden when most of us were Jacobites and supported the rightful King, James VIII.

The lesson from our past is that we will survive, public worship will return, but in some ways things will never be the same again. The Greek word ‘krisis’ means ‘judgement’ as well as ‘punishment’. The present crisis is revealing who we really are. We have all seen the empty shelves in the supermarkets. Some of us are buying 20 packs of toilet roll and fighting in the aisles over the last packet of mince (this really happened in London) while others are getting shopping for self-isolating neighbours and checking the elderly and sick are ok. Jesus said, ‘A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit’, and each of us has the potential to be either type of tree. What is judgement? I would suggest that it is less being told off by the head master and more looking into the mirror of God’s Love and seeing who we really are behind the masks we construct.

The big question for us at Holy Cross is how we can remain together when we are apart; how we can maintain our love in a time of coronavirus (to misquote the title of a book by the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez). The Vestry and I are working at this; there is regular guidance from the College of Bishops but it is very much a work in progress. We have not been in this situation before. In the rest of this letter I will outline some of what we are doing at the time I write (on 20th March). There is one thing of which we can be certain and that is that things will change – on Sunday 15th March we had a great discussion on how we would do coffee after the Eucharist the next Sunday, even buying gloves and disposable cups, but the Eucharist was cancelled!

What we are not doing, for good public health reasons, is gathering for worship. This is particularly serious as we are not doing what Jesus told us to do, take bread and wine, bless, break, pour and share it. You might be feeling a loss at not being able to receive the Eucharist and that is a good thing, Jesus is with us in many ways but his presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist is unique.

I will continue to celebrate the Eucharist on my own, at the request of the Bishop, but, of course, I will not be alone. In the Scottish Liturgy we pray ‘with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven’; the angels and saints are in the Church with me, and I will also be praying for you and our families and neighbours. My intention is to do that at our usual times, 10.30 on Sunday and Wednesday so you have the opportunity to stop at that time and join in spiritually. I will also be saying Evening Prayer in the church when I can and have started ringing the bell at the start of worship to let those around know that the door may be closed but we are still in business praying for them and for the world.

What I began to do at our last Eucharist together was to collect emails so I can send out a weekly newsletter so we can keep in touch. I am preparing the first at the moment with news, prayer intentions and Bible readings we can use at home. If you know anyone who would like to join our e-news list, ask them to send their email address to me at rector.hce@gmail.com (this information will be stored and used by Holy Cross solely for church purposes and you may ask for it to be deleted at any time).

What we do as a Church is not for ourselves alone but for our local community and for everyone. I know some of you have joined groups offering your services to those who are self-isolating, for example to get shopping. It is probably best to join the groups that already exist but some of us at Holy Cross want to make ourselves available to members of the congregation and others who need help. Alan Kirkpatrick, Helen Smith, Angela Gardner and I are ready to do this, and if anyone else under 70 would like to offer their services, let me know. We’ll post more on the weekly e-news and hope to link up with a similar group at Davidson’s Mains Parish Church.

What some churches are doing is live-streaming services so that others can virtually join the priest praying on his or her own, putting up videos of sermons or setting up groups and meetings on platforms such as Zoom and Skype. We are looking into these options but the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) has committed to broadcast a service every Sunday at 11 a.m. which you can see on the SEC website: www.scotland.anglican.org. Not everyone has access to the internet and a congregational email cannot reach all of us. Instruction from the Bishops discourages pastoral visiting during the crisis but I am available by telephone so do give me a ring.

Even in the short time I have been here I have seen how Holy Cross is a close-knit community where people look after each other and I am sure we will continue to do this in this strange new situation. May God bless you all and may we continue to grow as a Christian community even if we don’t see each other. As I said at our last service, Jesus’ teaching gives us a good principle to live by in this crisis: ‘Love your neighbour and do not be afraid’.

With love in Christ,

Stephen

Photograph, the Oratory at the Rectory.

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