From the Rector

Dear friends,

When asked to name the greatest difficulty facing a prime minister, Harold Macmillan is supposed to have said ‘events, dear boy, events’. I write this as the coronavirus situation is greatly improved and Scotland prepares to open up in level 2. By the time you read this anything may have happened!

We are, however, looking forward to further easing of restrictions at the end of June. Against this background, the Vestry, at its last meeting, discussed a series of questions sent out from the diocese on our experience of lockdown as a Church. We will not, indeed cannot, go back to the way things were before the pandemic so I thought you might like to know what was said.

The first question was: ‘Have you found opportunities for reaching out to new people since/during lockdown?

At Holy Cross normal ways of communication were removed and, if we were to survive as a community, we had to find new ones. It was these that resulted in reaching out to new people. My first task was to turn the card index of members and their phone numbers into an electronic database including email addresses. The weekly e-news that this enabled was seen as a major way of reaching out as it was circulated way beyond the core communicant members of Holy Cross. In building the database I discovered that the Holy Cross family (those who feel a connection to our church) is wider than we realised and that new people beyond the regular worshippers want to be associated with us.

The e-news started when we were forced to keep in touch in new ways. The worship videos started when we were stopped from worshipping in our church, and the Rector was forced into a steep learning curve on video editing. Again, what began as a way of holding the congregation together in a crisis ended in sharing Holy Cross with new people. People missed their church, and so each video was recorded in the church at Holy Cross, not in the Rector’s kitchen (though a hymn sung in that room by the ‘Rectory Kitchen Choir’ was one of the most popular bits). We started a YouTube channel as a place to park the videos and gradually more people were involved in the videos as readers and musicians. What began with 15 ‘views’ grew to well over 100 during the two lockdowns. A number of people who had never worshipped in our church were now joining us for worship.

Some videos reached out well beyond our core community – to replace the Christingle service we made the ‘Holy Cross Community Nativity’ involving local children, and this was widely shared with 576 views. For some of the groups involved, such as the Beavers and Guides, we were able to give them space on our property when they couldn’t meet in their usual places. In a different style, recordings of traditional Compline sung in Gregorian Chant and our Scottish Liturgy celebrated in Latin for the feast of St Columba reached a wide international audience and made Holy Cross better known.

The second question was: ‘What positive things have happened during lockdown which your church feels they will continue doing?

A large number of positive things were mentioned at Vestry. A renewed sense of community was built up, helped by fundraising for a new heating system. We established a group of pastoral visitors to help those isolated by lockdown, started a rota for cleaning the church, began praying Evening Prayer on Zoom each Thursday and kept in touch via the e-news. All these have continued apart from the pastoral visitors (as there was little need) but there may be a way of developing a lay pastoral team in the future.

Our church grounds and garden took on a renewed importance as we were unable to meet people indoors, and this looks likely to continue, as witnessed by the large congregation starting the Sunday service in the garden on Rogation Sunday.

Someone said that all this means that the best way to build community is to close the church, but the serious thing we will take away from lockdown is the vital importance of our beautiful church building and its grounds for our Christian life and mission. A hope was expressed that the clutter that was removed during lockdown will not return.

There is not the time or the resources to continue the worship videos, but we have discovered that what people want is to be together in a physical place. At the same time, we have seen the enduring importance of the internet and social media, especially Facebook, for reaching out to the world and our local community.

Older forms of communication also demonstrated their worth during lockdown. We started to renew our physical signage to show who we are, including the big red sign by the busy junction, and, after decades of silence, we started ringing our bell when the Eucharist was celebrated, even when no one but the priest could be present. Both of these drew positive comments from our neighbours.

One final development of enduring importance is that almost all of the congregation moved their regular giving online which is a great help for our financial stability.

The third question was: ‘If someone approached you either in person or by online contact, with no knowledge of Christianity but a desire to know more how would you help them?

‘Give them the Rector’s phone number’ was a popular answer but another response was, ‘invite them to a service’. This is actually quite profound as a false, individualistic view of Christianity is popular today: you feel bad, you decide you believe in Jesus, you are then ‘saved’. Jesus did not come to save individuals but to form a community of the redeemed: the Church. He dealt lovingly with individuals in their troubles, but to join his community and sustain its life he gave us rituals – baptism and the Eucharist – which require the use of physical things and other humans. So, if you want to know more about Christianity, go and see the Christians meeting together and doing their stuff with bread, wine and coffee.

From the Vestry discussion it is clear that there are a lot of things we have learned from the lockdowns, but the discussion also moved on to other things we might do in the future based on these priorities. Although we discerned the primacy of worship in our building, it would be good if we could also find ways to explore our faith together. It was also hoped that we could get enough volunteers to open our church for private prayer at least one afternoon a week.

The pandemic has revealed that a good online presence is essential for our mission and so our website needs redesigning – it is not easy to read on a mobile phone. To this one could add that the response to the variety of different services we shared online suggests that, within our limited resources, we could offer a variety of different types of worship. We have already started thinking about a new service for children and families and there was enthusiasm for a Holy Cross pilgrimage to the Abbey of St Columba on Inchcolm and the promotion of pilgrimage and devotion to the early Scottish saints. There is also scope for more volunteers to work in the gardens (speak to Anne Williams and Ian Elvin about this); working on the land is good for our mental and spiritual health and I’m glad to say that already people from outside our congregation have experienced the benefits of this.

This was a very fruitful discussion, and it was good for me to hear other people’s experience of a very challenging time. We stand in solidarity with those who lost loved ones, including members of our congregation, and with those of us whose mental health suffered during lockdown, but it is good to see that the Spirit is active in the darkness, hovering over the waters of chaos. We look forward in hope to the future.

With love in Christ,

Stephen

Photograph, the Oratory at the Rectory.

Read Stephen’s ‘thoughts on liturgy, history and religion’ in his blog

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