What a crazy way to start the New Year in another Full Lockdown!
It really is the most incredible and stretching time for all of us and for the life of SMB.
I want to encourage everyone, because I do think that as a church we are all doing well in ‘making the most of every opportunity’ (Colossians 4v 5b Ephesians 5 v 16).
Covid -19 continues to shape church life and we will remain online for several more months. The infection rate is still too high and so it is unwise to open the church building until the Vaccines have been properly rolled out to as a many people as possible.
We have recently started Wednesday Communion services at 10am on Zoom.
We continue to offer daily prayers on Facebook, this has been very welcomed, and I feel sure will continue well beyond the pandemic. Our Sunday pre-recorded services continue with a good deal of people engagement. We continue to have excellent Interviews and many other online opportunities.
Christmas at SMB was a good balance of spiritual and practical outreach. We have enjoyed many ‘holy moments’ even if things have been completely different from what we would have done in normal circumstances.
Our lit ‘Star’ on the church tower, our ‘Tree of Hope’ and the ‘Nativity’ in the church porch have been hugely popular and greatly enjoyed.
The SMCC (St Mary’s Community Centre) work in sending presents under the tree to the most needy families, food hampers for Christmas Day and the weekly opportunity to collect free food from the centre have all been life giving and incredibly well received.
The online: Quiz, Guest Carol Event, Carols and Readings Service, Messy Church/Dream Factory Christmas, Zoom Nativity, Christmas Morning Service, News Years Day Zoom Service and some creative Christmas outreach amongst young people and adults all amounted to a tremendous and well attended program over those Christmas weeks.
Financially we were also able to help people through the Rector’s discretionary fund and a one of private gift of a £1,000 to be used for those most in need over Christmas.
St Joseph’s on Newton Leys did some wonderful creative Christmas outreach and I so enjoyed attending Carols with a Milk-float that Ben had wonderfully organised.
Carols on our Doorsteps via Premier Christian Radio also happened in the streets of our City. We loved this on Whalley Drive and once again gave opportunity for the development of positive outreach in the street.
The Alpha Course concluded over Christmas and was very fruitful for all who attended it – we are so blessed to have the team that runs this and so grateful to Darrel who is such a good leader for this evangelistic platform. Another Alpha Course is starting online in February – do be thinking and praying who you could invite to attend this.
Our Pastoral Team headed up by Diane Young have been very busy during the pandemic and many people are being cared for, kept connected and prayed for. As Clergy we have also been extremely busy with funerals and the funeral of a 12-year-old was probably the most difficult service we have conducted for many years. Please pray for all those that are taking funerals as the number is increasing and sadly now many are Covid related deaths. In relation to this we are opening up ‘Gentle Spaces’ which is an online pastoral support opportunity for those who are grieving.
Prayer has always been important but has been something which in many of our lives has become an increasingly vital key in remaining strong and faithful during this last year. Prayer in essence is our relationship with God. Spending time with Him, waiting on him, speaking with Him and Him presencing Himself with us. Prayer changes us as we catch what is on the heart of God by increasingly being with Him and by being more aware of Him. Collective prayer at 8.30am on Facebook has seen an increase as many of us use this to create a structure to the first part of these Lockdown days. I love the way that as leaders we all lead it differently which keeps it fresh and real. It is so interactive and so relevant to daily life. I realise ‘Facebook’ is still anathema to some for all sorts of reasons but perhaps you could join in just for this season? Praying together brings unity, support, understanding and inspiration.
I have been in regular contact with Shana Kreusch our new Worship and Media Pastor – she and her family now have Visa’s and Passports. They have all had Covid-19 tests and are all negative. They will fly in (hopefully, prayerfully) on Friday the 29th of January. They are planning to spend quarantine with relatives in Reigate. Peter and Megan Landry have generously invited Shana and Carl to live with them after quarantine until they find their own home in MK. Shana will start work on the 1st February and will work from her home base (as many of us are having to do), please pray for her as she settle into her new and quite huge/complex task in both the realms of Worship and of Media.
We are in the process of appointing a new Curate and we interviewed by Zoom on Monday the 11th January. This interview made it very clear that the candidate was the right person and so we have appointed Rachel Ciampoli to the Clergy team here in MK. This Curacy is being offered by Oxford Diocese because SMB is now regarded as a Resourcing Church for MK. We are hopeful that Rachel will at some point plant a church in MK in their 3-4 years of being here. Rachel and her husband Dwight will join us in the summer.
I am very encouraged to let you know that we now have several new areas of ministry opening online – all of which relate to our overall vision of wanting to resource Church, Community and City. We have ‘Word and Spirit’ which is an online panel-based discipleship program once a month – our first one was on the theme of ‘Mental Health’ and was extremely helpful and well attended. This involved health professionals and some who have experienced mental health difficulties themselves. It has been backed up by signposting people to specific help agencies of issues raised for people. We have many other important and exciting themes for this discipleship series over the coming months.
Another new online resource is ‘SMB Ask us anything’ -the opportunity for anyone in our church and community to ask any question and Peter will bring an answer! The first one is now available online and is excellent.
We also have the CPAS ‘Growing Leader’s Training Course’ which started in January and we know as a church (because we have run it before) that it can be extremely fruitful for people to complete. Paul Pavlou is leading this with a strong team.
Easter is now being planned and you will see on Facebook that adverts for some of what is happening is already appearing! Do offer your help and encouragement to different members of the staff team in making these opportunities the best we can in sharing the message of Hope. One of the may things on our program will be a night-time vigil from easter Saturday evening to Dawn Communion on Easter Day. If you have ever been to such a vigil you will know that it can be an incredibly deep spiritual experience. Each hour from 10pm-7am will be lead by a different person, it will be on Zoom and anyone can participate from the SMB family.
Thank you all for helping so many people feel connected by phoning, texting, emailing, writing, zooming, facetiming, whatsapping, messaging, cooking, shopping, or dropping off medications. Together we can flourish. A connected community is a safer and stronger one. Isolation is a great danger in all kinds of ways.
May God be with you as you continue this marathon that we are all running.
May he protect, provide, and bring peace to you and your household.
Rev David McDougall
Rector of St Mary’s Bletchley