By now you will be aware of the steps taken and announced by our Prime Minister in the battle to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. We are grateful to God for the wisdom and decisiveness our national leaders have shown in the face of this health crisis. The measures announced will have a significant impact on the life of our nation and church.
Psalm 46 reminds us that whatever the present difficulties of life, the LORD Almighty is with us and will never forsake us. It is a reminder that he rules all things from his dwelling place of infinite glory. And while chaos rages all around us, he invites us to “Be still and know that I am God”.
It is an enormously encouraging word at a time like this. For, at a time like this it is tempting to doubt the strength of God’s hand or the wisdom of his purposes. How could a pandemic and the suspension of Christian gatherings possibly serve the growth of the kingdom? However, we need to remember that just as the gospel went forward irresistibly and unstoppably in the time of the New Testament, so it will continue to go forward amidst difficulty today.
Practically speaking, there are a number of changes that will impact the shape of our fellowship for the foreseeable future. Here are some important things to note:
- First, it’s important to emphasize that church is not being cancelled, it’s merely changing for the next little while. As members of St Stephen’s and part of the global family of God, we will be pursuing fellowship together online. The staff team will be working hard to provide teaching and spiritual encouragement to the St Stephen’s community on a weekly basis. We will have a pre-recorded service that we will live stream through our website each Sunday. You can access that here. We will have some form of online congregational interaction at the usual service times that will enable a sense of community.
We will continue to work through the Book of Acts for the next few weeks. Over Easter we’ll stop to reflect on the message of the cross and resurrection, before beginning on Joshua in Term 2.
- Second, the life of our small group network will take on heightened importance. Currently, groups are unable to meet face-to-face. We highly recommend options for meeting digitally, such as Zoom. Our Bible Study groups will continue to be an important place of spiritual nourishment, support and care. If you are not currently in a Bible Study group and you would like to be, please let the staff team know.
- Third, in terms of other regular public ministries that form the basis of our parish life (MU, FOSS, Youth groups, Children’s Ministry groups etc) these are also unable to continue to meet face-to-face for the foreseeable future. In the case of Youth, more details can be found here.
- Third, the church ministry and administrative staff are continuing to work (predominately from their homes). They are available via phone call or email to handle any questions or concerns you may have.
- Fourth, we have drawn together a Parish Response and Pastoral Care team. During this period, there may be members of the parish who are unable to access basic supplies or services, or who feel anxious about leaving their homes. Our Parish Response and Pastoral Care team are members of our parish who are available to assist in getting supplies and practical care to you. Contact the office if you or someone you know is in need in this way.
- Fifth, we want to urge you to take a moment to reflect on the need for continued financial generosity to the work of the gospel at St Stephen’s, and from us to many parts of the world. Though we will not meet all together on a Sunday the majority of our expenses are unchanged or even increasing during this period. So, as a Parish we are prayerful that by God’s grace and with the continued generosity of his people, we will emerge from this time in a strong position to take hold of new opportunities & initiatives.
- Finally, we want to urge members of our Parish to see this time as an enormous opportunity. Many in our wider community are anxious and unsettled by these times. Many are scared, isolated and afraid. As Christians, we have an enormous opportunity to reassure people of God’s love, mercy and power. We have an opportunity to reassure our community of the eternal hope of the gospel. We have an opportunity to fervently pray for the lost. We have an opportunity to enhance our care and concern for one another. Why not consider if there are friends, family or neighbours you can extend care or spiritual encouragement to during this time. And pray. Pray that in his infinite wisdom and goodness the Lord will use this period as a time of strengthening for the life of our Parish. Pray that he will enhance our trust in Him and our fellowship with one another. And pray that he will give us an unshakable confidence in his sovereign purposes in Jesus Christ and in the power of the gospel. Looking back on God’s purposes in history, it is clear that the gospel has gone forward most strongly, often despite and even through difficult circumstances. Pray that it would be so in these times as well.
The St Stephen’s staff team.