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  • Canon Paul Black

A radically different kind of church


Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of further measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Anglican Bishops of NSW/ACT have been in consultation with each other about the wisest way to reflect the care and compassion of Christ for all people in these challenging times.


As a result, they agreed that no public church services will be held in Dioceses in NSW and the ACT until further notice. That includes, of course, our Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn.


“I want to emphasise that the temporary cessation of public services does not mean the end of ministry by Anglican Christians in our Diocese, wrote Bishop Mark Short. “This is the beginning of a season to show Christ-like care for our neighbours and develop new ways of connecting with each other.”


The situation is the same in England. With our church buildings closed the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called for churches to become a “different sort of church” in the coming months as we to face the challenge of coronavirus. They said that far from having to “shut up shop”, we must face the challenge by becoming a radically different kind of church rooted in prayer and serving others.


They urged congregations to be in the forefront of providing practical care and support for the poor and the most vulnerable during the crisis. “Being a part of the Church is going to look very different in the days ahead,” they wrote.


“Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.” We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly offer practical care and support.


St John's church will remain open for private prayer and reflection during daylight hours and as a faith community we are going to explore different ways of connecting with each other by various means, e.g by phone, email, web resources, Facebook facebook.com/stjohncanberra sermons posted online and live streaming. On our website www.stjohnscanberra.org we will put up resources and other information.


The parish office will be closed from Monday. You are encouraged to ring the office on 6248 8399 and leave a voicemail message or send an email to admin@stjohnscanberra.org If the matter is urgent you can contact me on 0416 159 814.


Bishop Mark says:

What about Home Groups / Youth Groups / Children’s Ministry / other mid-week meetings?

If you can ensure that non-public groups meeting in homes are able to operate with appropriate social distancing (e.g. in a large space maintaining a 1.5 metre distance between people) then it may be possible to continue to meet in this way. Youth groups, children’s ministries and other mid-week meetings are considered to be public gatherings and therefore they ought to cease. Rectors can exercise discretion in deciding which small groups will continue to meet.


What about our Annual General Meeting?

We have no mechanism to have a “virtual” AGM. Our AGM will be postponed and our elected office holders (current parish councillors, wardens) will remain in office until such time as it is possible to elect their successors. Practically speaking this means that the current parish councillors, wardens, clergy appointment board members and Synod representatives continue in office until further advice is provided.


What about Weddings?

While highly disruptive and understandably distressing for all involved, weddings may only proceed with the bridal party and their families and the minister officiating.


What about Funerals?

Unfortunately, funerals held in crematoriums, chapels or church buildings can only include immediate family members. It is suggested that families hold a more public thanksgiving (i.e. memorial service) at a later time, when it is possible to gather.


What about St John’s Care?

Unfortunately, staff and volunteers at St John’s Care may have been exposed to someone who is potentially carrying the COVID19 Coronavirus. That person has now been tested and has been cleared. St John’s Care will remain closed until Friday 20 March. The Centre will re-open on Monday 23 March.


Looking ahead

We will keep you informed with updates as we seek to develop pastoral care strategies and plans to help you stay in touch with one another.


In our gospel reading for this Sunday (John 9:1-41) Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world”. You will find a short reflection on this reading below. The other readings set for the Fourth Sunday in Lent are: 1 Samuel 16.1-13, Psalm 23 and Ephesians 5.8-14.


Please join with those around the Diocese in praying that the light of Jesus might shine in and through us, for the glory of God and the good of God’s world.

Sincerely

Canon Paul Black

19 March 2020

The journey from unbelief to belief


The story of the man born blind is essentially a faith story. The climax of the story is the man’s profession of faith in Jesus: ‘Lord, I believe.’


The man was suffering from physical blindness. At that time a disability like that was seen as a punishment from God for sin. Hence, the apostles’ question: ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents?’


Jesus didn’t go along with the view that suffering was a punishment for sin. He saw suffering as part of the human condition, and used it as an opportunity to show the compassion of God for his wounded children.


But the Gospel story is not really about physical seeing. Jesus did not come on earth to give us physical sight, but the kind of ‘sight’ that enables us to perceive heavenly realities. The story is about how a man came to believe in Jesus.


His journey from blindness to sight symbolises the journey from unbelief to belief, which is a journey from darkness to light. St Paul tells his converts at Ephesus; ‘Once you were in darkness, but now year are light in the Lord’ (second reading).


Healed quickly of his physical infirmity, the man experiences a gradual spiritual illumination. There is a beautiful progression in his understanding of who Jesus really is. His understanding went through three stages.


At a first stage, Jesus was just a man, though a wonderful man. He referred to him as ‘the man called Jesus’. He went on to declare that Jesus was ‘a prophet’, and clearly a man of God. Finally, he came to understand that human categories were not adequate to describe him. He called him ‘the Lord’. In other words, he professed the divinity of Jesus.


It shows that the more we know about Jesus, the greater he becomes. It’s also worth noting that the more the man was called upon to defend his faith, the stronger and deeper it became. This is one of the most remarkable aspects of faith – it seems to thrive in adversity.


The story shows that there’s a blindness worse than physical blindness – the blindness of unbelief. While the blind man opens more and more to the light of faith, the Pharisees, who are physically sighted, refuse to believe in Jesus and remain in darkness.


Physical sight is a marvellous gift which we should never take for granted. But faith is more precious still. Without faith there is a sense in which we will always be in the dark.


In giving sight to a blind man Jesus shows that he is the ‘light of the world’. To believe in him is to have an unfailing lamp for our path. We show that we are following his light by the way we live. St Paul says that the effects of the light are seen in ‘goodness, right living, and truth’ (second reading).


There is a clear baptismal dimension to the story. As the blind man got sight by washing in the pool of Siloam, so we are enlightened by washing in the waters of baptism.


- Flor McCarthy SDB from New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year A

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