Do Not Fear

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter on Monday 23rd March – a day after the first Sunday in living memory, perhaps in the history of the Christian Church in this land, when Sunday public worship was suspended by decree of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

What a strange day yesterday was! As I stood in St. Michael’s early in the morning, I imagined how, down the ages, the faithful folk of Alnwick had, in times of trouble, flocked to their parish church to plead before God for their health, their safety and the well-being of those they loved.

But, in 2020, it is different. Instead of flocking to church, the Church is telling us to stay away – apart from individual visits during the day whilst St. Michael’s continues to be open daily for private prayer, for a time of quiet and as a place of reflective contemplation.

My thoughts seemed even more poignant because this was the week when, if things had been ‘normal’, I would have been dedicating the newly placed memorial stone in our churchyard which commemorates the 136 victims of the Alnwick cholera epidemic in 1849.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like to have been the Rev’d Court Granville, the Vicar of St. Michael’s at that time; when those people – all 136 of them – died within a single month and had to buried and their grieving families comforted.

I wondered if, at that time, the Rev’d. Granville had stood where I was standing thinking of how his predecessors had felt in previous generations when dealing with outbreaks of plague and pestilence.

Our hope and prayer is that Coronavirus might be halted as soon as possible and that our modern day scientific research, medicine and approach to disease control will help in that respect. But the truth is that none of us have lived in such times and so we have no experience to draw on.

And so I wonder if, like me, you might be helped and encouraged by one of the readings for Morning Prayer which was listed for Sunday 21st March – the day the suspension of Sunday services began and yet a reading that had been chosen long before.

Again, in the quiet of St. Michael’s, surrounded by the stones which have soaked up generations of prayer by the folk of this town, I read these words from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43: 1b – 2)

In the midst of all that is happening around us; as we wait from day to day to see what the next development or instruction might be let us hold fast to the fact that God knows each of us by name; that he walks with us through every experience – both good and bad – and that, in all our tribulations, he holds us in the palm of his hand.

On the last Sunday we met together (15th March) our closing hymn at the Parish Eucharist was ‘To God be the glory’. We sang it with such gusto – not knowing that it might be several months before we could do so again. What beet way could we begin and end each day than to give God the glory – safe in the knowledge that we should not fear for he has redeemed us.

With every blessing,

Paul.

PS: Sadly Government instructions now mean the church is no longer open even for private prayer

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