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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

19 August 2020: Reverend Alice Wood, Vicar of St Matthew’s Church Blackmoor and Whitehill

Change

How do you react to sudden change? Some find it exciting, relish it even, go with the flow types who find routine stifling, at the drop of a hat they pack their bags and head off for an adventure. I’m not one of those. I’m a planner, a thinker aheader, I keep a diary which already has dates for 2021 written in black ink. For my personality type the preparation and planning is part of the fun- what to pack, an itinerary, looking ahead to book and plan the route, Which to say the least, has made the last few months even more of a challenge as a church leader.

My church, St Matthew’s Blackmoor and Whitehill, was ahead of the game with having to change and adapt even before a raging pandemic closed us down. In January 2020 St Matthew’s Church was closed for emergency and vital, restoration work.

Basically our stunning “Waterhouse” building was sinking into the sand at the chancel end. This decline had been noted for many years but had started to accelerate. The whole of one end of the church required lifting and new supports put in. It was a daunting and expensive prospect. I vividly remember sitting with members of my PCC praying for God’s wisdom. Did God still want such large majestic buildings in a small villages? Was it right to spend so much money on keeping this building for future generations when Christ can be worshipped anywhere?

We prayed earnestly and all agreed to go ahead. Our church had a beating heart, it was a sacred place where people were drawn to time of crisis, where many chose to marry, to be Baptised, to worship. And low and behold it all fell into place. The money came from grants, money posted through my door, plus huge, generous donations from people who had loved the church. The Stone Masons moved in and the worshippers moved seamlessly out into Blackmoor Village Hall (which was given to us for free every Sunday!).The number of Sunday worshippers actually grew and we all rallied together.

We were just getting comfortable when Covid hit and churches across the country were closed completely. Yet the work in the church continued as the family firm of Stone Masons self isolated together and just kept working. Once again our time honoured patterns of worship had to adapt and change. We set up Parish Whatsap Groups, an emailed St Matthew’s Matters newsletter, pastoral visits took place on door steps, and services were Live Streamed from my dining room. Grandchildren visited their Grandparents and shouted instructions for how to log onto Face Book from the safety of the garden.

The first week was disconcerting starring at ones face on a mobile phone is not what I had been trained for. Fortunately my sister pointed out “the beauty focus” which dulled the wrinkles a bit ( I know vanity is not very Vicary). The response was over whelming. Seeing beloved, elderly people logging on and sending a thumbs up to the sermon slot had me in tears. Such generous, forgiving people, willing to change and adapt and to meet God in a totally new way.

As the whole country went into lock down, forced to adapt and change to new ways of being the building work on the church was completed, on time, below budget, without a loan to pay back or a dept to be paid. We moved back in on Sunday 5th July without the big celebration we had planned. More change, more need to adapt- no singing, no loving hugs during the peace, masks, hand sanitizer, closed off pews and more sprays and disinfectant in the loo than on the shelves of the supermarket. We came back together to worship; we put Christ at the centre of our lives. We lived his promise to carry our burdens and all the avalanche of change felt far easier to navigate. In the words of C.S. Lewis “ The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing is to hand over your whole self-all your wishes and precautions to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead.”

Amen to that.

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