What a year we’ve had! The word ‘unprecedented’ may have been overused, but it certainly gives an apt description of what we have experienced since early 2020. The covid pandemic has caused, and is continuing to cause, a huge trail of devastation across the world, with millions of people dying and many others suffering long term health effects from the disease. The knock-on effects have also been life-changing. There were particular pressures on front-line services such as the NHS, but the lockdown regulations also gave great difficulties for families, businesses, teachers, and the elderly. It has impacted everyone in some way or another.
The pandemic – a wake-up call to the church
It has also impacted our churches and it’s interesting to reflect on how we as Churches Together in Shirley have responded. As Christians we know that God is the creator and sustainer of all things and this has been a great source of strength for us during this time. We puzzled to understand why God had allowed it to happen, but one word of encouragement that came through was that, whatever the reason this was happening, it was certainly a wake-up call for the church. We began to go to God more in prayer and God began to speak in specific ways. There were words about needing to learn to live from our inner man, the Holy Spirit within us, now that many of the external things in our usual lives had been removed. There were words about learning to rest in God, and treat the extra time, which many of us had, as an opportunity for a Sabbath. In our own church this word came with a strong exhortation to ‘Be still’ as in the command that Jesus gave when he calmed the storm. Many listened to this and were able to hear God in a new way. We also had to learn about lamenting – with so many sad things happening in many people’s lives, it was a time to lament before God – we found comfort in the words of many of the Psalms, which were written as laments.
As we stood outside on Thursday evenings in the summer of 2020, cheering the doctors, nurses and all the wonderful staff of our Health Service, we recognized a deep appreciation for those who put their lives at risk to serve us. We learned that thanksgiving expands the heart. We cheered other key workers as well, coming to realise how much we depend on people working in all sorts of professions for our well-being. We learned that we belong to each other: that my well-being is tied up with everyone else’s well-being.
It was so encouraging as well to see how much people had a desire to help one another through this challenging time, with many thousands across the country, both within the church and in the local community volunteering to help the NHS, when they were under so much pressure during 2020, and then again when vaccines became available early in 2021. Something of the truth that we are made in God’s image was clearly visible, as we demonstrated the joy of being able to serve one another.
The pandemic also presented challenges to how we meet together as church, a vitally important part of our church lives. The lockdown forced us to look for new ways to do church, and the Internet proved an enormous help for those churches with the technical expertise to take advantage of it. Most of us had never heard of Zoom before March 2020 but it soon became a household, word as we learnt how we could communicate with our families and our church using this wonderful facility.
If my people … will humble themselves and pray
As the pandemic dragged on towards the end of 2020, churches across Southampton were moved to call a Covid Day of Prayer for our nation on 8th November 2020. This was Remembrance Sunday, and we recalled that during the Second World War, when things were looking very bad for our nation, King George VI called us to a day of prayer. Just after this, the remarkable miracle of the escape at Dunkirk occurred, when many British troops were rescued and which changed the course of the war. Inspired by this story, our churches resolved on that day to pray for a turning of the covid situation in our nation, using the words of 2 Chron 7 13-14 as the basis of our prayer.
When I send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
We joined our prayers with many others from churches across the country at that time.
Interestingly, the following month the whole situation took a dramatic turn – from a point of despair, there was suddenly a new hope – work on two vaccines had progressed rapidly and they were now expected to be ready very soon. Previously, reports on vaccines had been far less optimistic with implementation expected in years rather than months. Of course one could easily argue that this happening soon after we prayed was just a coincidence, but it is remarkable that, when we pray, how often ‘coincidences’ start to happen. Whatever the heavenly background to these events, let’s give thanks to God for the effectiveness of the vaccines in reducing number of cases and deaths from covid in our nation.
CTiS in the pandemic
Many of our usual activities were not possible during the pandemic, but we did adapt and manage to have a few online alternatives to our usual events.
Most notably, we put on ‘Surely Shirley it’s Christmas’. This was the alternative to our usual Carols in the Precinct event, which was not feasible this year. It was a video presentation of the Christmas story, which was premiered on You tube at 7 pm Sunday December 22nd 2020. Our churches were encouraged to have this as their Christmas celebration that Sunday. Rev Dan Clark initiated and managed the overall project, with the video itself being produced by Neil Maddock and Martis productions. The programme was compered by Neil and Isobel Singh. It involved several of our churches taking part with musical contributions and dramatic presentations of the Christmas story. These included items from children in our churches and local schools. Local evangelist Steve Lee then encouraged us to consider the significance of the good news of the Christmas story to us in our lives today. The event was well advertised locally and we trust was a blessing to many people. We thank all those who worked hard to make the event happen.
CTiS traditionally takes part in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place in January each year. In recent years we have done this by a prayer exchange, with pairs of churches sending one or two people from their church to visit the other church in their pair, and to pray for them during their Sunday meeting. With restrictions on meeting together, this was not possible this year, so we decided to go online. John Fleming arranged for each participating church to prepare a video of prayers for the other church in their pair, which was then incorporated into the online service of that church. This event happened in January, with several churches taking part. It was an encouraging demonstration of our determination to keep supporting and praying for one another during this difficult time.
Finally the team working in schools has also responded to the challenges of the pandemic. Josh Cook writes, ‘This past year has been quite different. As a CTIS schools team we have been adapting to the changes and challenges of doing schools work remotely and digitally. The schools team has produced an online Christmas Assembly with testimonies from all the main characters of the story for both Key Stage 1 and 2 at Wordsworth, Hollybrook and Shirley schools. Similarly, at Easter we produced an Easter assembly investigating some of the clues of Easter. In addition, schools were given the opportunity to participate in an Easter escape room in their classes to learn more about the Easter story.’
Comings and Goings
This year has seen a few personnel changes in our local churches. Brian and Becky Purchase of St James Road Methodist Church have moved to Bournemouth, where Brain has taken on a post as Hospital Chaplain. They will be missed greatly both at St James Road and by us in CTiS. They made an enormous contribution to the church in Shirley over their time her, being part of several great initiatives: ‘All I want for Christmas is Ewe’, the New Song Café and the ‘Drinks ministry’ for people mourning lost loved ones, to name but a few. Thanks to you both, and may God continue to bless you in your new roles.
Thanks too to Major Teresa Harris, who was the leader of the Salvation Army in Shirely for a number of years, and a great supporter of CTiS during her time with us. She left Southampton in the middle of 2020, and will continue to work with the ‘Army’ in Devon. We wish her God’s blessing in her new position.
Replacing Teresa as leaders of the Salvation Army, are Captains Martin and Victoria Crawford. Taking up their new role in the middle of the pandemic, was no easy task, especially having to arrange schools for their three children. However they have settled in well, and we have been pleased to welcome them into the CTiS community. We pray that God will bless them and their family in their time with us in Shirley.
At the time of writing we look forward to coming out of lockdown soon, and the wonderful opportunity of meeting up with each other face to face. We have learned a lot over this last year, and there is a general feeling that we don’t want to go back to exactly where we were before. We want to incorporate all that God has spoken to us, and go forward in a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit for the new season ahead, loving God, loving one another and loving the world. We join with the prayer used in the 2021 Thy Kingdom Come prayers, leading up to Pentecost Sunday:
Creator God – who formed humanity from dust, breathe in us again. Revive us and sanctify us by the power of your Spirit. Set our hearts on fire with the good news of your gospel.
Report by John Fleming – May 2021
News Update April 2018
Elim Christian Centre
25 years and had been a great supporter of Churches Together in Shirley and District. He was replaced by
Rev Steve Crosse, whose induction service was on Sept 30th. We wish Brian and his wife, Jan, a happy
retirement after many years of faithful service, and welcome Steve to the area. We pray that he and his
wife Erika and family will settle well in Southampton and be a great blessing to the church and to our area.
Christmas in Shirley
Christmas in Shirley is the new name for the Christmas activities run by the churches in Shirley. During
December we had the usual sheep hunt for children in the Shirley shops organized in conjunction with the
Shirley Traders Association. This culminated in the Christmas Craft Event at Shirley Baptist Church on
Saturday December 16th, followed by a glow stick parade, carol singing in the Precinct and refreshments
at the Salvation Army.
There were other carol singing opportunities, in the warm this time, at the New Song Café on Dec 10th
and at the Santo Lounge on Dec 23rd. The Hot Drinks ministry was also provided to people coming to the
Hollybrook Cemetery and the Crematorium on Christmas Day.
This year also saw a new venture, Angels in Shirley, where volunteers placed
small knitted angels at places around the area, which had a Christmas message
attached. The idea was that when people found them they would read the
encouraging message and an invitation to some of the Christmas events in the
area. A large number of angels were put out, and we trust they were an
encouragement to those who found them.