The way ahead?

June 27, 2020

You may have heard that places of worship are going to open on 5th July, and you may well be wondering when our churches are once more going to open their doors on Sundays. The short answer is, “Not yet” … for reasons that I hope will become clear.

Even when the churches are able to hold services, the number of people who can be there will be very limited. We will not simply be able to welcome in anyone who turns up. We have spent the past couple of weeks at St Michael’s establishing strict hygiene protocols, working out how many we can sit at a safe social distance of 2m, and carrying out a full risk assessment. (We are carrying out a similar assessment at St Aubyn’s next week, in conjunction with the library.) At St Michael’s we are also working out how to livestream our services for those who cannot be there.

It is important to understand that even should we gather, services will for the time being be very different. There will be no singing, no sharing of the peace, no refreshments, no Holy Communion. We cannot produce notice sheets, hand out literature, even have Bibles on our seats. We are still waiting for further guidance from the Church of England but what we can do will be restricted for the foreseeable future. Do we really want to meet in such circumstances?

However as we search for the way ahead, it is important we have a common vision of where we believe the Lord is leading us. So I am going to ask some questions, and I really would value your answers, so we can start to see how and when we might think about reopening. Please do spend a few minutes thinking through your answers, and let me know by e-mail, phone, message, letter – it will be very good to hear from you!

What has been good about online church you want to keep on doing?

What is it about online church you don’t want to continue?

What is it about church before lockdown you miss?

What is it about church before lockdown you don’t want to return?

Hopefully the more answer these questions, the more we will understand the Lord’s good, pleasing and perfect will. In the meantime, keep on watching online. It is always great to see you!


Two months in….

May 13, 2020

It’s nearly two months since we stopped meeting in a building. It’s been a difficult and disorientating time. We have faced challenges we have never experienced before, from the loss of loved ones to struggles with unfamiliar technology. We have had to confront fears of the unknown, and make brave decisions about when to leave the house and why. Some of us are feeling particularly isolated, and some are struggling with physical and mental health. 

But the work of St Barnacles, and indeed St Aubyn’s, goes on! We have:
Sunday services – either online at 10.30am, led by myself or by phone, led by Revd Sue
Small groups – meeting on a Monday and Thursday evening
Junior church – next meeting this Friday afternoon
Morning prayer – every Tuesday at 9am at St Aubyn’s
Open Church – at St Barnacles from 10.30am to 1pm on a Tuesday, and 2.30pm on a Thursday at St Aubyn’s
Quiz nights – the next one is happening this Saturday at 7.30pm.
Monday to Thursday broadcasts – to encourage and strengthen us in our faith

That’s quite a list isn’t it? So I want to thank everyone who is taking part and contributing to all these events. My prayer at the moment is that we wouldn’t see these as stopgaps but we would have more and more a culture of inviting others to join in (with appropriate safeguards, of course), and that we would encourage each other to stay engaged. I recognise as the months pass by it is easy for enthusiasm to wane, or find other online services that are definitely rather more polished and professional!

What of the future? Well, I would very much ask your prayers for the leadership team as we meet tomorrow – 14th May – to take stock of where we are at the moment, and to start planning for the future. Right away, it needs to be said that whatever we decide we will exercise utmost caution, and follow diocesan guidance wherever possible. It may be many months before we can meet as we used to, and how we meet will be very different from the old, familiar ways. 

Some will want to meet sooner, others will have grave concerns about going to church at all, and it is so important that beyond our online events we all keep talking to each other. In this respect I would continue to commend the work of the Pastoral Action Team, who are doing a great job of supporting the church family. But whether you are a regular member of St Barnacles or not, please keep in touch. And even though we may not be physically together, spread the word! The church of Jesus Christ is definitely still very much alive in Devonport and Stoke.

 


Letter to the church

April 26, 2020

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It is strange to think that yesterday (April 25th) would have been our Annual Parochial Church Meeting. We would have received reports on the life of the church in the past year, elected churchwardens, PCC members and deanery synod representatives, considered the church’s finances and taken note of the revised electoral roll. It already seems like a world away.

But nonetheless I want to mark the occasion by doing what I do every year – namely to give thanks to so many of you who have served so faithfully in so many ways over the year, some in official capacities, some in small, unseen roles that really only the Lord knows about. I want to thank all those of you who worked so hard in making the Open Church project such a success. I want to thank you for your welcome to Revd Sue and acknowledge her contribution to the life of the church. I want to thank you for your positive and constructive working with St Aubyn’s and it has been so good to see how our partnership there has been developing.

And I know that many of you are still serving in so many ways even in these strange and difficult times. I want to thank the Pastoral Action Team for their hard work in caring for the church family; for the many who are so faithfully praying; for those who are making a real effort to get to grips with strange and new technologies. 

I also want to thank you for your generous giving. It is remarkable how each year we see the Lord providing for the needs of the church, and that is only because so many of you show such grace in such sacrificial contributions. I am aware, as I write, that this morning would have been our Annual Gift Day. We will need to keep careful watch on our giving over the next few months. I know that for some it will not be possible to give as much as before; however we still have financial obligations as a church. So if you are able to think about making a gift, or increasing your giving, please do let me know.

In this strange world of lockdown I am also grateful for so many who have responded so positively to the online services, and engage with the small groups and my daily broadcasts. Online worship can never be a substitute for the real thing. However it is humbling to see just how many people engage and I can only trust that the Lord is still using His word to change lives even in such difficult circumstances.

The one thing we must understand is that church life will never “return to normal”, even if normal ever existed. Church from now will be very different, and we must prayerfully and together work out how the Lord is leading us on, and what it will mean to be the body of Christ in a community that will have been deeply, deeply affected on every level by the pandemic.

In the short to medium term it may be that lockdown will be eased, although with a second wave this relaxation of conditions may soon be revoked. However many of our congregation fall into the self-isolating category, or like myself into the category of those socially distancing. Even if we hold services at church, we will need to continue to invest in our online presence, and we need to plan now for how we do this. This will involve investing in new technology and in learning how to use this effectively, and it is likely that even after the crisis is fully past we will continue to develop an online presence. 

There will also be great changes as to how we meet to worship. We will need to observe good hygiene, so we will need gatekeepers to make sure everyone washes their hands on exit and entry. The cleaning rota will suddenly take on far more importance. We will not be allowed to hold paper so everything – readings, notices, liturgies – will be on screen. How practically we will take Holy Communion, that is somehow I have not even begun to work out. 

Some of these changes will no doubt continue into the long-term, and there will be some changes we can’t even yet anticipate. I believe that when this pandemic is fully over (and that may be a matter of years, not months), there will be such a hunger for human contact and for physical worship we may well see even more people use our buildings. That is why I believe we need to press ahead with our plans to extend the kitchen (which we should note wasn’t able to meet hygiene regulations even before the lockdown) and to provide an additional room for children’s work and prayer. 

One very simple reason why we cannot “return to normal” is that we have lost, and may continue to lose, saints who have gone to glory. Again, we will probably have to wait until lockdown is fully lifted until we hold thanksgiving services for those who have so far had only the briefest and smallest of funerals. But I very much hope and pray that at the same time our online presence will eventually lead to others joining us, and we have to remember that no matter what happens Jesus is still Lord of His church, and there are plenty of chapters yet to be written in the story of St Michael and St Barnabas.

Right at the beginning of the outbreak the Lord led me to Ezekiel 37, and the vision of the dry bones. If you have ploughed through the previous 36 chapters, you will see there is an awful amount of death and destruction in this book, and apparently very little hope for God’s people. And what is so striking is that when the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Can these dry bones live?”, Ezekiel doesn’t say, “Of course not, they are dead.” He says, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. We too need to renew our faith and trust in the resurrection power of Jesus, and trust that He can still bring life out of death. 

So as I have been walking the streets of Devonport and Stoke, I have been praying for that same resurrection power to work in our local communities, that through the sharing of his word and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we will once again see new life, and men and women, boys and girls, coming to a living faith in Jesus as His Saviour. 

In the meanwhile it seems to me that even though the physical and mental toll of this crisis is great, we need to stay faithful, to keep praying and reading our Bibles, and to meet for worship wherever we can. I know this isn’t always easy, which is why more than ever we need to be the body of Christ, caring for one another, encouraging one another, and bearing one another’s burdens. 

This is why, finally, I want to thank all those who provided such love and support to myself, to Lynda, to Lizzy and Mary over the past year, and especially in the past few weeks. Without this love and support neither I nor Lynda would not have been able to continue the ministry the Lord has given us here. May the Lord bless and keep you all, and I look forward one day to seeing you all again “on the other side”.

Revd Tim Buckley

26 Apr 20

 


A reluctant farewell

January 25, 2020

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This wonderful instrument was donated to the church many, many years ago and has inspired so many to praise and worship. I have enjoyed every minute of playing it and hearing its rich sound fill the church.

However this grand old lady is now over 120 years old, and is need of a complete restoration. An expert from Steinway and Sons has come and carried out a detailed assessment, and estimates that the cost of a full restoration would be in the order of £45000.

So with a very heavy heart, the PCC decided to sell the piano in a specialist auction in London. We know this will be a difficult decision for many, yet we really have no other option. So towards the end of March, we will be saying a reluctant farewell, but with grateful thanks in our hearts for all the enjoyment and inspiration that this piano has given us.

In the meantime we will be looking for a suitable, quality replacement. We will probably be looking for something electronic with an upright action, but we will let you know more details as we have them.


Open Church – one year on

December 17, 2019

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At the beginning of the year a group of us decided to see what happened if we opened the church every Tuesday. We had no idea who was going to come through our doors, or if our plan was of the Lord. So we waited nervously and we prayed…

Over the past year we must have had 70-80 people through our doors. On average we see 20-30 people, some of whom have started coming quite literally off the street. We are building a presence in the local community we never had before, and we are engaging in all kinds of conversations, and discovering all kinds of needs.

None of this would be possible without a fantastic team who have grown closer to each and to the Lord over the past year, and we have seen some discover gifts they never realised they had. Today they excelled themselves by cooking Christmas dinner for 29 people, and nobody went away hungry! We finished the meal with a short carol service, and, as always, we collected requests for prayer we then shared at the end of the day, at 3.30pm.

We don’t know where the Lord will take this work in 2020, but it’s already been an amazing journey. And I mustn’t forget to mention that once a month, if we weren’t busy enough, we hold a family part from 4pm to 6pm on Tuesdays, and we regularly get about 7 children, none of whom regularly come on Sunday.

So Open Church one year on is becoming our main mission and outreach here at St Barnacles. If you aren’t yet part of our story, do join us. The Lord has given us a vision for SLOW church – safe, loving, open, and welcoming to all, and you too are very welcome to be a part of it.

Open Church is now taking a two week break, but we will back on 7th January. I hope very much to see you there!


The Kingdom of God is…

November 19, 2019

slow church

… a warm and welcoming church open once a week
… church and community coming together to laugh, chat and eat together
… people spontaneously using skills to help one another
… the hungry fed and clothed
… prayer ministry for the destitute and homeless
… training and safeguarding paperwork undertaken confidentially next door
… a small group studying the Bible together
… children’s activities planned and prepared for the coming weeks

Welcome to St Michael’s Open Church every Tuesday from 10.30am to 3.30pm. Why not join us?


SLOW church

August 27, 2019

slow church

We live in a busy, busy world. Everyone seems to be in such a rush. There is so much to do, and so little time apparently to do it in. We start the day with one to-do list and end up with another that is just as long. Our phone gives us constant reminders of appointments to be met, and deadlines to be completed. We feel guilty at not achieving, and we end up measuring ourselves by how much we got done.

But deep down we also know such busyness and such pressure is not actually that good for us. Prolonged stress affects our health and our relationships, and actually damages our productivity. That is why over the years we have seen various counter-cultural “slow movements”. There is slow food phenomenon which involves taking time to prepare, serve and eat a fresh meal, maybe over a course of several hours. There is “slow TV” which may involve an hour or more of just sitting and watching, say, a bus ride, or a craft activity.

And I would like to propose that we also have SLOW church.  It can be so easy for a church to become just another organisation which measures itself by how many activities it puts on, or how many people come through the door. But church life flourishes when time and energy is spent investing in relationships, when other demands are laid aside simply to listen to one another, to laugh and to cry, to share and sometimes simply to be with each other.

So I want to build up a SLOW church, one that is:

Safe
Loving
Open
Welcoming

Safe  – I am aware that many people spend a lot of their time feeling very vulnerable, whether because they are in an unhealthy relationship (or on their own), or living in unsuitable accommodation, or struggling with some habit or addiction. Church needs to be a safe space where folk discover security, and have permission to discover who God created them to be. That is why safeguarding is at the heart of SLOW church.

Loving  – Our aim at St Barnacles is to build a community of love, aware that Jesus commanded us to love another as He first loved us, aware also that this difficult  word “love” can only be understood by His death on a cross for us. So we seek constantly the guidance of the Holy Spirit not only to love those who are like us, but the newcomer, the outcast, those we find difficult to love, and to develop stronger and more effective networks of pastoral care.

Open  – I am referring here primarily to physical accessibility. We need to work out how to make the church an effective meeting point for the local community. That is why our Tuesday Open Church Project is so important. It is becoming known as the place where you drop in, have a cup of tea or a bite to eat. It is still a small and quite fragile project but it is absolutely central to our mission at St Barnacles.

Welcoming – No matter who comes through our doors, no matter what issues they bring with them, we want to welcome them in the name of Jesus, and to see them as precious in our Saviour’s sight. Again we have to be sensible about safeguarding, but we want to demolish stereotypes that church is only for a certain type of people. We want people of all ages and all backgrounds to be part of our community because that it is the very nature of church, as the New Testament makes clear.

How does SLOW church  fit in with our existing Mission Action Plan? At the heart of our Mission Action Plan is the image of a tree, and a tree on the whole grows slowly. If the Mission Action Plan defines what we aim to do, then this model of SLOW church helps us understand how we are going to achieve these goals.

And what does SLOW church look like in practice? The best answer is, come along on a Tuesday! Or indeed join us in worship on a Sunday. We are a long way from being the church the Lord wants us to be, but we are a work in progress, and by His grace and mercy He continues to work slowly and patiently in each and every one of us.

 

 


Blog: Day one – looking back on our anniversary weekend

October 9, 2018

Photos will appear from day three onwards!

It has been a truly extraordinary weekend at St Michael and St Barnabas. I must thank and praise the whole church family who worked so hard with such good grace and in such harmony. Your dedication and effort was a tribute to the gospel.

Even more importantly I must thank and praise the living Lord who has brought His church into being and called us into His service.

For first of all He is a faithful God. To see so many people at our anniversary service going back so many years reminded me of how the Lord has been at work over so many years and remained the same through all the changes we have experienced.

Secondly our God is an active God. It was very special to have Bishop Robert come and confirm Sarah and Kelly in their faith. To see these two ladies publicly affirm their faith proved that God still changes lives today.

Thirdly our God is a global God. So often our vision of Him can be so small, so parochial. Tonight we joined in the worship of Jay and Pam’s former church in Bracknell. Tomorrow we are travelling to Thika. Wherever we go, He is already at work building His church.

So this evening on day one of our adventure I simply want to give Him the honour and glory that is due His name. To Him be praise forever and ever. Amen!


The end of a chapter

September 26, 2018

Today we signed contracts for the sale of St Barnabas.

St Barnabas Cross
It was a bittersweet occasion. On the one hand, there was sadness at the loss of a church that has meant so much to so many people over the years. There are members who grew up at that church, and who came to faith there, and others in the wider community with a whole host of special memories. But on the other hand, there was thankfulness for all the Lord has done over the years, that time and time again He has proven His love, His faithfulness and His mercy.

And we could today also give thanks that the church will continue to be used in the service of the gospel. The buyers are Redeemer Church who will be using the building for midweek activities and for general office administration. So today was not the end of the story, merely the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. After all, what is important is not which denomination owns a particular building but how that building best serves the purposes of making Jesus Christ known.

It also seems significant that we are exchanging contracts in the same week as we celebrate 175 years since the foundation stone of St Michael’s was laid. Of course what we are marking is not the construction of a building – we are by now onto our third(!) church on the same site – but rather the story of how the Lord has led and guided His people from 1843 right up to the present day.

Buildings for all their special associations and wonderful memories are ultimately gifts from the Lord which we must allow Him to use as He sees fit for His kingdom. Our task is to make sure we are good stewards of whatever we have been given.

And this is why on this special day I want to pay particular tribute to those people who have worked so hard and so tirelessly as faithful stewards at St Barnabas over so many years. They are the ones who through hard work, often unseen and unknown to others, have served to build God’s kingdom in that place. It is thanks to their labours we can hand over this church for others to continue their work. So we pray for Redeemer Church as they take on this responsibility, that the Lord will grant them wisdom and grace for the next chapter of the story.


Why celebrate an anniversary?

August 21, 2018

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As many of you will know by now, on Saturday 29th September  we will celebrating 175 years since the foundation of the first St Michael’s church was laid. We will have tea at 4pm and an act of worship at 5pm. And then on the following day, at our Sunday morning service, Bishop Robert will come and lead the celebrations, which will include confirmation for two of our church members. There will also be a bring and share lunch!

But why are anniversaries so important? First of all, it is good to be reminded how God has led and kept His people over so many years. The tale of St Michael’s is a remarkable tale of survival, not told as far as I am aware in any history of Devonport or indeed Plymouth. It has survived complete destruction during WW2. It has undergone complete demolition and redevelopment. It has faced many, many challenges over the past 175 years yet the church community continues to stand out as a testimony to the goodness and the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. That surely has to be worth celebrating!

Secondly, it is good to be reminded of the vision which led St Michael’s to be built in the first place. The first committee who met in the late 1830s wanted a “poor man’s church” to serve the growing population of Devonport. And so they envisaged a church where all could come and worship the Lord, no matter their background. It is remarkable to see how that vision still is at the heart of the church all those years later. That’s why, as we celebrate, we need to honour that vision not just through our celebrations but by developing our welcome and our hospitality so that indeed all feel able to come and join us in worship.

Thirdly it is worth also pondering how St Michael’s has related to the local community over the years. During the late Victorian era the vicar and other members of the congregation were prominent on the Devonport School Board and were responsible for the foundation of many local schools that still stand today. During the First World War, the church offered comfort to the many families who lost loved ones. As we have seen, during the Second World War,St Michael’s shared in the suffering caused by the widespread destruction of the local area.

Times of course have changed, and here is perhaps one danger in celebrating an anniversary, that we imagine some golden period where everyone went to church and St Michael’s was at the centre of the local community. So while it is right that we celebrate our past, we must not be held captive by it. We must not imagine that if we turn back the clock somehow everyone will come flooding through our doors. Nor must we hold on the way things were done in the past, as if by holding on to our traditions, we are somehow being faithful to the vision of our forbears. After all, building a new church was a radical decision in its day, and those behind the project certainly didn’t intend to create a museum!

So our anniversary forces us to look forward. Because if we are to survive and indeed thrive for another 175 years we need to renew our vision and see what the Lord is calling us to do now. Yes, we are probably not being called to erect a physical building. But we are being called to pass the faith down to the next generation and commend the good news of Jesus Christ in such a way that speaks to life in Stoke and Devonport in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean abandoning or changing the good news we have ourselves received from those who have gone before us. Instead if we are truly to honour the faith we ourselves have received from those before us, we need to hold on to it, proclaim it afresh and above all live it out in a way that shows the real difference the presence of Jesus makes, even today, even in the lives of very ordinary people going about what may seem like very ordinary business throughout the week.

That to me is the challenge that our anniversary gives us. How we live up to that challenge – well, this is where I would draw your attention to our current sermon series from Colossians. Paul’s words there are all about a community focused on Jesus, rooted in His word, living out the good news. That is the type of community St Michael’s has been over the past 175 years; let’s ensure it remains that way, and let’s encourage one another to keep on building the Kingdom of God here in this place, for His good and His glory. And maybe, just maybe, in another 175 years time there will be another great anniversary that will celebrate all the Lord has done through us! Now there’s a thought…