Sunday, April 26, 2020

Plague Journal: Week 6

A song I really hated in the late 70s was 'Video Killed the Radio Star' by The Buggles. A harbinger of trashy 80s synth pop. At the time (1979) the angry class war of The Jam's 'Eton Rifles' was more my thing. But we're all wannabe video stars now in the ongoing disaster movie that is the coronavirus pandemic. One of those disaster movies where the protagonists are lost in a wood where dangers lurk behind every tree. 

Preachers make for poor 'video stars'. We have a go. Our sermons are livestreamed via Facebook Go Live, or pre recorded on YouTube and posted at the usual church service times. It's ministry, but not as we know it. Video negates the element of human interaction between preacher and congregation that is of the essence of true preaching. Messages are delivered to an unblinking camera that captures every awkward pause for thought and odd facial expression.

The thumbnail extracted from YouTube videos when the things are posted online always seems to pick a shot of the speaker with a weird face on. I only just found out you can select the thumbnail from a few options. I take comfort from John Benton's 'Face for Radio? blog. John helpfully points out that when it comes to our video efforts, pastors are not show ponies. We are ministers of the Word. Biblical substance matters more than a slick presenting style.  

The journalist John Rentoul had a long running series of articles in The Independent newspaper, Questions to Which the Answer is "No!" Robert Strivens adds to the list in his blog, 'Are we meeting online?' Flesh and blood interactions cannot be replicated on the internet or by phone call. All we can do, says Robert, is encourage each other as best we can in these strange times, even as we long to gather together in person once more. 

That said, I'm gradually getting used to ministry via YouTube. When I'm really gripped by the message self-consciousness recedes and I feel a bit more free. Last Sunday I spoke on Psalm 46 & John 20:24-31. Wednesday's 'Prayer Meeting' talk was on Colossians 1:12-14. My wife asked whether I might smile a little more in these videos. I guess that's another Question to Which the Answer is "No!"

Like others, our church fellowship and prayer meetings are taking place via video conference call. It's been Skype for us on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, but I've been told Zoom is the way to go. I took part in my first Zoom meeting on Wednesday morning, under the auspices of South West Gospel Partnership. Seemed to go OK. A better format than Skype for group chats. It was good to know that some of the larger churches are pretty much doing the same things as us, but on a bigger scale. It was also useful to reflect on what church life and activities might look like post-lockdown, but with shielding (for some) and social distancing (for all) still in place. See here for a SWGP blog reflecting on 'Ministry in the Coronavirus age'. 

We had a church officers' meeting via Skype on Thursday evening. We reviewed how things are going, considered whether all of our people were getting regular contact and checked that Bible ministry was getting through to everyone. CDs are being delivered to people with no internet access. I'm going to host a Zoom 'dummy run' meeting for church officers on Monday evening as a step towards moving to that format in place of Skype. With a bit of help from my techy friends I've worked out how to allow those with only a landline to participate in Zoom meetings, which will enable us to include more of our people in times of fellowship and prayer.

Each month I write articles for local parish magazines circulated around the villages of Dilton Marsh and West Lavington. The Dilton Marsh mag is only published in hard copy and won't be coming out in May due to lockdown. To my surprise they've found a way of posting the West Lavington one online, and so the editor was in touch to see if I could do something. I submitted a piece on, 'A very present help in trouble', reflecting on the current crisis from a Christian perspective. I'll post it on the blog in due course.  

Friends have for some time been waxing lyrical about Netflix drama, The Crown. Not having a subscription, it passed us by. Three ten episode series have now come out. We only usually watch a bit of telly in the evenings. Before the pandemic struck I often had meetings of various kinds at that time of the day, so catching up would have been difficult. Plus, you have to pay a monthly fee for Netflix, which would have been on top of our Virgin Media bill. However, last Saturday we took the plunge, paid our £5.99 and now we're six episodes in to Season 1. We thought we'd splash out now that we can no longer go out for lunch on a Saturday (my day off), or watch a film in the cinema, etc.

Overall, The Crown is really well done. Brilliantly acted. Some elements are in poor taste, though. The coronation episode was especially poignant, with the juxtaposition of the Duke of Windsor watching the Queen getting crowned on TV. The first couple of shows were dominated by the demise of King George VI. It's an iron rule in film and telly land that if a character coughs, they are bound to die soon. Poor old George coughed a lot, which was a bit covidy, but it was lung cancer, not a virus that did for him.

My current 'big read' is Systematic Theology by Robert Letham. Last week I'd got as far as page 311. Now I'm on Part 4: The Image of God, this week reading chapters 11 & 12 on 'Humanity in Creation' and 'Humanity in Covenant', which brought me up to p. 365. Very helpful treatments, especially of the 'covenant of works', or 'covenant of life' in chapter 12. Not a strict legal covenant, because God has always dealt with humanity on the basis of grace, regulated by works. Even more so after the fall. 'Humanity in Sin' is the next chapter. Letham's is rapidly becoming one of my favourite STs, although I guess I will have some disagreements with his Presbyterian stance on the covenant of grace and infant baptism. When will Reformed Baptists rise to the challenge of producing a landmark Systematic Theology? 

I was saddened to hear of the death of Irving Steggles earlier in the week. See this tribute by Bill James, current principal of London Seminary, where Irving served as chair of the board for many years. He was also moderator of Providence & Ebenezer churches when I was called to the joint-pastorate in 2003. A gracious and godly brother with a real heart for pastors and churches. "And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on'. 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labours and their works follow them'" (Revelation 14:13-14)

There are signs that the government is moving towards easing lockdown measures. The nod has been given for some sectors to get back to work. Writing in The Times on Saturday Matthew Parris was right to argue, Ministers can’t keep hiding behind the science. While ministers should take note of scientific advice, lifting lockdown is a political decision. A balance need to be struck. Yes, the vulnerable must be shielded and the NHS can't be overwhelmed by Covid-19 sufferers. Yet the economic and social costs of the government's 'stay at home' policy could prove disastrous if allowed to go on for too long. The indications are that PM will return to work sometime this week. He'll need the wisdom of Solomon as he grapples with the toughest call of his political life. At least we can pray on his behalf, James 1:5. 

For our Saturday walk we had a wander around Clanger and Picket Woods, where the bluebells are a magnificent sight at this time of year (see below). As we walked I couldn't help thinking of the Paul Weller track, 'Wild Wood', with its promise, 'you're gonna find your way out of the wild, wild wood'. 

Plague Journal: Week 1Week 2, Week 3Week 4, Week 5

1 comment:

Ben Elford said...

You don't like The Buggles? A last, an element of musical taste on which we can agree.