Dear friends,

We are going through a season of unpredictable and challenging circumstances as the world faces the Coronavirus. My thoughts are with you all as you adapt to cope with the new patterns of living. I particularly want to offer my heart-felt sympathy to those of you who have additional health complications which are putting you at greater risk – you must be feeling vulnerable at this time. However, I also want to acknowledge the fear that this situation creates for us all. May this be a time where we learn to live in the sure and certain hope of our faith. I know that Jesus does give His peace. Take comfort that He will draw close to you and give you strength and peace. I would also like you to be assured of my prayers at this time.

I am writing to let you know that the Church of England has now published its guidelines in accordance with the Government’s strategy to deal with the virus. We have been advised that we can no longer meet as the gathered church, which includes our Sunday services. As such, all church gatherings will cease until we are advised that we can meet again.

Please understand that these measures are in place to protect the health and wellbeing of the general public, particularly those who are considered most vulnerable, and it is therefore vital that we all play our part as citizens to protect and safeguard those around us. However challenging, these measures are entirely necessary to appropriately care for one another and so we ask you to be a good neighbour and refrain from meeting together.

Further to this we have some suggestions of how we as a church family can support one another and our wider communities during this period of self-isolation and social distancing.

  1. I want for us at Ascension to be able to offer practical support to our neighbours, especially those who are in at-risk groups or are self-isolating. You will know who this means for you in your locality.  To facilitate this, we have printed some postcards which present the offer of practical support. These have blank spaces for you to fill in your contact details, and tick boxes to indicate what you are offering: picking up grocery shopping, picking up medication, ringing for a chat, running other errands, and/or prayer. If you would like a bundle of these to be delivered to you please email ruth@ascensionsouthampton.co.uk. Who, and how many people you feel able to support is up to you entirely.
  2. I am aware that the social distancing measures will have a significant impact on our community. I want for us to make the best use of technology to continue to meet to pray, to encourage, to support, to listen corporately to God; something I feel will be best achieved in smaller sized groups. I believe that this is the best way for us to continue to meet as church. Therefore, I would like us to try to use the online platform ‘Zoom‘ to enable this, facilitated by a member of staff team. If you are already in a small group we want to continue to meet, but online. If you are not in a small group, we are going to create a number of new groups to give the option to join one. If you would like to take part please email: ‘smallgroups@ascensionsouthampton.co.uk‘ to sign up.  It’s my hope in the coming week we can get all of our church community in a small group, and for them to meet [online] as soon as possible. For those without internet access Zoom has a facility to use a landline telephone to ring into the group, this should allow all of our community to participate in church whilst we cannot gather physically together.
  3. We’re compiling a list on online resources that you can access to supplement your faith while we are absent from church on a Sunday. Watch this space.
  4. We have a newly created church Facebook group to chat and connect with one another. This is a place to share how we are getting on, to support and encourage one another, to ask for prayer support. Please do join it and use it.
  5. Each week one of our team will write short reflection to help us integrate what is going on in the world around us with our confidence in God who ‘will never leave or forsake us’. For those without email this can be physically posted each week to them. If you know of those who would like to receive this do not access email please can you let Isobel in the parish office know. This will begin next week.
  6. A national ‘Day of Prayer’ has been announced by the presidents of the Churches Together in England, re. The Coronavirus epidemic, for this Sunday 22 March. They write

    ‘At such a time as this, when so many are fearful and there is great uncertainty, we are reminded of our dependence on our loving Heavenly Father and the future that he holds.  At 7pm this Sunday, light a candle in the windows of your homes as a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, our source and hope in prayer.’

    The full letter can be found here https://www.churchofengland.org/ I would love us as a community to be joining the church across the nation to pray.

Finally, take care of yourselves! Make the most of the support networks you have. And, above all, hold fast to the Lord who is with us in every situation, as Psalm 46 reminds us.

With continued prayers and best wishes,

Andy