Like you, all of us at Bath Abbey continue to watch the reports of the spreading coronavirus outbreak. The unprecedented peacetime measures announced by the Government, together with the closure of places of worship, inevitably come with a sense of trepidation over the unknowns and the risks to the health of everyone in our communities.
Especially now, I encourage us all to remember the powerful words of:
Psalm 121: “From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
This season of self-isolation and social distancing is a time for heightened prayer, and prayerful action too as we look to Almighty God to lead, protect and guide us.
In the words of our Archbishops, we are now being challenged to be a radically different kind of church: “Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday” they have written “and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day”.
At the Abbey we will be providing a short daily video message and prayer on our website (“Thought for the day” style), led by Abbey ministers. This is accompanied by an anthem from our own choir, and on Sundays, you'll be able to watch a video and join us for an act of worship in this way. We will also be signposting to other links and resources for personal prayer, such as those recommended on the Church of England website.
In terms of offering vital practical care, our Archbishops add:
“This is a defining moment for the Church of England. Are we truly a church for all, or just the church for ourselves?”
One of our core purposes at the Abbey is, of course, “tending”, caring as a church family. Please let’s all find ways to check on our friends and neighbours - particularly the elderly, infirm or homebound - to make sure they are stocked with food and medicine. There are already wonderful stories of kindness across neighbourhoods, for example through our Abbey Contact Groups - and this is a time when phone calls, texts and emails, WhatsApp groups and the like really come into their own. We may not be able to touch physically, but we can make connections in so many other ways.
Finally, please know that you and your families are very much in our Abbey prayers, and we hugely appreciate you walking with us and supporting the ministry of Bath Abbey during this challenging time.
When our Bishops and Archbishops announced these major temporary changes to our public worship on Tuesday 17 March, it was St. Patrick’s Day.
I close with his famous prayer for protection known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, and I invite you to echo these 5th century words in your own heart – words that have strengthened the heart of God’s people through plagues and wars and outbreaks of disease, longer even than Bath Abbey has stood:
I bind unto myself today The strong Name of the Trinity, By invocation of the same, The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever. By power of faith, Christ's incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan river; His death on Cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spicèd tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming at the day of doom;* I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power Of the great love of the cherubim; The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour, The service of the seraphim, Confessors' faith, Apostles' word, The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls, All good deeds done unto the Lord, And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today The virtues of the starlit heaven, The glorious sun's life-giving ray, The whiteness of the moon at even, The flashing of the lightning free, The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks, The stable earth, the deep salt sea, Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same. The Three in One, and One in Three, Of Whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
AMEN and AMEN!