For the first time since 1208, the Church in England has ceased all public worship. Church doors are closed for communion, and the gathering together of the faithful to worship God has been forbidden due to the coronavirus pestilence. During this time, the flock must be fed, and (unlike in 1208) may continue to be so via the internet. The Archbishop Cranmer blog is read by many tens of thousands of people across more than 60 countries, and has adopted an emergency team ministry for the duration.
This first contribution comes courtesy of Alison Bailey Castellina MA (Oxon), who founded the forerunner of The Tymes Trust national charity for children with ME, and led the national Christian support group for ME.
I have searched for years for profound teaching in the Church of England that can reach into the spiritual growth gained from becoming a kind of prisoner, as St Paul was, through adversity. I found nothing or very little, even in outstanding preachers. Finally, I found a book by a Victorian sage which I updated who turned out to be the sister of FD Maurice. It is about sickness and was a bestseller in its day, but its spiritual lessons are universal. The text, which I have modernised, is extracted from Sickness: its Trials and Blessings by Priscilla Maurice.
The book is about learning submission to the Will of God who chastens us for our good often by making us an effective prisoner in a narrow space. The teachings that God sends trials for our growth is unknown these days, but it is in the Bible. The book teaches that we must accept every kind of trial (even this current experience) as if from God, as formative and for a wider purpose, even sent for the sake of the worldwide Body of Christ and that we should make the most of it, spiritually.
How to view enforced withdrawal from life
Be patient and wait: do not rebel. Do not say, “I am cut off from life and work and so there is nothing left for me, no point in living.” Things may change. Do not lose the blessing of this state in reaching out after something else, future or imaginary. Look for your work now and do not ask to have your world enlarged. Find your ministry in it, now. You may have a ministry to your family in talking to them cheerfully, sympathising with them, sharing their interests and pleasures. Your house may become blessed for your sake because God, who has linked you to the “prisoners and captives”, can bless you and those around you.
In an overactive world, many people are looking for a place of refreshment where they can leave behind the ‘jarring’ of life and draw nearer to reality. Do not say in your heart that you have no work; instead pursue ‘Him who works in you both to will and work for His good pleasure‘ (Phil 2:13). Ask Christ to make you so like Himself that others may take note that you have ‘been with Christ‘ (Acts 4:13). Continually refresh yourself in Him and then water others ‘so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God‘ (2Cor 1:4).
You have work to do which is to turn away from worldly passion (Tim 2:12), and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). This is honourable, so do not despise it in case you complain against God (Rom 9:20) and tempt Him to withdraw this test. Besides, if it were true that you have nothing to do, no outward life, you have one stone in His temple to polish. That stone is yourself, and this time is given to you to do that.
Consider it a time of preparation, although you do not know what for. It may be for life, or it may be for death, but do not waste time. Do not waste it by complaining or calling out for some alternation. God sees the heart and know this test is hard, but He is ‘compassionate and merciful‘ (Js 5:11). He sees that you need precisely this discipline until this test has done the work for which it was sent.
At this very moment, many others are in a similar place. They have the same problems, pains and temptations, even through you do not know them and they know nothing of you. Nor are you ever likely to meet until the day when ‘the purposes of the heart are disclosed‘ (1Cor 4:5). How you cope with this test is important to them because, unknown to you, you affect them, even though you do not exactly know how. Every member of the Body of Christ is necessary to and affects the whole Body. A realisation of this will take away the sense of loneliness and prevent your life feeling useless and lived for yourself, alone.
The Creed says: “I believe in the Communion of Saints”. So this trial is not mine alone. My inner conflicts and temptations are those of other members of the Church. In fighting them, I fight for them. In overcoming them, I weaken the power of darkness over them, as well as over myself.