A Sanctuary Day for our Times: Session 3
5 months ago
Looking Up: the third of four retreat sessions for individuals and groups to process and pray through their experience of the coronavirus pandemic.
Looking Up: What is the Spirit saying to the churches?
This is the third of four retreat sessions for use individually or in small groups. Each session builds on the previous one, and together they are designed to give space for you to process your experience of the coronavirus crisis.
In this third session our focus moves from our individual experience of the pandemic, to that of our churches. We will ask what we have missed about church in the long months when we have not been able to meet together in familiar ways and surroundings. But we will also look at what we have discovered about being church as we have related to God and to one another in new ways.
In preparation for this retreat you may like to discuss in advance with one or two other people from your own church the questions posed in the ‘Apply’ part of this session.
For personal use
For use in Groups
Find a quiet and comfortable place in which to pray. You will need your Bible and a notebook or journal. If you would like to use the suggested music and video links you will need an internet connection and your phone, tablet or computer. Or you may want to choose your own music, or spend the time in silence. The words for the retreat can be printed from HERE. Suggestions on how to use the time between sessions if you are doing all four in one day OR how to spread each session over a half or full day of retreat will be available soon.
Find a quiet and suitable place for the group to meet. You will each need your Bible and a notebook or journal and a copy of the retreat programme and words, a hard copy of which can be printed HERE. You will need an internet connection, and a speaker to play the music videos from the links on this page. If you are meeting as a Zoom Group the Host can share the screen and audio for the music videos. Suggestions on how to use the time between sessions if you are doing all four in one day OR how to spread each session over a half or full day of retreat will be available soon.
Start in silence and stillness. Allow your mind to settle and to focus. Open your hands and your heart to welcome the Holy Spirit. As you do so, bring into your mind’s eye members of your church family, those you know well and those you are less familiar with. When you have gathered them in your mind, pray over your whole church community that the Lord will bless them and keep them, make His face to shine on them and be gracious to them, turn His face towards them and give them His peace.
Echo the words of ‘O breath of life come sweeping through us’ as a prayer for your own church and for the whole church.
Read Acts 8:1-8
Persecution came to the church in Jerusalem as suddenly as church life changed in the UK in March 2020. All had been going so well. The word of God was spreading; the number of disciples was increasing rapidly; the church was organising itself for growth and raising up leaders. Then Stephen was seized and stoned. What happened next can only be described as total devastation and loss. A city-wide persecution. The entire church (let’s imagine that for a church now numbered in its many thousands) scattered to Judea and Samaria. Homeless. Leaderless, as the Apostles remained in the city. Saul and others intent on the complete eradication of the church. Believers dragged from their homes and imprisoned. It is no exaggeration to say that in a frenzy of violence the church lost everything that was familiar
What happens, though, is that the church finds a new way of being, and walks into all kinds of new opportunities. Viewed with a wide lens across the story of the spread of the gospel and the expansion of the church in the years after Pentecost this looks more like gain than loss. The church learned to travel, as the people of the Way. It discovered that the gospel remained the same even if everything else changed. And it stumbled across a new audience for the gospel message wherever it went. It found that God was at work in signs and wonders. And it found its joy magnified, despite everything it had to leave behind. In the midst of great loss, there was great gain.
Think church, for these next few minutes of the retreat. Indeed, think your church! Look at each set of questions in turn, before moving to the next. And maybe jot down your thoughts in a notebook if you find that helpful. If you have been able to discuss the questions with others from your church, take some time to process what they have said to you. But be sure to allow time to let your own thoughts and views to come to the surface.
If it helps to have some background music, then either chose something you know and like or play this gentle instrumental worship music.
What did you miss most about church during the period when regular worship and church activities were suspended? What are the things that you are most looking forward to when the church can gather again without restrictions?
Were there things that you enjoyed about this enforced break from familiar routines and patterns of church life? Be honest! Are there things that you are not particularly looking forward to as church begins to re-gather?
Did you find new ways of worshipping and sharing life with other Christians during the lockdown? How did that feel? Did you discover new ways of being church and doing church and finding God that you would like to keep going when churches can gather freely again?
Have you found new ways of connecting with your neighbours and wider community during the lockdown? Has this opened up fresh ideas about how your church can engage in mission and evangelism in the future?
What do you think your own church may need to learn from this enforced suspension of normal church life? Is this an opportunity to think of changing things, and if so what might that include? Do you have suggestions for the church’s leadership?
Thank God for the church of which you are a part, and for the ways you have been able to stay connected to the leadership and the fellowship during the period of the pandemic. Thank God for the ongoing life of the church in difficult circumstances, and for all that has been learned.
Pray your heart’s desire for the future of your church and your part within it. Pray for the wisdom to learn from the Covid-journey and for the courage to keep on travelling.
Take stock. Make notes. How has God spoken? What have you felt? What will you take with you into life and into further prayer from this time apart, this time in the sanctuary?
To finish add your voice and prayer to this blessing on the church and the nation.
For further thought and prayer
Risen Lord Jesus, by your Spirit, revive your church:
Renew its life
Restore its passion
Indwell its worship
Direct its steps
Empower its witness
All for the coming of your Kingdom
on earth as it is in heaven.
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
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ReSource for Anglican Renewal Ministries
Enabling little, local and ordinary churches to engage with the Holy Spirit for renewal, discipleship and mission.