In this, our time of greatest need, Reverend Bill Strong of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Upper Gullies shares a message of hope
Times are hard. Realities and routines we’ve all come to depend and rely on, from holding down a job and running errands to visiting family or hosting a birthday party for a friend, have all gone in a blink of an eye.
Social-distancing – just when the world could use a hug and a friend –for our own safety, are the new norm. Things like weddings and funerals are a thing of the past – for now – as being together, even for comfort or celebration, is simply too much of a risk. And Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, like many around the globe, are suffering and searching for answers.
While some may curse our current situation, perhaps the healthier thing to do is look towards the light – the one at the end of what seems like a very long, dark tunnel.
Reverend Bill Strong reflects on the timing of this pandemic.
“I think what can be taken from the Easter timing of all this is that we should think about resurrection,” he begins. Easter, after all, has a very spiritual and inspirational message.
“Easter is about life, eternal life, and the connection that we have, an eternal connection we have, to God through Easter. Easter is about believing in something, and there is nothing to separate us from that, from that sense of optimism or that sense of connection and salvation. Followers believed that Jesus would come again, that he would be resurrected. And he was. We should not lose sight of that.”
Lent, and the forty days that it’s comprised us, should give us hope, he continued. Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday, represents the time Jesus spent alone, sacrificing and reflecting in the desert before his death. Something to reflect on as we all go into our own time alone as we try to keep COVID-19 from spreading by flattening the curve.
‘Connection to God’
And Jesus walked on this Earth, and he, like many, felt pain and suffering and isolation and betrayal.
“Christ, during Holy week, went through truly human experiences. He experienced every ounce of betrayal, every ounce of all of those negative, horrible experiences only to rise so that we might be able to have a connection to God. I tell people, what Jesus did at Easter was that he built a bridge between Earth and Heaven so that we may see light beyond that bridge. It’s our faith that brings us to that bridge, and eventually puts us over that bridge. So we should not lose sight of that. And that’s where we should count our blessings, because someone sacrificed everything for us all.”
When asked how he is coping with the needs of his parishioners, Rev. Bill once again reflects,
“Well, I’m grateful, I guess, and taking it day by day. That would be the functional way to say it. It’s taking up to now just to get our heads around how big this worldwide impact and damage is and the numbers are just starting to climb here in Newfoundland, and so it is hitting our shores and our people now, and we all have to adapt and we all have to put forward our best selves constantly.”
Social media ministry
It’s hard he admits. The church itself is a social place. He, like others, must reach out via social media, for instance. The message of hope has to be conveyed, he adds.
“We are there to share the optimism of God. And to say that God is with us. He’s there through all of this. But the church realizes that there are many people hurting. And we have to understand the exact natures of that hurt, whether it’s financial, whether they are getting supplies, food, those kinds of primary things. That, we can help with. We have volunteers who have identified themselves.”
There’s other needs as well, however.
“We have to reach out spiritually. Many parishes are doing live-streaming with Facebook. I’ve done one. I’m about to do another one today. Our bishop broadcast a celebration of the Eucharist from the cathedral.”
There’s personal on-on-one ministry being done as well.
“We take every opportunity to check in with our members, to reach out, to make phone calls, to offer opportunities for people to support the work of the church and to look out for each other.”
People are afraid, he says. And many are alone. “Holding onto our faith can help us overcome anxiety and help us look for the best possible outcomes.”
Trust in God
His message to the people of this province? “The only message that’s important, I think, is that we can be assured that God is with us, even though we don’t know how this is going to end or what the outcomes are going to be, he is with us. So far, we have been blessed in so many ways. We need to steady the ship and realize that there’s help if you reach out. The Bible has many stories of people going through exile and tough times. Lent is about exile. There’s an opportunity here to reclaim our blessings, and to reflect on what we’ve all been doing to the world, to realize our dependence and our fixation on things that suddenly are not quite so important.”
Bottom line, trust in God and look out for each other, he says.
“Hit the reset button. Take stock and realize what’s important. What’s important is family connections, however you connect now, by phone or FaceTime, and keeping our families healthy.”
Rev. Bill knows we are all feeling anxious, he is as well, he admits.
His advice? “We just have to take deep breaths, pause and realize no matter what God is with us.”
While some have cursed what is happening, Rev. Bill encourages us all to keep the faith. “God didn’t send this Coronavirus to the world. We have an opportunity here to feel and to embrace God’s grace. How we respond to this threat is how we show what we are truly made of. We have a choice. That’s a gift from God.”