Life has been very different this year to what many people would have expected as the dawning of 2020 was celebrated last winter. The COVID-19 virus which, at the beginning of the year, seemed not to have spread too far from its place of origin in Wuhan, was able to spread around the world in a matter of months. By the beginning of October, the World Health Organisation reported more than 33 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than a million people having died after having caught the virus. The impact of COVID-19 upon the health, employment, income, housing and future prospects of people around the world will surely continue to be significant for some time to come.
In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, church life in the Mid Derbyshire Circuit has, of course, been very different to what we had been used to it being. In response to government legislation and guidance, Methodist buildings were closed for worship for some months. Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost and Harvest were therefore marked in different ways this year and the church and community activities which were being planned before the pandemic, or which might have been happening without the pandemic, have either been significantly changed or have not been able to take place at all. As the pandemic unfolded, some of our buildings continued to be used in support of community responses to COVID-19 and people from our church congregations found new ways to worship, pray, support one another and contribute to community initiatives. In August our church buildings began to open again for worship after having carried out the risk assessments that were required and put appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures in place. As measures remain in place to try to limit the spread of COVID-19, what we can do in our buildings is still very limited.
As I was writing this piece, I was drawn to a photograph that I took inside Darley Dale Methodist Church early in September as I was preparing to lead the first Sunday morning service there since the building had closed in March. The banner displayed in the church at that time was one which reminds us of Jesus' words "I am the vine". Those words come from the Gospel of John15; where Jesus says: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit." (John 15:5) As Jesus continued to speak to the disciples about what he meant, Jesus spoke about God's love for him and his own love for them. In doing so, Jesus encouraged them to remain in his love by keeping his commands and gave them the command to love one other as he had loved them.
As COVID-19 continues to have an impact on the way in which we are able to go about daily life, God is with us. As we continue to live out our faith day by day, let us remain in Jesus, encourage and support one another and love one another as Jesus has loved us.