I am sitting writing this reflection at Arpafeelie, the small settlement where I live. Arpafeelie consists of an Episcopal Church, the former rectory, which is now Bishop’s House, a small office building in the old stables, and I have two neighbouring houses, one being the former Episcopal Primary School. It sounds Idyllic and it has always been a place of respite for me in a busy and far flung ministry. That is until March when I had to issue the most difficult letter to the Province. “All our Churches shall close until further notice” It was a day when I though my heart would break.
My diary instantly emptied, cancelling visits, trips to other provinces and regular meetings, I found myself trying to live and work in this isolated spot while every fibre of my being was wanting to carry on sharing my faith and ministry in Scotland and across the Anglican Communion. My beautiful peaceful corner of the Black Isle began to feel more like a prison, and I like so many others began to struggle emotionally with all that was happening.
Thankfully for me, life got very busy again very quickly, online meetings, and online worship. It is remarkable how quickly we adapted to online worship. My first attempt was the Provincial Eucharist on the first Sunday of Lockdown, my mobile phone held in place with a piece of Tac, the Provost of the Cathedral holding it in place as I squeezed into the small chapel in my office, it did work and I learnt a very valuable lesson, eye contact, I realised that I would only be able to communicate if I treated the lens of the camera as the faces of the people I was trying to speak to, less concern about getting it right more about talking directly to the people in their homes who were struggling just as much as me.
I now have so many stories about trying to record or live stream worship, lighting and relighting the Easter fire in my garden, extinguishing the paschal candle as it hit the roof of my chapel as I declared “Christ is Risen” and laughing as things went pear shaped and having to retake again and again. The problem is I am a story- teller, and I want to gather people around me to tell those stories and so it was so good to be able to gather in church again.
The reopening of Places of Worship has caused its own problems, I remember a conversation in the run up to reopening in which someone was asking how we would keep the elderly and the vulnerable out, I must have looked very shocked because the person flinched. I simply said “You may have the courage to ask long standing members to leave, I won’t do that because I know what I would say to anyone who tried that on me.”
I have also heard wonderful stories of from people who have been rediscovered by the church, those who have been housebound for years or because of difficulty with some of our buildings unable to come to church. Suddenly the church in providing online worship, became alive to them, they could join in, they could comment to friends, I really enjoy reading some of the comments on screen before the services start. “Good morning from Auchenshoogle, are well Jeannie, good to see you are on here with me”. We as church will need to keep doing what we are doing, and I realise we should have been doing it long before we were forced to by the Virus.
I had the pleasure of Confirming a member of the Church last Sunday, the service was great, and the church was filled to its present capacity, we live streamed so those who aren’t able to come because of concerns about health could also join in, we of course miss singing and socialising, but we were worshipping, we were giving thanks and we were welcoming.
I know that for many this is a difficult time, I too miss the company of my family, I miss calling in on friends and I miss the opportunity to sit in someone’s kitchen and listen to their stories, yet I also know that I am never alone, because as I work through this Pandemic, trying to guide and love my Church, I know that I too, like you, am loved by God.
Most Rev Dr Mark Strange
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness
2 November 2020