GREETINGS FROM EDINBURGH! OUR MISSIONARY PARTNERS ARE HOME FROM MALAWI AT PRESENT

I hope this belated update finds you well as lockdown begins to ease. It’s been a while since our last Partner Plan letter, and a lot has happened in that time. Let me bring you back up to speed.

Our planned deputation visit for April and May was cancelled when UK restrictions would have prevented our meetings. We began making plans to stay in Malawi when the Church of Scotland decided that our family should return home before border closures prevented our return. With less than five days to prepare, leaving wasn’t easy, and farewells were rushed. However, we were mostly at peace with the decision – particularly when thinking of the children.

We’ve been living in a furlough flat in central Edinburgh which is operated by the Faith Impact Forum. We’ve had the full lockdown experience of home-schooling, searching for flour and attending church online. As things have eased, we’ve seen some of our family and friends, but Edinburgh isn’t home to us so we have to be satisfied with each other’s company until we can travel further.

Amongst the uncertainty, this has given us precious time together as a family. We’ve enjoyed the comforts of home. When things around us were changing quickly, we have been challenged by how important it is to find our rest in God and our identity in Christ.

It has been exciting and frustrating to watch developments in Malawi from afar. We’re thankful for a peaceful rerun of the presidential election and are hopeful for change in Malawi following the election of Rev Dr Lazarus Chakwera. Colleagues, and indeed the nation at large, are buoyed by his appointment. He came to power with Vice President Saulos Chilima, leading a broad alliance of opposition parties which promises to address corruption and foster economic development. In the days since they swore their oaths of office, they have been faithful to their word taking decisive action on farm subsidies, tax for low-income workers and tackling corruption in government contracting. There’s certainly reason for hope!

As I write, today is Malawi’s Independence Day. As a result of coronavirus, celebrations are more subdued, despite it also being inauguration day for the new president. Malawi was one of the last countries in the world to record cases of coronavirus, but now it is spreading more quickly. A significant number of cases have been recorded in Mzuzu, considering its size relative to other cities. Within the figures are two concerning trends. First, the high number of healthcare workers who are contracting the virus – this is grave concern in a country where healthcare workers are in desperately short supply.

There has also been a large number of cases recorded at the border among those returning from South Africa. Dozens of people at a time are testing positive on the flights and buses repatriating deported Malawians. Many Malawians travel to South Africa for work to support their families, however with lockdown restrictions in place, this hasn’t been easy or even possible. It’s unclear whether people are contracting the virus in detention centres or in transit, but it’s a concern to see people put at higher risk.

The response to coronavirus lived in the shadow of the election campaigns, but it is at the front of people’s minds now. Malawi’s new government has ruled out a strict lockdown; this makes sense in a country where poverty and hunger already present a real threat to life. The World Health Organisation predicts that African nations will begin to see the peak of the virus around the end of July.

Like here in the UK, prevention efforts have painful consequences. Schools in Malawi have been closed for over three months, with little in the way of support for home learning. Along with the economic impact of closed borders, this creates significant pressure on households – stress that can lead to an increase in violence against women and girls.

Our Gender Based Violence programme worked closely with the hospital to identify potential survivors of violence and begin the process of helping them gain access to justice. However, this isn’t possible with hospital services changing to deal with
coronavirus.

The scale and impact of COVID-19 in Malawi are as yet unknown. The way out of coronavirus will likely be longer and harder than for countries with developed economies. However, we find hope that with a younger demographic, the direct impact might be lower than in other countries. Malawi has experience of dealing with health crises such as HIV and AIDS and can draw on the experience of its neighbours’ response to Ebola. The details of our own return to Malawi are known only to God at this stage, but we’ve felt relatively at peace in this time of waiting. We’re keen to get back when it is right and possible for us to do so. We continue to appreciate prayers for patience and wisdom as we work out when that might be, and for arrangements here in the meantime.  I’m now beginning to return from the government’s furlough scheme. I will be supporting colleagues in Malawi remotely as well as finding creative ways to communicate about our work with congregations here in Scotland while we can’t meet or travel. Jacqueline continues to work supporting a friend Malawi, and they are close to publishing their handbook on preventing lower back injury in rural communities.

Eilidh is coming to the end of her Mzuzu school year and has adapted well to home school – though she prefers the role of teacher. Morven’s energy cannot be locked down, so there was great excitement when playparks reopened last week – she’d have little memory of previously playing in one. While our return to Malawi is uncertain, we hope to see family in the coming weeks and perhaps some of you.

As ever, thanks for your continued prayers. If we can be supporting or praying for you too, please let us know.

Every blessing,

Gary, Jacqueline, Eilidh and Morven
 

IT'S A FAIR QUESTION

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Reverend Dr Martin Fair, has been active online since he took office in May, following a virtual installation service.

On the Church of Scotland website, among other things, you can catch up with episodes of his ‘ It’s a Fair Question ‘ interviews. They last approx 30 minutes and cover a wide range of issues, including science and God, racial prejudice in Scotland, the impact of drug addiction, the future face of the church, and tackling poverty. The style is relaxed and the discussions make for
interesting and easy listening.

You can find them at: http://www.youtube.com/c/churchofscotland/videos or search for ‘videos ‘ on the Church of Scotland website.
 

PRIVATE PRAYER TIME

The Kirk Session of Kirkcudbright Parish Church are in the process of formulating plans to allow limited opening of our Church premises for private prayer. The Church of Scotland have issued a 35 page guidance on how to ensure that this and various other church related activities can be safely restarted.

It is hoped therefore to be able by July to open the Church building on a limited basis for private prayer, perhaps on Wednesdays & Sundays, with appropriate safety measures in place.

We will need volunteers to allow this to happen. If you would like to offer a couple of hours of your time on these days to staff the Church, please contact our Session Clerk by email: session@kirkcudbrightchurchofscotland.uk or alternatively use the details on our 'Contacts' page.

Thank you for your assistance.

Editor
 

MAILBOX AND E-MAIL ADDRESS CHANGES

Over the next few weeks, our Church e-mail system will be starting the process of migrating to a new series of email addresses, and the address for the newsletter editor, along with many others, will change. Needless to say, this is not just “change for the sake of change”, but part of a well thought-out plan to prepare our Church community in Kirkcudbright for the “new normal” world that we are approaching in which worship will operate and be increasingly presented in innovative online ways, as well as in our more traditional gatherings in church buildings. More Church related I.T. developments are planned as the year progresses, and we’ll keep you informed of these as they are introduced!

Ron McHugh and Paul Rigby-Jones have already generously contributed of their time and I.T. expertise to this ongoing project, and will continue further work on development of the plans which we have for our Church community. Our Church is enormously grateful to them for taking forward this project & turning it into reality.

Most of the new e-mail addresses will end with: “@kirkcudbrightchurchofscotland.uk”.  

Eg. “office@kirkcudbrightchurchofscotland.uk”; “session@kirkcudbrightchurchofscotland.uk” etc., etc.

The new e-mail address for the Newsletter Editor is:

“newseditor@kirkcudbrightchurchofscotland.uk”

I shall of course continue to monitor the editor’s previous mailbox for a few months, as I would hate to miss any of your very welcome contributions!

Editor
 

KIRKCUDBRIGHT PARISH CHURCH - AFTER CORONAVIRUS

Do you remember early 2020? What were you doing? Planning that holiday by a foreign beach, about to head off on that cruise you always wanted to go on. How many of us saw the storm that was brewing on the other side of the planet? Then lockdown, furloughing and social distancing became the words on everyone’s lips. The sad daily review of the deaths caused by a virus that escaped from some wild creature and entered a human race with no immunity to its ravages. All in the space of a few months. The world has changed and may never be the same again. So, like all creatures we must adapt our ways, our lifestyle. We within the Christian community in this town must do the same. It is how successful we are and how prepared we are to make those uncomfortable adaptions that will determine our fate.

When the grandchildren want to speak to Granny and Grandpa, they do so on-line. Zoom and Skype are the way things are done now. And it is the Grandparents that are making the call. Never has there been so many “connected” oldies. It is fair to say that most families in this land are routinely using some form of on-line social media networking. Some, of course, are just not able to connect with technology and that is a serious issue

Covid-19 has also had a devastating effect on businesses, hotels and local economies and will no doubt bring poverty and distress to many. The financial crisis that covid-19 has left us with will haunt us in the UK and indeed throughout the world for years to come. Churches will not be immune to this financial maelstrom. Even before covid-19 most churches in our area, have operated routinely in the red. We have only avoided this problem in recent times thanks to several generous legacies.

The world has changed for many workers too, or at least those lucky enough to have kept their jobs. When my daughter returns to work after lockdown, she will be, like many, only able to physically be at work two days a week. For the remaining days she will work at home connecting into her organisations computer system.

All these changes to lifestyle, how we communicate, financial worries, fears over employment, changes to work patterns, the sheer uncertainty of life that covid-19 has brought is quite a difficult thing to comprehend. Let us face it, none of us has ever, in our lifetimes, seen a world change so dramatically so rapidly.

But, what about Kirkcudbright Parish Church, are we going to survive? Can we adapt to the new way of doing things?

You know the old joke about “how many church elders does it take to change a lightbulb”: change!

Even before covid-19 changes were being put in place that will ultimately affect every Church of Scotland community throughout the land. The first stages of a Church of Scotland Radical Action Plan (RAP) is under way. RAP proclaims as its main banner the slogan “well equipped spaces in the right places.” Does that refer to us you may ask? The events of the last months may indeed hasten the implementation of RAP.

So, what do we need to do and are we up for it?

The Church is after all not closed. Only our buildings are closed. As a Church we are essentially functioning as normal, it is just how we do things that have changed and must continue to change.

Well perhaps the first thing is “do not panic” as a certain Dads Army character would say. We have the technology. If Granny and Grandpa can go on-line, so can we.

Indeed, for those of you in the know, the church has run an 11-30 am on-line Zoom service every Sunday morning since the start of the lockdown. Regularly we have ~ 55 plus connections and thus around 70 attendees. Most attendees are local, but some connections are from quite a distance away. It is a short service, just over 30 minutes in duration. There is a further chat time for half an hour at 12-15pm.

House Groups are continuing and using Zoom. These services and meetings are all about keeping a Christian community together. It is only through social interaction that the church will hold together.

But this is just the beginning. Soon most of the churches business will be done on-line (Zoom). But more important for the church we will need to rethink our whole modus operandi. It will take time, but we must find new ways to play our role within the community.

Is the church fully behind these changes. Sadly, no. The simple reality is that for many, having to change so many “lightbulbs” all at once is taking a little while to sink in. Hopefully, the skill set required to enable the church to survive and adapt will be put in place. If it is left to just a few to soldier on and carry the burden alone then the system will crash and no amount of “switch off and switch on again” will reset the system. We have total system failure.

If we as an organisation cannot adapt, or if there is not a willingness to learn new tricks, the lightbulbs will not get changed, and the spiritual light that has for so long glowed in our Christian community will fade, and the church will fall into obscurity. “Do not panic” all will be well. We pray.

If you read the Church of Scotland articles on its website or read about how Churches throughout the land are coping with covid-19 in the media, there are innumerable stories of Christian communities positively thriving at this time. Some churches get hundreds of connections to their on-line services. Yes, they may not be the same people who normally attend church, but that is the point. At this time of turmoil many are asking fundamental questions that we as Christians need to be able to help with. Some Church of Scotland minis-ters have been using on-line services for years. These services do not replace, but supplement-ing Sunday worship. Perhaps this is the return to the early Christian tradition of house churches all be it on-line.

The Church is not closed, it will never close, it is merely us that need to operate in a different way.

Is our Church in Kirkcudbright fit for the future?

That will be for time and you, the reader to decide.

Are you any good at “changing lightbulbs”?

Will you keep the light of the world glowing in our (virtual) church?

Ron McHugh