You will, of course, know the story of Moses and how he led God’s people out of Egypt and to freedom. But did you know that it was just two and a half months after their dramatic departure that the Israelites, hungry and anxious about the future, grumbled that they wished they were back in Egypt? That they would prefer a return to slavery because then at least they had enough to eat? (Exodus 16:2) I suspect that, deep-down, those protestations were not true because their lives as slaves had been extremely hard – but it’s easy to look back with rose-coloured spectacles, especially when the current situation is challenging and difficult.
Perhaps we have some sympathy with them, and maybe we can see some parallels between their story and that of the church today? Church attendance has been declining in almost every denomination in the UK for decades. The effect of Covid has been to accelerate that trend. Perhaps it is only natural that we should yearn to go back to the old days and ways – and when we say that we’re not talking about just pre-Covid but back to the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s (or earlier!) – when congregations were fuller with lots of families and young people and churches weren’t closing but expanding.
The thing is, like the Israelites in Egypt there IS no turning back, no going back to the old days. There never was, but maybe, pre-Covid, we were able to convince ourselves that if we only worked harder, tried some different activities, sang some newer hymns etc, we could somehow reverse the trend. Instead the result has been to place greater burdens onto fewer people with less resources until the inevitable point is reached when a church is no longer sustainable. And as is true for so many churches in this country, so the same will be true for us – eventually – unless we can learn some lessons from biblical history.
What changed for the Israelites? Well, God heard them and he spoke to Moses. He gave him a set of instructions to share with the Israelites. If they followed these they would be fed with manna in the morning and quail in the evening. They had to trust that God would be true to his word. They had to follow his instructions. At first they didn’t; they tried doing their own thing with bad results, but they learnt. They still had to spend a long time in the wilderness before they reached the Promised Land but throughout it all they had the pillars of cloud and fire to guide them and they got to see the glory of the Lord and finally understand what it meant that he was the Lord their God. (Exod. 16: 10 & 11)
We need to look to God, to prayerfully discern where he may be leading us. We need to trust him, as individuals and as a church. Covid may well have provided a Kairos moment, an opportune time for God-led change. We need to be open to new ideas, be prepared to let go of some of the old ways. I’m not suggesting everything should change. The care shown to one another and the support we give to the community, for example, are things we should continue – but we need to be willing to embrace new ways of being church.
To that end we are invited to join in with six live talks on Wednesday evenings from 6th October – 10th November on the subject, ‘A new church for a new world.’ (Please see elsewhere in this newsletter for details.) Please do take part if you can.
The road ahead will be bumpy at times for sure, but with God as our guide we will look forward and not back and will walk the path in confident assurance.
I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see
but One stands near to be my guide, he’ll guard and comfort me.
We know who holds the future and he’ll guide us with his hand.
With God things don’t just happen, everything by him is planned.
And as we face tomorrow with its problems large and small,
we’ll trust the God of miracles, give to him our all.
With every blessing
Exodus16: 1 – 5, 9 – 11
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”