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Tuesday 17th March 2020:  Important Update on COVID-19

We wanted to give you an update on where we’re at as we respond to the unfolding situation surrounding the Coronavirus.

Earlier this afternoon the Presbyterian Church in Ireland issued the following advice to all ministers and leadership teams:

* All organisations and activities connected with St Andrew’s are to cease, until further notice.

* All Sunday gatherings for worship in the church buildings are also to cease until further notice.

* We’ve also been advised to ensure that numbers attending funeral services and weddings are kept as low as possible until further notice.

At this stage, we’re not sure when these restrictions will be lifted, but we have been assured that they will be withdrawn as soon as government guidance permits. We’re continuing to follow the advice being provided by the government and Public Health Agency.

This poses a real challenge for all of us - because how we normally run things in the church family is now being radically changed. But there continue to be real opportunities for us to love and care well for one another in these days. So rather than panic, we continue to pray. Rather than give in to fear, we focus on the Lord in faith. Rather than choose self preservation, we continue to selflessly love and serve those around us.

Tonight the Elders of St Andrew’s met to prayerfully consider the way forward for the church family in these days.  The Elders discussed and agreed a number of immediate measures that we’re going to put in place over the next few days, to enable us to continue to develop fellowship, community and building of faith across the church family and wider community. These will include:

1. Sending out a pastoral letter to each of the homes of all those who are connected with the church family by the weekend, giving details of how you can stay connected with all that’s happening in St Andrew’s, and providing a key point of contact with one of the Elders. We’ll simply be posting these letters through letter boxes.

2. We will be providing a Live Stream ‘Worship Gathering’ online at 11am every Sunday morning going forward, and we’d encourage as many people as possible to connect with this worship gathering via the internet. It’s important that we continue to worship the Lord together in these days, in new and creative ways….and who knows, the Birthday Bucket might even get a look in as well!

3. Keep plugged into the church Facebook page as we’ll be posting various resources to help you in your daily devotions, prayer life and family worship times at home.

4. If you’d like to get plugged in to our Prayer What’s App Community, please email mark@StAndrewsBangor.org.uk or text 07736 769 744.

5. We’re encouraging everyone to keep in contact with one another, using social media, or telephone, so that all of us maintain that sense of community as a church family.

6. We’d encourage you to keep looking out for those you know who are vulnerable, particularly the elderly, or families self-isolating at this time.

7. We’re also putting together a Love-In-Action Support group made up of folks who are willing to help those feeling more vulnerable, by picking up shopping, or getting a prescription, or posting mail, or giving a phone call to have a chat - whatever we can do to help. If you’d like to be part of this team, please let us know.

As the situation develops, we’ll continue to update everyone.

In the mean time, remember that God is still sovereign over all things and continues to be at work in the world in these days. We continue to pray therefore that all would know and feel God’s love and close presence at this time and that the Church, scattered throughout our community, will continue to be salt and light, pointing people to Jesus Christ, the hope of the world.

Keep in touch folks and looking heavenward. We’re all in this together.


Friday 13th March 2020:  A letter from Mark to the church family and wider community about COVID-19 and our ongoing response

To the church family of St Andrew’s and to the wider community,

We live in uncertain times.  COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is shaking the world as we know it.  The situation has escalated in the last couple of days, with residential homes and hospitals closing their doors to visitors; employees changing their work patterns and even working from home; sporting fixtures, concerts and clubs being cancelled.   All of these measures are aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, particularly amongst those who are most vulnerable at this time.

As a church family, we seek to love and care well for one another and those in the wider community, and so we have an important part to play in the unfolding response to COVID-19.  The Elders of St Andrew’s are continuing to monitor the situation, and are relying heavily on guidance provided by the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland (www.publichealth.hscni.net) and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.  Currently the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive have not brought in the kind of restrictions which now apply in the Republic of Ireland.  Specifically, there has been no closure of schools, colleges and other public facilities, nor has there been any restriction or limits placed on indoor or outdoor gatherings.  This may well happen over the coming weeks or even days, which will obviously change the situation, and at that stage, further guidance will be issued.

With all of this in mind, as of today, Friday 13th March 2020, all the ministries and organisations that are part of the life and witness of the church family are continuing.  These will be reviewed on a week-by-week basis by the Elders.  Any updates on possible postponed or cancelled meetings will be shared via our Facebook page; the Calendar on the home page of the church website (www.standrewsbangor.org.uk) will also be kept up to date with what’s on week-by-week in the life of the church family.  If you have any questions at any point, please get in touch with Rev Mark Johnston (07736 769 744), or any of the Elders.

CARING FOR ONE ANOTHER THIS SUNDAY AND BEYOND

We continue to look forward to meeting this Sunday morning at 11am for gathered worship.  Given all that is happening in these days, it’s really important that we continue to meet together, to encourage and support one another, to pray and sing to the Lord together, to hear Him speak to us through His Word, and also to invite friends, family, or neighbours who have maybe never been to a worship gathering before, but who in these days are feeling fearful and need to hear about Jesus.  

As we look forward to meeting this Sunday and beyond, we are putting in place some simple, ‘common sense’ measures which we hope will reduce the risk of spreading any infection.  These are as follows:

  • If you are unwell or have any symptoms (e.g. a dry cough, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing or fever), can we lovingly encourage you to remain at home.  If you have been advised to self-isolate, please stay safe at home until you have been advised otherwise by your GP.  We will deeply miss your physical presence with us, and we will do all we can to care for you in these days.  If you need help and support in any way, or if you want to talk with someone over the phone please contact any of the Elders.  Pastoral support and prayer for those who are unable to attend worship gatherings because of ill health will be provided by telephone.
  • Good Hand Hygiene is the most effective protection - please ensure that your hands are washed regularly and we will do our best to ensure that there are adequate stocks of soap and hand sanitiser available.  Sadly, at the time of writing, we have been unable to source adequate supplies of hand sanitisers, as a result of panic buying in recent days.  If you have a spare bottle of hand sanitiser that you could bring with you so that we can all make use of it, feel free to bring this with you and place it on the table in the foyer.  
  • Please bring adequate tissues with you, and if you happen to cough or sneeze, catch it in a tissue, bin it and then wash your hands.
  • Instead of shaking hands or giving hugs, we’re asking everyone to avoid physical contact for the time being.  Feel free, however, to think creatively about ways to share your love and care for those around you as you greet one another - maybe place your hand over your heart, give a wave and share a smile and warm hello with one another. 
  • Instead of passing an offering plate around during the collection of our gifts, tithes and offerings on Sunday morning, we will have plates laid out at both entrances of the Sanctuary, where you can place your weekly offerings.  If you feel led to begin to give your offerings via Standing Order, then please speak with William Lynn.
  • Tea, coffee and refreshments after Sunday worship will continue to be served as normal at the back of the sanctuary.  This is a vital part of our fellowship together.  Again, please use common sense when it comes to good hygiene practices as refreshments are served, received and enjoyed together.  Don’t be in any rush away after the worship gathering - it’s important to support, encourage and pray for one another in these times together.
  • We’re very thankful to those who faithfully clean the buildings week by week.  Be assured that this work will continue and that surfaces and especially often touched areas (e.g. door handles etc) will be cleaned regularly.  Ministry leaders will also do all that they can to ensure that good hygiene practices are observed throughout each week as organisations meet.

Regarding organisations and activities for children, young people and adults that take place during the week, the Public Health Agency’s current advice is that there is no need, at present, to cancel these.  At this time all the organisations will continue to take place, and this will be reviewed by the Elders on a weekly basis going forward, as new information is provided by the Public Health Agency and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.  At all times we will seek to adopt a balanced assessment - being wise in seeking ways to reduce any undue risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, whilst also recognising that many of the church activities provide much needed fellowship and support for many people.

BEING A NON-ANXIOUS PRESENCE IN A PANICKED WORLD

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we may feel scared, weighed down by fear and anxiety, even disturbed as we watch panic buying taking place before our eyes. Our illusions of control in our Western World are being stripped away, which can make us feel vulnerable.  

It’s in these times that we must ask ourselves the question - where does our hope lie?  For those of us who are followers of Jesus, our  hope lies in Him.  He is the One who is in control.  He is the One who never leaves us.  He is the One who loves and cares for us and promises to provide for our every need.  He is the One who calls us not to allow our hearts to be troubled, but instead to trust Him and follow Him in these days.  And as we do this, He promises to lead and guide us as His Spirit works within us.   

As followers of Jesus, how are we to live?  

Well, rather than panic buy, we can pray.  Pray for our leaders, science and medical officers, and all those making decisions to protect public health; pray for doctors and nurses; pray for the sick, the vulnerable, the scared and anxious; pray for businesses and our brothers and sisters around the world who are all feeling the impact of this; pray for the Lord’s guidance and courage on how we can love and care well for those who are frightened.  

To that end, we’re opening up the church building this Tuesday morning 17th March from 9:30am to 11am  - come and go as you please.  Use this time of stillness to pray to the Lord.  We’ll be on hand to pray with you, if you need to chat about anything.  If you’d like to get plugged into the Prayer What’s App, then please text your mobile phone number to Mark’s phone:  07736 769 744 and we’ll get you connected with this praying community in the church family.

Rather than adopt a posture of fear, we are to live by faith in the Lord.  He is our Refuge and Strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  God calls us to be still and know that He is God.  Have we been doing that this week?  As we continue to be bombarded with fake news messages on Social Media, as we scramble to get the latest information from here there and everywhere, as we sit glued to TV screens waiting for the latest government announcements, are we taking time to be still, looking to the Lord who is our God, and putting our faith in Him?

Rather than adopting a posture of self-preservation, doing all we can to stock up on loo rolls and pasta and the like, should we not be seeking to selflessly and sacrificially serve those around us - our children who are scared - our neighbours who feel alone and isolated and maybe need help in getting some groceries - those with underlying health conditions who need someone to reassure them that they are loved and cared for by the Lord - surely we need to be looking beyond ourselves and doing all we can to love and care for those around us, in Jesus’ name.

In these shaky days, we are to live as a non-anxious presence in a panicked world.  We are to live in light of eternity.  Our hope, our security,  our firm foundation is in the Lord.  If what is predicted comes to pass, panic and fear will increase.  And yet for God’s children, those who trust and follow Jesus with their lives, this is a time for all of us to look up  and embrace our hope in Christ.  It is a time for us to live what we believe - that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.  It is a time to look out for opportunities to share our faith kindly and sensitively, to give a reason for the hope that we have.  And it is a time for us to look around, and see those on the margins - the sick, the forgotten, the frightened, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.  On Christ the solid rock we stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

If you would like to find out more about what it means to trust and follow the Lord - get in touch.  If you would like someone to pray with you in person or over the phone - get in touch.  If you need help in any way, get in touch.  We’re here to love and care for one another in Jesus’ name.

Let me leave you with these words of Jesus from John 14:27, spoken to His followers the night before He died on the cross.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:27)

Every blessing to each and every one of you in these days, as we continue to keep looking heavenward.

Rev Mark Johnston, Minister of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Bangor

Mobile:  07736 769 744

P.S.  To get linked in with the Prayer What’s App community, please text your mobile number to Mark Johnston’s mobile:  07736 769 744.


29th October 2017: 3 things every Christian should know about the Reformation

Today in St Andrew's, Robin Fairburn shared with us more about the significance of the Reformation, as we mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door of the castle chapel in the German town of Wittenberg - an event that has become known as the starting point of the Reformation.  Below is an article entitled '3 things every Christian should know about the Reformation', written by Michael Reeves.  Michael is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology. He is the author of Delighting in the TrinityRejoicing in Christ, and The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation. You can follow him on Twitter.  You can also read this article and others on The Gospel Coalition website.  

For some, the Protestant Reformation conjures up images of dusty old tomes and yawn-a-minute lectures from even dustier old men. We Christians talk about the past an awful lot, and this year many of us have been going on about Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the others even more than usual. Why so much fuss about all these dead guys? Aren’t we in danger of becoming outdated and irrelevant?

Actually, marking the anniversary of the Reformation isn’t about reveling in past glories or pining for an idyllic golden age. We’re celebrating this year because 500 years ago, when the church was deep in darkness, God shone the light of the his gospel afresh. Luther made a discovery that changed the world then, and continues to transform lives and cultures today. What the German monk uncovered in his Bible is as explosive and wonderful now as it ever was.

Here are three things every single Christian should know about the Reformation.

1. It was about happiness.

Luther discovered a powerful secret that would shake the world, unleashing happiness wherever it went.

The secret was this: Failing, broken people “are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”

Could that secret be more countercultural today? It is deep in our blood that the more attractive we make ourselves, the more loved and happy we will be. The Reformation was a story of one man discovering to his delight that, with God, it the other way around. God does not love people because they have sorted themselves out. He loves failures, and his love makes them flourish.

At its heart, the Reformation was about happiness.

So Luther was concerned with people’s happiness. In fact, he would come to believe, he had found the secret of happiness. And that, at its heart, was what the Reformation was all about. Not moralizing. Not self-improvement. It was a discovery of stunningly happy news, news that would transform millions of lives and change the world.

2. It was about freedom.

The Reformation was the beginning of Protestantism, so people sometimes assume it was simply about protesting, arguing, and getting tied up in knots about what was right and wrong to believe.

Yet when Luther wrote a short book to explain his discovery, he called it The Freedom of a Christian. In it we find that the Reformation was a freedom movement, not an excuse to impose new rules or complexity.

The Reformation was a freedom movement, not an excuse to impose new rules or complexity.

In fact, Luther argued that the gospel is breathtakingly straightforward. He said the good news he had found is like the story of a wealthy king (representing Jesus) who marries a debt-ridden prostitute (representing one who trusts him). The girl could never make herself a queen. But then the king comes along, full of love for her. And on their wedding day he makes his marriage vow to her. With that, she is his, and the prostitute becomes a queen. He takes and bears all her debts, and she now shares his boundless wealth and status.

It is not that she earned it. She didn’t become a queen by behaving royally. Indeed, she doesn’t know howto behave royally. But when the king made his marriage promise, he changed her status. Despite all her backstreet ways, the poor girl is now a queen.

Likewise, the greatest failure who accepts Jesus Christ gets to share his righteousness and status. What happens is a happy status-swap: When Jesus died on the cross, he absorbed and dealt with all our guilt and failure; and out of sheer love he now shares with those who trust him all his righteousness and life.

It means, wrote Luther gleefully:

Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, which she may boast of as her own and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his.”

3. It was about the future.

Consider these words, written by a team of scholars in Westminster, England, in the 1640s: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Those words capture the heart of the Reformation. For Luther’s discovery made abundantly clear that God is glorious: beautiful, good, kind, and generous. We can therefore actually enjoy God. Not hate. Not avoid. Not appease. Enjoy.

This was all quite different to what so many had known before. As a monk Luther had confessed he’d come to hate God; doubtful of whether he’d made himself worthy of heaven, he shook with fear at the thought of how God might judge him on the last day.

Yet armed with his new discovery, Luther realized he could face such fears like this:

When the Devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satis­faction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”

And so the horrifying doomsday became for him “the most happy Last Day.” The gospel had so transformed Luther’s life that he was able to look to the future with unshakeable hope and assurance that he would enjoy the living God forever.

And there could be no better hope for hurting, hopeless people today.


29th October 2017: The story of Martin Luther (Playmobil Animation)

Here's a link to a brilliant YouTube video, that summarises the life of Martin Luther, in a Playmobil Animation!  It's suitable for all ages.  We played it during Sunday worship today at St Andrew's.  Enjoy!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tox2TflUH90