"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Mat 5:13 NIV)
Pastor Ian Sweeney is President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Isles. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has Observer status in Churches Together in England.
Money & faith:
Among Seventh-day Adventists, if we are known for anything, it is money. Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist there was an anecdote which did the rounds which said that a Seventh-day Adventist found himself ship wrecked and washed ashore on a remote island. Some time later the same fate befell another Seventh-day Adventist and the first thing the 2 Adventists did on meeting one another was to collect an offering.
Money has been a serious challenge to us. Nationally, tithe returns which are held centrally and are used to pay all pastoral staff, has so far witnessed a decline of some 47%. Members who return tithes through their local congregation have been unable to do so with the closure of churches. Offerings, which remain with the local congregations have similarly been diminished but the percentage is unknown.
Following the UK Government’s announcement of the Job Retention Scheme (furlough), decisions were made to furlough a number of pastors in England. This decision has been met with opposition. The decision to furlough pastors was further evidence for some that leadership lacked faith in God.
Prior to the announcement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing that churches were to be closed, the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Isles had already announced on that their services were to be suspended until further notice. Leaders were questioned along the lines of, “don’t you believe that our God is mightier than a virus?”
The furloughing of pastors and utilising the Job Retention Scheme, was criticised because (1) pastoral support would be diminished in a time when support would be more needed (2) taking government money contradicts our historical position of the separation of church and state (3) the Seventh-day Adventist church just likes to collect money (see earlier anecdote) and it is believed we have millions of pounds saved up in banks that can be used.
As a church we have to find many hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay salaries each month. As we know, the word salary can be traced to ancient Rome who paid their soldiers with a handful of salt each day. While salt is not an option for us today, Christ’s words have a contemporary relevancy in that God’s people, like salt, are valuable and can effect positive change in those who come into contact with us.
Death & mourning:
While the Adventist Church has been an advocate of healthy lifestyles, fatalities have been part of our pandemic experience. With a membership largely from the BAME community, and many of them being employed in the front line of the pandemic, there is a sad inevitability that we would experience losses and so we have.
The grief of premature loss has been compounded by the need for limiting funeral sizes to a handful, and the handful of mourners much respect social distancing rules meaning embraces of support cannot be given and non-furloughed clergy are unable to make visits to offer prayers and consolation.
Opportunities for online worship via mediums such as Zoom have meant greater involvement of youth in leading services for which they have a greater computer literacy. In turn members who are not computer literate or connected to the internet suffer. In some congregations, members have devised all manner of ways to ensure that those who are not computer literate are provided for with equipment to ensure connectedness.
While this pandemic is largely darkness and gloom, what has been encouraging is witnessing a number of congregations either seizing upon or expanding their role as salt in their communities. An example of this is one congregation in Watford, Hertfordshire, now providing over 200 meals and/or food parcels per day to vulnerable people in their community as well as providing mental health and well-being support, and this in cooperation with other faith and community groups.
Being salt is not about spreading our name, but it is about spreading the name of Jesus. He came to this earth, touched the lives of humanity and is still touching people’s lives for the good. If there is anything positive to come out of this pandemic it is that all Christ’s followers would positively touch and impact lives.
Pastor Ian Sweeney is a former winner of the Times 'Preacher of the Year’ Award. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Isles has Observer status in Churches Together in England.