Extracts from our weekly newsletters
5th July 2020
Peace, Pandemics and Plastic Bottles was the title of the Beckly Lecture given by Rev Dr Inderjit Bogal at a fringe event at the Methodist Conference. As the title suggests, the lecture was a very wide-ranging discussion of the question: “What kind of new normal do we hope for after this pandemic?” We all hope to have learned lessons and gained new perspectives – but what visible differences do we hope for as a result? Inderjit pointed us to the normative words of the prophet Micah – that the Lord requires us to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” The world needs to learn what those words mean in relation to matters such as justice for the poor, the elderly and vulnerable, racial inequality, inclusivity, pollution and climate change. The church clearly has a call to speak out on these issues, challenging any drift back to our old ways. Perhaps the harder question is “how does the Methodist Church in and around Ludlow work toward that vision?” – “how can we change our ways, individually and as a church so that we model the good news and the kingdom of God?” It’s a one-off opportunity we have to make a visible change.
21st June 2020
As a parent I’ve heard many times those children’s words: “are we nearly there yet?” – reflecting impatience, boredom, excitement perhaps, or just the desire to have some sense of “how much longer?” These are familiar feelings to most of us at this time, exacerbated by the fact that there are no parents who have the answer. People’s predictions of when churches can properly re-open for worship have ranged from last Easter, as predicted by President Trump, to a feeling among some staff that it would not be this calendar year. Amidst this uncertainty there are creeping adjustments made to the lockdown by our government, responding to statistics about health and the economy, as well as popular pressure. These welcome adjustments have the effect of developing a momentum and raising expectations – but can we be sure?
Our Superintendent summarised the Circuit’s current position in a letter I’d like to share with you:
The news that some Church of England and Roman Catholic buildings are to open from [last] Monday for private prayer might well prompt the question of when Methodist buildings might begin to open. The guidance of the Methodist Church has very recently been updated to allow our buildings to open for private prayer also, following new government advice. However, there are things which MUST be done before any re-opening can be considered.
The steps that should be gone through before opening are described on the Methodist website. A Covid-19 risk assessment must also be undertaken. Neither of these are trivial and it will be worth spending some time considering how and when this will happen and who will take responsibility for it. You will see that it is a requirement that someone is appointed by the Church Council as a dedicated responsible person for Covid-19 related health, safety and safeguarding matters. For everyone's sake, please make sure that it is documented who has completed the various steps required.
Even as it becomes possible to re-open our church buildings, this does not mean that they must re-open. Church stewards must not feel pressured into compromising their health. Our chapels are principally places of gathering -- we have little tradition of using our buildings for private prayer -- and I would not expect that many churches will want to re-open just for this purpose. The rules about opening for private prayer specifically exclude any sort of scheduled or communal event.
I believe that it is important that we take a consistent approach to re-opening across the Circuit and I ask local church stewards not to make unilateral decisions. I need to be informed about any intent to re-open (other than for inspections or previously designated activities), preferably through your local minister BEFORE re-opening takes place.
This has been a really difficult time for all of us and we all hope and pray that it will soon be possible for us to meet physically again. But we must resist the temptation to act hastily and without proper caution. I am very conscious that many of our people are very vulnerable to Covid-19 and the consequences of infection within our community could be severe for individuals, for the church and for managing trustees.
The Methodist Church in Shropshire and Marches has not closed, despite the closure of our buildings. Circuit staff have been working as hard as ever to maintain and build up our common life of fellowship and prayer. Please pray for us as we work together towards what we hope will soon be a time post-Covid19.
God bless, Richard”
Rev. Richard Hall, Circuit Superintendent
It may be that when you read this I shall be in Marrakesh (of all places!) where I’m spending a few days at the end of February. Let me explain - the phone call came out of the blue from Nigel, one of five students who shared a flat with me when at Imperial College in 1976. Nigel now works in Rome but is married to a Moroccan lady and they invited us all to a reunion at their house near the Atlas mountains.
At university, two of the six were members with me of the Anglican-Methodist Chaplaincy, but I suspect they no longer have any church involvement. So – a big opportunity to listen to their diverse stories and to share how we came to be where are, aware of that instruction of Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3.15).
I’m sure my friends and I will discover that, just as we came together as different people, our paths after leaving university have been very diverse, often for no more reason than the different unexpected opportunities that came our way. But I hope that our history of togetherness will mean that the intervening years will melt away and we shall rediscover the friendship and trust we once knew – as if it had never been forgotten. I hope that our only regret will be that it took so long to get together again.
Sometimes our journey and faith can be like that – a time of neglect and forgetfulness, a ‘dark night of the soul’ when it seems to be only us, followed by a surprise rediscovery, a spiritual encounter – coming about when God says ‘Come and see - Remember?’ and we say ‘Yes!’.
Perhaps this time of Lent can be an unexpected opportunity of a re-union with our Lord? Is there a Lenten activity or discipline that will reawaken a sense of belonging and joy and hope we once knew in fellowship with Him? Might we only regret that we’d neglected Him for so long?
The recent study day with Barbara Glasson and Clive Marsh, Our President and Vice President, wasn’t to be an opportunity to sit back, relax and absorb morsels of their superior knowledge and wisdom from behind closed eyelids. Instead we were encouraged to form factions and to energetically disagree with one another, grappling with how scripture can appear to disagree with itself – Paul, for example, seeming to disagree with his own writing. It was a way of illustrating that biblical teaching is seldom simple and has to be understood within a particular context. So we need to be discerning about what it means to live biblically and what conclusions we draw from Scripture about relationships with one another and God’s Creation.
One exercise we were asked to engage with was to imagine that some of us were aliens from the planet Zog – blessed with a command of the English language but knowing nothing about church or church jargon – and arriving at a meeting of a Church Council. The questions of the Zoggians asked were “What are you doing and why?” and “Does this meeting help?” I’d have been interested to eavesdrop on the group that tried to explain to the aliens how and why we had nailed our “God” to a cross!
The point is, of course, that the world’s understanding of church matters and jargon is little more than that of the Zoggians, and our church meetings would seem just as bizarre to neighbours who came. I’ve certainly sat in Church Councils where I was extremely pleased that no-one from outside the church was present – we would all have been filled with shame!
We have a huge challenge in communicating our faith to the world in which we live, and that challenge begins with being sure of what we want to communicate.
As Lent approaches we might like to consider how we respond to someone who asks “Why do you go to church?” Could we, rather than resorting to formulaic words and expecting them to make sense, respond from our hearts, finding a story and language of love, kindness, listening, concern, generosity, forgiveness, joy, peace and hope through our belonging to Christ? Can our story be seen in our being and our doing, and recognised as supremely relevant to everyone’s situation.
Perhaps the aliens from Zog could go back to their spaceship saying that some of those earthlings have really discovered something, and wondering why everyone on earth isn’t a part of it.
Can we use this time of Lent to check out what is really at the heart of our faith story and how our lives communicate it?