SANKEY VALLEY METHODIST CIRCUIT
Superintendent Minister Revd David J Easton
(To all members of the Circuit Meeting, Local Preachers and Worship Leaders and for sharing in the Circuit Churches)
31st March 2020
Pastoral letter from the Superintendent Minister
I wanted to take the opportunity to write to you personally given the difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in at the present time. I am very much aware that many of our members are among those deemed by the government to be ‘vulnerable’ or ‘at risk’ as the coronavirus continues to spread bringing illness and death to people in this country and across the world. My thoughts and prayers are with you in this unsettling time which is drastically affecting our lives and the mission of the church. I will try to support you in any way I can as we work together through this crisis. I thank God for you and ask his blessing on you in these difficult days. With measures introduced by the Government our nation has effectively been placed in lockdown, our personal choices restricted, and our churches closed for the foreseeable future.
The purpose of the church is to engage in God’s mission to the world. Simply put because our church buildings are closed for the foreseeable future that does not end our mission imperative. There are many bewildered and confused people around us who need to know that God loves and cares for them. Expressions of this through conversation, observing social distancing, by phone calls and through social media are ways we can reach out to those around us. There will no doubt be some who blame God for the pandemic. Pandemics do happen as do other natural evils but that does not mean that we need to blame God. They are a natural consequence of the world we live in. Can what is happening be used to deepen rather than reject faith in God?
Throughout the period of the enforced closure of the church we are having to find new ways of being church. Linda Bishop has set up a Facebook page ‘Warrington Methodist Worship’ and I encourage you to take a look at that. I am putting material on the Stockton Heath web site related to the various Sundays and colleagues will be doing the same on other church web sites. Linda Bishop’s worship service can be accessed through the Latchford church website as can all their weekly services. There is also material, including streamed services, on the Methodist church website. It is unfortunate that the Circuit web site is not able to be used at this time for reasons reported at the February Circuit Meeting. For those not on the internet there is on the radio BBC Radio 4 and Premier Radio (DAB 725). Joan and I have been joining in with the worship broadcast on BBC television on Sunday mornings and watching Songs of Praise and we have enjoyed these. I encourage you to take a look if you can and find out what is out there and to participate as you are able in these different worship styles. These initiatives offer new ways of being church which might for some be seen as offering a different way of being church in the future. Being church is not all about our buildings and we can join in Christian worship without buildings.
I have been reading the book ‘Say it to God’ by Luigi Gioia. It is about the life of prayer and has really stimulated my prayer life. Using the helpful metaphor of a river he says of Jesus that “to be the Son is never something received from the Father once for all, but has to keep happening all the time, just as a river has to keep flowing and a spring gushing”. I need to reflect more on how my life of prayer can be more like a flowing river or gushing spring. Looking at unread books on my shelf I am rediscovering joy of reading and being fed through it so that maybe I can come out of this a better minister.
When this pandemic crisis is over I think things will have changed in the world and the church. I don’t see a swift ‘return to business as normal’ and maybe this is not how it should be. Whilst we don’t blame God for the pandemic I do think we need to ask the question what is God inviting us to learn from this experience? As the Government are saying to the country that there is a need to act in the short term to provide an immediate response, that only throws into sharper focus the more pressing question of our medium/longer term plans. After a period of enforced closure, we need to accept a “lessons learned from the crisis” focus and I think we need to do this in openly, in honesty and positive ways reflecting on being the Methodist people where we are.
There is a great sense of confusion and bewilderment in society, and even in our churches, and we hold in our prayers all those who have lost loved ones. In the book ‘Say it to God’ which I referred to above Luigi Gioia talks about the disciples locked away in fear of the Jewish leaders. He says “Fear was the key that locked their door, the same fear that keeps us hidden away behind our inner walls.” In these days we may be hidden away to prevent risk of infection but I hope we are not consumed by fear. In these last few days even, I have come to see my garden as a pleasure not a chore! I recall that it was in a garden that the risen Jesus revealed himself to Mary Magdalene and reminds me that as we approach Easter that our confidence is in God who offers us new life in the resurrection of Jesus. It will be strange not worshiping in our familiar places on Easter Sunday but I hope you will still experience the joy of Easter.
God bless you all