Alan’s Letter

Dear Friends,

It is good to be able to share with you in the latest Link, in particular to read some of your thoughts about life in these strange times.

After many weeks of lockdown our household was able to have a few days away at the coast in Dorset it was good to see the sea and breathe a bit of different air!

The area around Swanage is very familiar to us as we have been going on holiday there since our children were born. However it felt very different this year.  Our favourite beach cafe was only doing a take away menu and all its outdoor tables had been removed causing one elderly couple some consternation as they were looking forward to a sit down and a cup of tea after a walk along the beach (no, not us!), the beach itself was very busy.  Normally I don’t mind this as it is a great to do a bit of people watching seeing families interact, watching children play, but this time it made me feel quite agitated as I considered all the rules about social distancing.  At times I felt as if I wanted to say something but then I realise that for some families this was a welcome change to the strictures of lockdown or an opportunity for families to see each other, so I had to be balanced in my behaviour.

Balance. As a Christian that balance is informed by my faith, the commitment of a Christian disciple to live in a loving, compassionate and yet truthful and just way.

The same is true in the church. On the one hand I receive a few letters and messages from people desperately asking me to re-open churches while we still have churches to reopen, when is the Circuit plan coming out, and even though many are in their 70s and 80s, we just want to get together for a sing and a coffee and a catch up. It’s this social benefit of church life that I am so painfully and acutely aware is most missed by many of us. Churches are able to provide so much that contributes towards people’s personal mental health and wellbeing, as well as social inclusion, that to be so limited, to the point of impossible, is harming some people’s health.

On the other hand, as you’ll know from what I’ve written before, the responsibilities of trusteeship, safety and Covid restrictions and guidelines must be followed. Unlike shops, restaurants, chip shops and car garages (where I’ve also been a bit recently) we have no professionals, only volunteers. Balancing up risks is a responsible thing.

Once again, we have to be kind, gracious, and understanding of those with frustrations while we work through these processes, and ask why?, what’s our mission and vision?  At the same time the truths of our responsibilities mean we have to think what is viable in some churches and chapels and what is just.

Our faith doesn’t take us out of the world, it embeds us more deeply in it, just as with Jesus who was the word made flesh. It is God’s involvement with humanity that is our hope through these difficult times.

One of the things that means is our sense of togetherness and unity. There is always a tension in Methodism between the desires and wishes of a local church, which in its own community, and for its congregation, is rightly, in some ways the centre of the universe. But Methodism is not a congregational church, we are a Connexion, it is our relationships and connectedness that makes us Methodist.

The best of it is,

God is with us.

john wesley

At the moment we have slid, because of circumstances, into the congregational approach – each church, responsible for worship and care. This has had dire consequences financially, as many have stopped ‘putting in their collection’ because the plate isn’t coming under our nose every week. To move to a position of connectedness, such as the plan gives us for example, is going to take time and careful transition – so I ask for your patience! The Circuit staff are already intending that the plan will look different, it will have on it, not only those churches whose buildings are open, those who are leading an online or recorded service, and these may vary – not everything is ever going ‘back to normal’.

The good that has been learnt through lockdown must be nurtured and encouraged. Those who are elderly and at risk must not feel they have to turn out to ‘keep the chapel going’ and those who can and will must not bear too much of a burden.

We can and will change because God is with us. Through trying to keep a balance, and seeking the way, God will lead us, and in the process, make us new.

I love the hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule in Singing the Faith no 393:

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,

hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;

she sighs and she sings, mothering creation

waiting to give birth to all the Word will say

Grace and Peace,

                        Alan.