Our Ministers regularly write letters of encouragement and support.
President of the Conference the Revd Richard Teal ....>
Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse Chair of the District ....>
Revd Colin Telfer - North Norfolk Superintendent ....>
Leave the light on…
Human beings are curious creatures – unpredictable. When faced with darkness and fear, some will hide away, some will become aggressive, some… will shine.
These last few days, as the darkness deepened and fears grew, some have drawn into themselves all the more, there have been angry words in the media, but some… have put up Christmas lights early, talked of organising a Christmas stocking production line for those feeling the pinch, started a list for who might need a Christmas Day meal on wheels.
It has been heartening to see and hear of these things, as though the season has been extended, the darkness pushed back by a thousand twinkling lights and fears eased by simple acts of kindness. Perhaps even the anger is softening…
Sooner than you’re ready for, it will be Christmas! Then the lights will be packed away. The stockings emptied. Meals will return to ordinariness (and perhaps loneliness). The darkness will creep back into our lives…
EXCEPT NOT THIS TIME!
Ladies and gentlemen – let me introduce you to JANUARY LIGHT!
Our calling to leave the light on, keep the darkness at bay and keep spreading love and hope a little longer – all through January. Dress up your windows to bring a smile to those passing by. Pop a postcard through someone’s door to brighten up their day. Save those Christmas cards and make yourself a prayer collage using the messages and names of those who have sent you season’s greetings.
Just a few ideas – there are more on the website, or maybe you can think of your own, either to do at home, in the chapel / church buildings or with friends. Maybe get your whole street involved! Or the whole village / town!
Jesus, light of the world has called us to walk in his way. So let’s not hide that light under a bushel (whatever that is) – the light shines in the darkness – lets keep the light on!
Come along Tuesday 5th January, 6.30pm to a Zoom service with Rev Julian Pursehouse (East Anglia District Chair), Dr Yasmin Finch (East Anglia District Mission Enabler), Rev Sharon Thraves (EA Evangelism Group Co-ordinator) and Angela Brydon (BEH Discipleship Enabler).
Our own Circuit January Light Zoom Service will be Sunday 10th January, 6.30pm.
Or how about organising your own ‘service of light’ in your chapel / church building some time during the month.
A pastoral message from the Secretary of the Conference
A message from the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler to the Methodist people following a further lockdown in England and continued restrictions in Wales and Scotland.
I don’t want to exaggerate our current situation by suggesting any similarity between our position and his, but I have turned to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison as I think about the ‘lockdown’ that began at midnight today. Even ‘lockdown’ can seem to be an exaggeration as for many life will not be so very different. Unlike in the Spring, schools and other educational establishments are still open; there is no restriction on the number of times per day that someone can leave their home; churches can be open for individual prayer, funerals, and the live streaming of acts of worship (as always, up-to-date guidance for ministers and managing trustees is available on the Methodist Church website). Our liberty has been restricted for the sake of others; it is going too far (I think) to claim that our liberties have been infringed.
None of that makes lockdown easy; there is a number of reasons why this feels so hard. One is the divergence with which we have to live in the Connexion. As activities in England become more confined, there is soon to be an easing of the restrictions in Wales. Scotland (at the time of writing) continues to operate a policy of regional tiers. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have had a very different experience in some respects and may feel more isolated than before from the rest of the British Isles. Remembering that we are one Connexion has never seemed so important.
Another reason that this feels hard is the time of year. Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents on 9 November 1943, ‘Now the dismal autumn days have begun and one has to try to get light from within.’ I was talking to a friend last week about some practical arrangements which involved meeting outdoors and said that I supposed it was harder than in the Spring because November seems grimmer than April. ‘That’s because,’ he replied, ‘November is grimmer than April.’ This might be one year when we do not complain about preparations for Christmas beginning too early; the Christian message is that it is when the darkness is deepest the light of Christ shines most brightly.
Bonhoeffer continued that letter in November 1943, ‘Your letters always help with this.’ The discovery of pandemic for me and many others has been the range of communication technology available to us and the simple importance of keeping in touch. One of the principal tasks of ministry (for the whole community not just the ordained) is to maintain the links; that many church buildings had not reopened for worship before governments ordered their closure again was testament to the imaginative ways of sustaining fellowship that had been adopted. Of course, meeting online is not the same as gathering around a table but neither is it simply ‘better than nothing’ and we shall continue to reflect and to explore what it means to be a church that is drawn together in physical and non-physical ways.
A third reason that this is hard, however, is the (temporary) loss of a church service in those buildings where public worship had resumed. Bonhoeffer wrote in April 1943 of the ringing of the prison chapel bell being the best time to write home. ‘It’s remarkable what power church bells have over human beings and how deeply they can affect us. So many of life’s experiences gather around them.’ Meeting in a church building has a similar resonance. It is not simply about being in a particular place for a particular purpose on a particular day but about somewhere that has resonance with an host of memories, both communal and individual. ‘I think,’ Bonhoeffer went on, ‘of all the different parishes I have worked in, then of all the family occasions…. I really cannot count all the memories that come alive to me, and they all inspire peace, thankfulness, and confidence.’ At a time when we are anxious about when the restrictions will be lifted, reminding ourselves not of what we are missing but of what has blessed us in the past can be a gateway to peace, thankfulness, and confidence, and not only for us but for one another as, confined to our homes though we might be, we make sure that we keep in touch. ‘I don’t expect a long letter from you’ wrote Bonhoeffer to one of his friends, ‘but let’s promise to remain faithful in interceding for each other.’
Jonathan Hustler, 5 November 2020.
A family view of a Derbyshire history. - Drew Robson-Martin
Although I was born in Nottingham, my family has always viewed themselves as coming from Derbyshire as my parents and all four grandparents were born and raised in the county. As a young child, I spent a lot of time with my mother’s parents at Borrowash, and visited Crich where my father’s family had come from. I grew up knowing the neighbouring village of Eyam (Pronounced E-yam, not eem as is sometimes heard) and the names of Mr Mompesson and his well.
In 1665, there was a severe outbreak of bubonic plague in England, commonly referred to as “The Black Death.” Like me, you probably heard about it in history lessons at school, and the following “Great Fire of London” which changed the capitol city beyond recognition. Historians and epidemiologists are still arguing about the causes and the effective treatments in the seventeenth century – now the bacillus is treated with anti-biotics. What is not so well known or understood is that in September 1665, the first case of the plague was recorded in Eyam, popularly attributed to a bolt of cloth sent from London.
The Reverend William Mompesson was Rector of the parish and lived in the village with his wife Catherine and his children. He was newly ordained after taking his degree at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was aged only 26 at the time of the outbreak. One of his neighbours was Thomas Stanley who was a former Rector dismissed for being a puritan. The village itself was a thriving lead mining community with a population of about 350.
At this period of history, the fear of the plague was paramount. A society that had started to understand medicine in modern terms and were finding effective treatments for simple ailments suddenly found themselves facing the unknown, and the ill-advised suggestion that this was a punishment from God was publicised in many ways. It was not uncommon for whole communities to flee in panic, thereby spreading the contagion. Mompesson and Stanley recognising this, sought to find a different response and over a period of some weeks sought agreement to isolate the village for the good of society. Mompesson from his own writings seems to have felt a calling and loyalty to his parishioners and a sense of duty and service. His children were sent away, but Catherine refused to go, sharing her husband’s understanding of a calling.
A curtain wall was built around the village (The Derby Dales are littered with limestone and millstone) and no-one was allowed in or out. Mompesson arranged with the patron of the living, the Duke of Devonshire, that any necessities would be delivered to certain spots on the wall, and that money to pay for such items would be placed in Mompesson’s Well, a trough with flowing water running through it, or else sterilised in vinegar. The villagers were also banned from meeting indoors in groups outside of their families, and when meeting outside were expected to keep a safe distance from each other. It is still possible to visit Cucklet Church – the sheltered valley where services were held, led by the Rector. Under his organisation, he, his wife Catherine and his friend Thomas Stanley arranged pastoral care of the villagers, taking food when families fell ill, praying with the sick and dying, even emptying foetid buckets of human waste where necessary.
By the time that the last victim died in December 1666, 260 of the inhabitants had died, including Catherine.
I said at the start that this was my family’s perspective, and I have ignored modern historians’ attempts to rewrite the story and explore different motivations. For my grandparents, Mr Mompesson was a hero held up as an example as modern saint or disciple, who had given his love and energies in service to his brothers and sisters in Christ, and never counting the cost. As a family we often made the pilgrimage to Eyam and visited the sites as my grandparents felt it was their privilege to keep the story alive and constantly learn from it.
So some 350 years later… we find ourselves facing a plague beyond our medical understanding, we cannot meet friends indoors, and when we are out, we need to keep our distance, and everything must be sanitised regularly. I suspect my forebears might recognise the situation. So I find myself asking how I can draw on the example of William Mompesson and the villagers of Eyam? I can easily follow the simple hygiene routines we are advised to adopt. I can pray for those who are sick, afraid, alone. I can pick up the phone or email to keep in touch with others, and thank those who serve me in the same manner. I can join in worship with others at a safe distance and keep my eyes firmly upon God, even in the darkest hours. I have offered, but have not yet been called upon to fetch, carry, cook.
Advent Sunday 2020
Post script – when I used the spellchecker on this document, the dictionary suggested that “Mompesson” should be changed to “compassion…” A virtual epitaph?
A recent article in the ‘History Today’ put forward the case that people living in times of crisis do not know what the significant events are. With time a realisation develops as to what is important. The example give in the article is that people in World War II were more concerned by the Channel Dash (German warships escaped through the English Channel), than they were about the Fall of Singapore. History judges the reverse.
A period of crisis in the church in England that is of interest to me is the 660’s. Someone living in 660 would be looking back sixty-three years to the start of St Augustine’s mission to the English and to the death of St Columba. England was a non-urban society with ruins of Roman towns and military buildings abandoned in the landscape. St. Augustine and his missionaries came from the Mediterranean where Christianity was urban centred. This did not suit the English and by 660, except for East Kent, the missions had been abandoned or were
struggling to survive. The Welsh had no missionary drive to reach the English. In Ireland, a rural form of church, based on monasticism, developed which was spreading and thriving in England. In 660 the Christian world was watching the traditional heartlands of the Christian faith in the Near East fall to Muslim expansion.
Against this background church leaders met at Whitby in 663. Out of the Synod of Whitby came a distinctly English form of church organisation based on the minster with regions under the oversight of a single bishop. The church organisation that St Augustine brought was oversight under a regional bishop with pastoral work from churches and distinct monasteries working and praying. The Irish church worked from monasteries with bishops covering small areas often linked to family groupings. The minster was a mixture of monastery and pastoral church located about seven miles apart. This was effective in serving rural areas with priests going out to serve the needs of the communities.
The 660’s are the first recorded period of plague in England with two Archbishops of Canterbury dying in quick succession. Pope Vitalian appointed two refugees from Muslim expansion, Theodore of Tarsus as Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hadrian abbot of Nisidia as abbot of Canterbury. When they arrived there were only three bishops left in England; Wine, bishop of London (who obtained his appointment through simony); Chad, bishop of Northumbria (who had been appointed uncanonically); and Wilfrid (who had been expelled from York). Theodore and Hadrian would organise the church and its mission so that England would be completely Christian within sixty years; they established the Canterbury and the English church as the centre of learning in Europe for the next century; and Theodore split East Anglia into two parts, which eventually became Norfolk and Suffolk.
To have live through the 660’s must have been difficult, yet it is an age that saw some of the spiritual giants of English Christianity, St Cuthbert, St Hilda of Whitby, St Wilfrid Theodore and Hadrian to name a few. In this time of trouble God gave a foundation to a growing Church
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Illustrations: Church of St Lawrence, Bradford Upon Avon c.700AD, Theodore of Tarsus, Hadrian of Canterbury, St Hilda of Whitby
From RichardA message from the President of the Conference the
Revd Richard Teal about the second national lockdown in England
We are all devastated by the expected introduction of a second national lockdown in England as well as the ongoing restrictions imposed in Scotland and the firebreak that our sisters and brothers in Wales have been living under for the past couple of weeks. Scientific advice is being heeded to bring down the rising rate of the virus and its possible consequences. The introduction of the lockdown from Thursday in England may be necessary but its consequences will also be far reaching.
There will undoubtedly be a serious setback for the economy, and people who are struggling financially and in numerous other ways will be greatly affected. It could prove to be a tipping point for many people. The poor and the vulnerable have and will continue to be hit the hardest. There is a feeling of hopelessness for many people.
Our National Health Service staff and other keyworkers are already tired through the outstanding service they have given to us all, particularly during these past few months and this second lockdown will be especially difficult for them. They need our continued support, encouragement and prayers.
Governments, all those in political life plus medical and scientific advisers are having to make very hard decisions on our behalf which, in a number of places, are far from popular. Whilst they rightly need our scrutiny, they also need our support, encouragement and prayers, that their decisions will help people’s well-being.
One of our Methodist Presbyters commented to me recently that during this period she was trying to develop what she calls a ‘sacrament of kindness’. I like that phrase very much. In the concerns of the moment we all need in our living to develop to each other a ‘sacrament of kindness’. So much seems to be against this idea but it is something every single one of us could develop in our attitudes to ourselves, to other people and indeed the communities we serve.
Finally, as I write as the President of the Conference, I would be denying my role if I did not specifically mention something of our Faith. Bishop Leslie Newbiggin of blessed memory was once asked whether, as he looked to the future, was he optimistic or pessimistic?
His reply was simple and straight forward ‘I am‘ he said, ‘neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!’.
Therein lies our hope. The God who is with us in the worst of situations, even when the flame of hope seems very weak. Such is our faith and hope in the risen Christ. Not a hope which ignores the shadows of suffering, but a hope strong and secure in the assurance that love is at the heart of all things, that the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms. The best of all is, God is with us.
A Prayer by Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Let nothing disturb or dismay us, O God, for all things are passing and you alone are unchanging. All things are wrought in patience, O God, and those who possess you lack nothing. Our sufficiency, O God, is in you alone, now and always. Amen
Chair of the District -
Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I am writing this letter at the close of All Saints Day; a day when we remember that the Church is not simply the congregation of the faithful gathered in the present moment but the also the great congregation of the faithful who have gone before us and rest in the eternity of God. The writer of Hebrews refers to the great cloud of witnesses (chapter 12) that surrounds us and becomes a source of encouragement and intercession for the church on earth, as we seek to be faithful disciples in the here and now. It is a reminder to us all that there are ordinary saints who have gone before us in time and space, wrestled with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and yet remained steadfast in their faith and devotion, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith.
The writing of this letter also coincides with the recent announcement of a second national lockdown that will begin at midnight on Thursday 5th. November and once again we have to embrace the harsh reality of the ceasing of public worship; at least for a month. I know this will come as a blow to many folk across the District and many of you will be left feeling frustrated, bewildered and bereft. I am well aware, because of my own travels across the District, just how hard local stewards have worked to complete risk assessments and make our buildings COVID secure. I thank you for this work and assure you that it is not wasted – everything is in place for when we might be permitted to return to gathered public worship! During the first lockdown many churches and circuits found innovative ways in which to migrate our activity to other platforms and media – again this creativity is not wasted but once more will come into its own as we seek to remain connected, cared for and worshipful as God’s people.
I mentioned in my last letter how helpful I have found the voice of poetry during this national crisis – it has often been a source of hope, inspiration and consolation. So again, I leave you this month with a poem by Susan Coolidge, entitled New Every Morning. In this poem there is a sober recognition that sometimes we encounter difficult things and life can be hard – and it may continue to be so. However, alongside this realisation is the ‘glad refrain’ of the dawning of a new day with all the possibilities that it may behold and an understated optimism of grasping the gift of that new horizon. I wonder whether one of the challenges of being one of the saints of God is to navigate this very tension and to do so with faith, hope and love?
Here is the poem in full – enjoy!
Every day is a fresh beginning;
Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain,
And, spite of old sorrow and older sinning,
And puzzles forecasted and possible pain,
Take heart with the day, and begin again.
Peace and Blessing, Julian