Our Ministers regularly write letters of encouragement and support.
Nathaniel asleep under the fig tree by Mark Cazalet
Pastoral Letter – Pilgrimage…
extract from the pastoral letter sent to Methodist Ministers recently by the
Secretary of Conference that I thought was worth sharing
I am old enough to remember days before the orb and cross was the ubiquitous Methodist symbol. In many ways, its predecessor was the scallop shell. Taken initially, I believe, from the Wesley family coat of arms, its adoption owed something (as a short chapter in the guide to membership that I was given in my teens explained) to its significance as a symbol of pilgrimage. To join the Methodist Church was to take one's place among a pilgrim people. The Church was a company of God's faithful on the move towards the fullness of life to which God calls God's people.
It seems to me that part of the significance of the pilgrimage metaphor is to be found in the origin of the word 'pilgrim' as 'foreigner'. To be a pilgrim is to journey through unfamiliar territory. One of the obvious points that guides to pilgrim routes make is that the landscape changes. The Methodist pilgrim people do not need to be reminded that the landscape through which we are travelling has altered, most recently by COVID-19 but also by political and societal developments. We have to make decisions about who we are and how we behave in the changed landscape and sometimes we disagree profoundly in the decision-making process.
One of the works that many pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella will read is the earliest known guide to the route, a 12th-century work by an anonymous author. As well as describing the some of the dangers that the pilgrims will face the writer brings together the stories of the saints whose shrines can be visited along the road. The message is clear: pilgrimage is not easy but those who undertake it are surrounded by the prayers of heaven and can draw deeply on the resources of the tradition as they travel. The decisions that we have made at the Conference this year (and indeed make at the Conference every year) have been the outcome of doing just that; having a rich and varied tradition on which to draw on and living with the limitations of our earthly situation rather than the clear view of heaven, it is unsurprising that we do not all reach the same conclusion. At moments when that realisation is particularly sharp (and when, as now, some are feeling hurt or frustration because of decisions they believe profoundly to be wrong), our commitment to continue on our pilgrimage together and to continue to engage in theological reflection becomes even more important.
A couple of centuries after 'The Pilgrim's Guide' was penned an English writer produced a very different work about a pilgrimage. Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales might seem to have little to offer as a source of theological reflection, but the central idea seems to me to be pertinent. A group of pilgrims who, it appears, have nothing in common except that they are all journeying to Canterbury tell each other stories. Many who have undertaken pilgrimages will have been enriched by the people they have met on the way and the stories they have heard. Pilgrims ask each other, 'Why are you on this pilgrimage? What have you already seen on the way? What are you hoping to see, to receive or to give?' and they listen to each other’s answers. Our President and Vice-President in 2019-20 reminded us of the importance of stories; as we journey together it is vital that we are willing to share our history, our hopes and our fears, and to talk about what God has done and will, we trust, do in and through us, and that we listen to each other.
I'm grateful to another former President, Tom Stuckey, for his reflection (in his recently published book, Covid-19. God's Wake-Up Call?) on 'synergy'. Starting from Romans 8v28 (which he translates as 'God makes all things work together [panta synergei] for good for those who love him'), Tom states that 'Synergy is another way of describing the covenant relationship which God has established with humanity.' The synergy of God is to be found in the life of the Church engaging in mission and is 'not so much about giving but about receiving and learning. There can be no triumphalism.'
We are all aware that there are a number of reasons why the next twelve months might not be easy; there are huge challenges ahead and this might prove to be a seminal time in the life of our denomination, and of both Church and society in these islands, and of the world. There is much to be done, but pilgrims share their stories as they travel and travel as they share their stories.
With an assurance of my prayers as we make the journey and my gratitude for yours,
Jonathan R Hustler
Secretary of the Conference
To see ourselves as others see us
In Robert Burns poem ‘To a Louse’, on seeing one on a lady’s bonnet at church, we find the poet’s attention fixed on the lady sitting in front of him. The reverence of the church is broken by the poets first word, ‘Ha! haur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?’
Through the poem we find Burns fixated on the louse climbing higher and higher until onto the ladies bonnet. But in the last verse Burns reflects on the situation which I paraphrase as, or would some power give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us it would free us from much foolishness and blundering and take away our ears and leave us in an even position with others.
Why are we as readers immediately focussed in this reflection, onto the young lady who is unaware of the louse in her hair as she sits in her finery? In truth you must understand that Burns himself has become aware of his own situation as he sits in church with his attention not on the divine or the service but on the attractive young lady in front of him.
I have often wondered if some of the characters in the Bible, or indeed in literature, would behave the way they do if they could see themselves as others see them. It can be difficult for us to imagine how others see us. We live in our own sense of who we are and sometimes can be surprised at how we react in certain in situations, or how others react to us. Yet part of our nature is that we are in the image of God. I find that at times I must check what I would like to do and remember that I live in the love of God.
For years, I was the youth club leader for a church youth club. Initially we had behaviour problems but over time the group matured and became a good group of young people. They ran the group through their own committee, organising the activities, and I as leader had a veto which I never had to use. Then one week we had a new member. Thomas was older than some members but less mature. I had the experience to anticipate the problems ahead, but I knew that these problems were things that they as a group would need to work through themselves. I believed that these experiences would enable them to grow. Thomas dated one of the members on his second week in the club, on the third week he dated her sister, on the fourth week a third sister slapped his face. The once united club split down the middle with those supporting Thomas and those angry at him and for six months there was considerable tension within that youth club. But then the issues resolved Thomas's behaviour changed and the club returned to be a united group with the addition of Thomas. As youth leader I knew that I could not solve all the problems the young people would face, and these problems would be a learning experience for them.
Currently, the news bulletins are full of stories of Afghanistan as once they were with stories of Syria or stories of Iraq or stories of Somalia. There are other stories over the years of humanitarian disaster and crisis. Our news did not give us much information on Honduras or the Central African Republic. Jesus tells his disciples the poor will be with you always, but he is not telling them to ignore the plight of those in difficulty. These demanding situations will always come round and many of them will be beyond our capacity as individuals or churches or nations define resolution. Our Christian calling however is to follow the example of Jesus who reached out to the poor and the despairing and the unloved. We may not be able to resolve these problems but we still in our faith reach out to help and support in whatever ways we can.
The Global Refugee Mural by Joel Bergner painted on the side of Kefa Café, Montgomery, USA.
On wondering what to write to you about this week, I thought I would check out the National Methodist Church diary page for inspiration. What is listed under August?..
‘Humph. Not much help there’ I thought. However, after a conversation with a friend, I realised that in fact there was inspiration, even in a blank diary page. Every so often, we all need a blank diary page.
I must admit that I am not good at giving myself permission to rest. I do take my rest day from Circuit life each week, but I fill it with other very necessary things; working on my dissertation… housework… and if I don’t get these things done (usually because I’ve just gone into the garden to do one little job and come back in the house 3 hours later), I then feel guilty about not managing my time!
I’m a fine one to be writing to you about taking a rest! Perhaps writing about it will teach me to take my own medicine…
The very first book of the Bible (Genesis chapter 2) emphasises that as we are made in the image of God, a time of rest needs to be part of our life.
When Abraham was visited by three heavenly messengers, he invited them to rest under the tree. (Genesis 18)
Even the land is to have a year of rest from crop growing (Leviticus 25).
Jesus promises rest to those who are weary and burdened (Matthew 11).
Jesus’ first disciples are encouraged to rest, as Jesus takes them away to a quiet place (Mark 6).
Despite our urge to ‘get things done’, Scripture is clear that we must rest. Indeed we know that if we do not, eventually the body will take over our will-power and simply stop functioning.
Thus, I find myself, once again, speaking a truth we already know, but need to be reminded of often. A challenge to us all to trust that God will manage things for us for a little while, if we do as generations of the faithful have done before us and accept the discipline of rest in this life – surely a foretaste of the eternal resting in God that is to come.
Two friends attended the same church. Over time one of the friends became frail and unable to attend the church or indeed to do much outside of her own home. Her friend regularly did her shopping for her taking the money and returning the change. After many years, the frail person developed dementia and started to accuse her friend of stealing from her. Everyone knew that this accusation resulted from her dementia. What nobody knew at the time but found out later was that the weakened lady knew her friend was stealing from her for years before she developed the dementia it was only as the dementia developed that her inhibition about saying anything went.
A church where I was minister phoned to say that someone had dumped old window frames at the back of the building. The congregation contacted me and told me that the person living across the road from the church had just add new double glazing. The members of the congregation believed it was part of the minister’s duties to confront the people across the road. When I asked if they knew for certain that these people had dumped the window frames, they told me they did not, but it was obvious that they had dumped the windows. I did not comply with their wish to confront the neighbours, so they got a member of the village who was a former police officer to look at the situation. He pointed out that the window frames at the back of the church did not match the windows on the house opposite. It later transpired that a member of another church in the circuit had put the frames there as he was going to collect other debris from that church and had put the frames there to collect them also.
It is easy to jump to conclusions and presume that one piece of evidence points to a solution to a problem. We often must take shortcuts in our thinking but must be careful and how we judge a situation and especially other people. That we must make judgements is inevitable, but it is something that we must do with care. Jesus while having the power to judge is careful in doing so. He gives us an example of how we deal with others.
The Ponzo illusion shows us that the human mind judges an object's size based on its background or the context in which it is shown. Even though we are presented with a flat, two-dimensional image our brains perceive the upper line as though it were farther away, so we see it as longer.
(Image taken from the training material on Unconscious Bias by the Methodist Church)
Running the Race
I wonder if you have been watching the Olympic Games on the television.
I haven’t really seen much of it, but there is a daily update on the news channel each morning that usually recounts the following:
· how many medals have been won (how many gold/ silver / bronze and by whom)
· who has achieved a personal best vs who has not performed to their usual standard
· what the hopes for today are regarding which races / competitions the UK might do well in
Occasionally, there is a more personal story regarding one of the athletes; video footage of their home town and family supporting them – especially if it is their first Olympic Games or they have overcome some personal adversity to make it through.
The other day, there was the report of a gymnast who pulled out of one of the competitions to give herself a break because her mental health was suffering.
This caused me to pause for thought…
As I looked back at the news headlines regarding the reporting of the Olympic Games, it didn’t seem so surprising that athletes might be feeling under pressure to perform. It caused me to reflect upon how we measure success in competitive games and races and to pose a question; is it really all just about crossing the finish line first? I was reminded of the comments made in Scripture about running a race:
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.” (1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 25)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4: 7 – 8)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 3)
The race we run is not simply about completing the task in the fastest time or one that produces a single winner; rather that it is the experience of ‘running the race’ that counts as much as its completion and that to truly ‘win’, we must do our best to help others complete the race too, as though part of one ongoing relay.
What a blessing; to run a race which encourages us to hold each other up so that all may receive the imperishable prize.
“… then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 12)
This morning (Wednesday), I attended Totspot at Reepham Chapel and entered the chapel for the first time in 16 months without a face covering. I saw, for the first time in a long time, familiar faces, that I had come to know over my first 2 years in ministry here, but had not seen their full, smiling face for almost as long. I saw new faces of people I had never met before and I saw for the first time, the full smiling face of those I have come to know only during lockdown. It is this last group that have taught me much about the above verse of Scripture that I have not been in a position to consider before…
It was only now – sitting together unmasked and chatting that I realised how previously our conversation had been slightly awkward; sentences had been short, questions had focussed on ‘life in lockdown’, even eye contact had been minimal. This had become the norm for so long that it didn’t seem strange at the time, but now – unmasked and smiling together, the connection was far more personal; we talked of home and family and love, plans for the future and leisure time. It was as though now, it was possible to have a relationship, rather than simply occupying the same space together and all that had changed was the unveiling of our smiles.
Our lives are often packed with activity and concerns that take up all our time and attention to the point that we can, at times, forget that there is more – beyond the veil; where relationships will be closer, more intimate and we will be known and know fully. This morning has encouraged me to consider this as the unmasking of a smile; ours, others’ and God’s and it seems to me to be a marvellous, joyful prospect.
I look forward to seeing your smiles as we all gradually unmask and will forever see them now in a new light as a foretaste of our heavenly home together.
Spot the Difference.
When Lisa and I visit our friends in Transcarpathia we have learned two spot the differences in the different communities that live there. Our Hungarian friends, worship in a typical central European church with a steeple their shops use Latin script on their signage. The Ukrainians worship in churches with onion domes and their shops use Cyrillic script. The Ruthenians worship in churches which have outside of them a flat picture of the crucified Christ and their shops use Greek script. The people themselves I find difficult to distinguish unless they are wearing their national costumes. The village I grew up in was divided by sectarianism. Half the population were Protestant who would attend one of three churches the other half well Roman Catholics who attended Saint Barbara's. To someone from outside of our village we would all appear the same but for those of us growing up there we were divided, and we did not know our neighbours well and people who should have been friends or divided. The danger that we can face is that we may project onto those who do not belong to our group the sense of being the other. There is creation of us and them.
We can fall into the trap of God being with us but not them. Yet in our Methodist beliefs we declare a God that reaches out to all. It can become easy for us to believe that if we associate with them, we in some way can be separated from God. Yet from Jesus Christ our example is that we reach out to all. Jesus does not fear the contamination of mixing with the other. In a society in which contact with the unclean would cut the person off from God Jesus goes to the unclean but does not become unclean himself but rather cleanses and makes whole those who are cut off and broken.
I believe in a Christ centred Christianity. I can live safely in Christ centredness. If I want to live as Christ, then I must go to the boundaries of my faith and find where the edges and difficulties of faith are. The greatest commandment is to love our God and love our neighbour, if we love God but fail to love our neighbour then I suspect we have not loved God at all.
Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District
Chair of the District - Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse
On Wednesday 30th. June the Methodist Conference convened to listen to God and to seek to discern what God was saying to us about marriage and human relationships. When we gathered, both physically and remotely online, we were acting as the Body of Christ seeking to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through careful and prayerful conferring. This was a costly, vulnerable, prayerful, and honest debate in which representatives were able to articulate their deeply held convictions.
We have discovered that as Methodists we do understand marriage differently among ourselves, and that through the rich resources of God’s grace we can live together with that difference. Those differing perspectives mean that some understand marriage as between any two people, while others as only between a man and a woman.
The Methodist Church has given permission, in principle, for churches to register to perform same sex marriages, and for ministers, or other authorised persons, to preside at such celebrations. However, no minister or Church will be required to do so if that is not in accordance with their understanding or conscience. As a Church, we have stated our openness to same sex marriage, but we have also affirmed that not all of us hold the same mind on this. This news will be cause of celebration for some but for others will cause significant pain and bewilderment; but in all of this, as John Wesley asked of us, let us therefore love alike, though we cannot think alike.
The Conference report, God in Love Unites Us, invites us to live as the Body of Christ, bound together in God’s love and the unity of the Spirit whilst holding contradictory convictions. It is the admission that on many matters we may not reach a common mind but that through our rootedness in Christ there is a deeper unity that holds us together as one body. We hold together in the unity of Christ and seek to become ever more attentive to the calling of God upon us – we do so with appropriate humility recognising that our understanding of all things is partial and limited until at last we come face to face with God. The apostle Paul writes in his Epistle to the Corinthians that it as though we see ‘in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.’ (1 Cor. 13:12)
Let us commit ourselves to the path that lies ahead – and let us pray for healing where there has been hurt, for unity where there has been division, and for wisdom where difficult decisions lie ahead.
With deep peace and blessing, Julian
God’s Table: An Invitation for all
As some of you will know, this week representatives from Methodist Churches across the country and guests from World Wide Methodist Partners have been meeting (some in person, some over zoom) for our national Conference. It is at this meeting where decisions are made, new Presbyters and Deacons are received into full connexion and the President and Vice President are voted into office for the period of one year. Those who are elected always pick a theme to work with throughout the year. Last year the theme was ‘Best of all is, God is with us’ (a quite traditionally attributed to Wesley). Those who have enjoyed our telephone worship will have perhaps had the joy of hearing from the President Richard Teal and Vice President, Carolyn Lawrence from last year as they were regular guest preachers. This year, the President, Sonia Hicks and Vice President, Barbara Easton have chosen the theme ‘God’s Table: An Invitation for all’.
Here is an extract from the President’s address to Conference. You can find the full address at: https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-conference/conference-2021/presidency/the-presidents-and-vice-presidents-addresses-to-the-methodist-conference-2021/the-presidents-address-to-the-methodist-conference-2021/
… whilst my husband, Conrad, and I were serving as Mission Partners in Jamaica. We were stationed to two adjoining Circuits in the parish of Portland, which is on the eastern side of the island. I served in the Manchioneal Circuit and Conrad was in the Port Antonio Circuit. My Sundays involved two two-hour services, sometimes travelling an hour’s drive from the manse to get to the churches in my pastoral charge.
One Sunday, Conrad asked me to call in on one of his members who had requested that we collect something. I was to do this after preaching at two two-hour long services. All I wanted was to return to the cool of the Port Antonio manse, eat my dinner and go off for a long nap away from everyone else. It didn’t seem too much to ask. Just a cool breeze, a nice dinner, and a comfortable bed. Perfect!
But Conrad, after leading worship twice himself, was now at home with our three small children, so it wasn’t really fair to ask him to go instead of me. It was logical that I went. It was reasonable that I was the one to go. But all I wanted was a cool breeze, a nice dinner, and a comfortable bed. So, you can imagine how thoroughly disgruntled I was at having to go and having to make polite conversation.
When I got to the house, I swallowed as much of my bad mood as I could. Sister Atkinson, one of Conrad’s members, asked me to come into her kitchen where there was a big box on the table. In it, this servant of God, had piled a roasted chicken, rice n peas, three different sorts of salad, and everything you could possibly want for a meal. There was juice to drink, there was a container of gravy, there was a huge Jamaican fruit cake.
It wasn’t just a meal; it was a banquet. “Rev. Sonia”, she said. “I know that you and Rev. Conrad preach a lot on Sundays and then you have to make dinner. So, today, I thought I would make it for you. It is all hot and ready to go so let me help load this into your car and you can go and have dinner with the family.”
I was totally overwhelmed by her kindness, by her generosity. Our family not only had enough food for that Sunday. We were able to enjoy Sis. Atkinson’s portable banquet for several days afterwards. Each time, I bit into her delicious cake, I thanked God for Sister Atkinson’s thoughtfulness. In her actions, I saw a compassion that mirrored the grace of God. The impact of that kindness has never left me, and it is something I want to aspire to.
To me, the banquet of heaven is promised to all those who recognise God’s reign: all those who aspire to the Kingdom values of love and mercy. It is an invitation to all including the Canaanite Woman, the Refugee in our midst, the stranger, the person who voted for Brexit and the person who voted to remain in the EU. It is extended towards the Jewish nation and towards the Palestinians.
It is an invitation to those who think and act like me and to those who choose to think and act in a different way. I believe that there is a place for all in the presence of God, at God’s Table. But, as we acknowledge that everyone has a place, we also must acknowledge that we will therefore live with the tension of not all thinking the same. We will also have to recognise that living with such tension is never the easy option.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, it is written: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal. 3: 28] How would we re-phrase this for 2021 in the Methodist Church? For me, it would involve sharing space with people especially those who are marginalised in our society. It does not mean that we will fail to have any standards to uphold. There are standards that we will always be called to maintain as people called Methodists:
Firstly, it would mean adhering to the standard of love in all our interactions. What does love look like or feel like in any particular situation we face? How do I show love to the person who looks different to me and holds views at odds with my own? We will fail in our God-given mission to be salt and light unless we reflect love in all that we do and say. Let us hold on to the standard of love.
Secondly, we are called to uphold the standard of hospitality. Let us not be like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Let us not communicate words of condemnation when we can speak words of welcome. God has shown us what hospitality looks like in and through Jesus Christ. It is the ability to enlarge one’s vision and allow the Canaanite woman her place at God’s table of mercy. Let us hold on to the standard of hospitality.
Thirdly, we are to uphold the standard of proclamation. We are called to proclaim God’s invitation, an invitation that has been issued to the whole world, a world that God called into being and declared to be ‘good’. But God’s invitation to sit at God’s table cannot be heard in this diverse world unless we, you and I, proclaim it day in and day out; in season and out of season, in what we say and in what we do. So, let us hold to the standard of proclamation…
The Vice President also gives an address and it can be found here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-conference/conference-2021/presidency/the-presidents-and-vice-presidents-addresses-to-the-methodist-conference-2021/the-vice-presidents-address-to-the-methodist-conference-2021/
I went on holiday to Portpatrick in Wigtonshire. Many years ago, I lived and worked in that area, so it was a return to places I had not been for many years. We stayed in the beautiful Portpatrick hotel with its views over the town and its harbour. The weather was not the best as it was foggy for most of the time we were there. But that did not spoil the beauty under relaxation of the time.
One of the excursions that we went on was to Stranraer and Castle Kennedy gardens. It was in Stranraer that I lived and worked but have not been there for over 30 years. Quickly I remembered the layout of the town centre and was able to locate places I once knew there had been improvements but also decline. When I lived there the town was still the main port to Northern Ireland but now the port has relocated to Cairnryan. The once plush George Hotel in the centre of town is now a derelict shell and an eyesore. But the strangest memory was as we passed the Creamery where I once worked memories came back of a car parked near the laboratory. My memory was of the car where it was parked on the day its owner died tragically. It was a fleeting but troubling memory.
The Bible is
full of people on journeys travelling from one place to another. Some should
not look back while others should. In the story of Lot's wife, she has been
told to flee but not to look back. But she cannot help herself and then looking
back perishes in the disaster. In the story of Ruth, Ruth does not look back
but builds on her life by going forward. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi however has
left good things but on her return to the Promised Land still does not look
back to the things that would help her. Our journey is a journey towards God
and on our journey, we should not look back to the things that hold us back.
The people of Israel on their journey to Mount Sinai where they will meet God
many constantly look back to Egypt and their enslavement. Let us pray in our
journey towards God that we focus on where we are going.
(Castle Kennedy gardens)
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
We have waited upon the Lord, trusting in him to give strength, to guide and to protect us throughout the journey. It is within the nature of our faith to be kept in the hope for something greater even where light is just a faint flicker. Sometimes the waiting may be worrisome and anxious causing us to grow weary and weak which is understandable. Yet it is our hope that in our waiting we are not passive but very much active in our dependence upon and obedience to God. To those who wait upon the Lord, they are given strength when they are weak. God renews their strength to mount up with wings like eagles.
As we wait to hear from the Prime Minister on the way forward, we wait with joy and gladness. We have come out of the harder wait and can now mix. To top it all up, we have been blessed with good weather. We gladly wait because so far many of us have had our ‘double jabs’ as we call them. We gladly wait because we have finally begun to meet with friends and family whom we could not be with since Christmas.
As the Prime Minister leads us on the road to recovery, we maintain our obedience and trust in God who is leading us out of the wilderness. Our characters have been shaped by our experiences and our waiting has bound us with God and with one another. Our God is a responsible God who works everything towards a goal. Many of us have walked through different times of hardships at different times in our lives. I wonder what the goal was or what were we being prepared or shaped for because with God everything happens for a reason. All I know is that during any time of difficulty those who wait upon the Lord shall not be put to shame, they are given strength and God renews their strength to mount up with wings likes eagles.
Sunday 13th June will be Methodist Homes Sunday – a charity that I know is dear to many of your hearts. I hope you will be able to join us for the ‘MHA Special’ service on Zoom this Sunday at 2.30pm, where we will hear more about how MHA seek to support older people and tackle loneliness.
Part of what MHA Sunday is about is giving thanks for those who work and volunteer in the charity. For my pastoral letter this week, I thought it a good opportunity to extend this theme and encourage us all to pause and ‘give thanks’ for the people in our lives when we were younger who supported us and helped us to tackle life’s issues – many of whom will have been older people.
When I was a child in church, it was the older people who taught me in Sunday School. When I progressed from Sunday School to adult church as a teenager, it was Emma and George, an older couple, who invited me to come and sit with them and we became firm friends. Over the years, Emma and George imparted much of their wisdom to me and when George died, I was able to return the support and care to my friend, Emma – suddenly lonely and a bit lost without the man she had loved since ‘nowt but a girl’.
There have been many older people with whom I have shared both friendship and wisdom over the years, as a teenager, as a young woman and mother, as a trainee preacher and Minister and to this day. Their contribution and influence upon my life has been and is invaluable.
Perhaps spend a bit of time today remembering and giving thanks for those who have guided you on your way.
Enfolded in Love
As some of you will know, I am presently compiling and sending out the weekly mailing, whilst Drew is away from work. I must admit, I quite enjoy putting the diary sheet together, choosing appropriate (I hope) artwork to accompany the diary page, service sheet and pastoral letters. When I had read Colin’s pastoral letter last week to myself, before sending it out, I felt led to add the quote ‘be still, and know that I am God’, from Psalm 46, to the bottom of the page.
‘Enfolded in Love’ is the title of the week’s readings in the Methodist Prayer Diary. It is a blissful thought to imagine ‘being still’, enfolded in God’s love.
However, I noticed that the readings for this week have so far been anything but still; on Sunday, Nicodemus made a journey in the night to meet with Jesus, on Monday, Mary made a visit to Elizabeth where they discover they are both carrying a child who will change the world, on Tuesday (the day I am writing this), God is busy creating the universe…
There are times when we need to rest – even God
took a day to rest, but then we must press on!
The good news is that when we do, we remain enfolded in God’s love, for God’s love moves with us.
If you are enjoying a time of rest at the moment, I pray you will find it a blessing. But if it is time now for you to press on, God’
Peace be with you (even in the midst of the storm).s Spirit is with you, enfolding you in love.
Love Smile at the Storm by John Craske
My To-Do List
I can spend so much time drawing up my daily to-do list that I do not have time for anything else. This is not quite true, but I am sure that you see my point. It is possible for me to have thirteen or fourteen items listed in addition to meetings, devotion, and study (forgetting housework and garden). At the end of the day is the frustration that there are still ten or eleven undone targets going on to tomorrow’s list. I recently heard a lecture by a leading neuroscientist who advised never have more than six items on your list; if you complete them, you can add more.
When I was training for ministry, I wondered how I would cope in the various situations that I faced. What would I do if this happened or that happened? The lesson that I learned in my first few years in ministry is that life is not just about doing it is also about being. It is easy to fill our diaries or allow others to do so. Time with our families, time with ourselves and time with our God can be more valuable than the meetings and tasks that dominate our lives. How often do we rush from one urgent task to the next without assessing the importance or unimportance of things we are doing? Too often we view support as finding solutions to other people’s problems rather than being there for them; to talk and to sit together.
Most religions practice meditation
and contemplation, and psychology recognises the benefits of having a ten-to-twenty-minute
time in the day when we can be silent and take in our surroundings. I find it
useful to have a timer which beeps when my allotted time is complete. Forget
the past and the future and focus on the present. Be aware of your breathing,
heartbeat, the sounds that surround us, the warmth of the sun or the touch of
the breeze. Focus on something you can see or on something you have read or
allow your mind to wander. These few minutes can be refreshing, inspiring, and
Coming out of such times I often can see clearly where I am called to be.
What am I going to do now? I am going to tick ‘write pastoral letter’ off my to-do list"
Be Still and Know that I am GOD
Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District
Chair of the District - Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse
I sat down the other evening with Jean to watch the film A Long Way Down; loosely based upon the novel by Nick Hornby of the same name. It tells the story of four desperate characters who find themselves drawn together through the common pursuit of seeking to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve – each of them makes their way to the top of a tall building expecting to die in solitude. Consequently, their plans for death in solitude are ruined when they meet as they decide to come down from the roof alive, however temporary that may be. The story continues as the four strangers gradually get to know each other and become more accepting of each other’s vulnerability. Through their mutual acceptance of one another they create a surrogate family in which they feel loved and accepted for who they are. They create a common pact or bond that neither of them will commit suicide certainly until they reach New Year’s Eve again! The film closes a year later at New Year’s Eve when they contact each other through video conference – each character has moved on with their life and has found a renewed purpose for staying alive and facing the future with hope! It is a touching story that demonstrates the virtue of human community – particularly when the quality of that relating is vulnerable, honest, and authentic.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the invitation to relate deeply to a loving God in Jesus Christ and to our human neighbours who are made in the image of God. This deep relating finds its grounding in a particular community – the Church; the Body of Christ – a community made of many parts, but a community called to be one in Christ. The Apostle Paul puts it like this.
‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.’ (1 Cor:12)
At its best this community will be an openly broken community, where in grace and love, we can wear the bright sorrows of our humanity and know that we are held in the love and prayers of God’s people. This kind of relating takes us below the superficial and the surface reality of our lives, to the deeper matters of the heart and soul.
From Creation through to the New Creation we are called to be deeply relational beings who find joy and fulfilment in the company of God and in the company of each other and of course in the Methodist tradition this finds a particular resonance in our focus upon being a connexional church.
I hope and pray that we will find both the joy and the gift of this kind of relating as we begin to emerge from the current crisis and recover our way of life,
With deep peace and blessing, Julian
In Jerusalem the archaeologists have discovered the different water systems that the city used in Bible times. The water came from a spring below the city and once there were walls for protection to find ways to protect the supply. Water was gathered in a pool, but the course of the water channel ran outside the wall. To ensure the supply they cut a tunnel through the rock. One group started at the spring and the other at the pool. The course of the tunnel is not straight it winds considerably, but the two groups met in the middle with a gradient of millimetres. No one can work out how they did it.
Two important centres of early church theology were Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandrian theology started with God and worked towards humanity; Antiochian theology started with humanity and worked towards God. The two never met in the middle. Unlike the tunnel diggers who met perfectly there were various disputes, not to mention rivalries. They did not even agree about how to read scripture, Antioch tended to read scripture literally, while Alexandria preferred allegorical reading.
In our worship and devotions, we seek ways of meeting God and living a holy life. Some are seeking the mountain top experience others have moved beyond that and seek the sanctified life in daily living. Some of us are Marthas others are Marys. We as Christians look to reflect Christ in the way we lead our lives. Some manage to find that balance and live in Christ, for others it is more of a struggle. To struggle to live that life is not a sign of our failing, Christian living is a journey in which we go to meet God, and find God is coming to meet us.
Sistine Chapel: Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
A Year in Prayer
For many months now, I have been writing to you about prayer.
I was thinking that perhaps I had written enough about prayer and perhaps it was time to move on… then I came to prepare the diary sheet for the week and what should pop up… Thy Kingdom Come – 10 days of prayer! Amongst the suggestions of ways to engage, 5 ways to pray! I guess God is telling me that it’s not time to draw to a close sharing my thoughts on prayer just yet.
The 5 ways to pray featured in Thy Kingdom Come include some similar ideas to what I have shared with you before; praying throughout the day at different times, taking time out in prayerful reflection, using artistic and creative ideas…
(coss window by Jean Parton)
2 things I haven’t touched on that are featured in Thy Kingdom Come are praying together (mostly because we have been in lockdown) and telling people that you are praying for them.
As we begin to regain our freedom to gather, perhaps praying with others is something for which we will find renewed enthusiasm. Consider gathering together with a small group of friends and through conversation, perhaps situations and people for whom you share concern will emerge that you could then try praying together about. Sometimes we are a bit shy of praying out loud with each other, but simply sharing a name or a place is all that’s needed, who knows where sharing such an experience may lead you…
Something we are equally shy about is telling someone we are praying for them. Sometimes that might be because we are afraid they will be offended. Although less than 10% of the population of the UK attend church regularly, 51% of people admit to praying sometimes – so chances are, they will be grateful for your prayer and even if they don’t pray themselves, most people will appreciate the caring gesture. Perhaps this is the next challenge we need to set for ourselves – admit we pray!
As church buildings begin to open and we gather in our congregational groups, I am thankful for the opportunity to have shared my thoughts with you occasionally through these letters; I think it has added a new kind of understanding for me about how the earliest Christians remained connected, though separated geographically. The last 14 months have, for the most part, been a time we are all hoping are never repeated, yet God has a way of salvaging the goodness even in the worst of times. Perhaps our letter sharing across the Circuit, along with prayer, worship and Bible Study initiatives in new and creative ways will be the green shoot that continues to grow from the stump of what was cut down.
“the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth” (1 John 5: 6)
Marks of a Methodist
Paul writes that there are many motives to declare Christ, some good some not, but all to a good outcome. The declaration of Christ is always good for the effect it will have on others. Some who declare Christ do so for their own selfish benefit and are limited in their care for others. They will always put their own needs first.
John Wesley, in 1742, wrote a pamphlet ‘The Character of a Methodist’. In this treatise Wesley explains what it means to be a disciple of Christ perfected in love. A picture is painted of growth in grace and love as give in scripture. Wesley does not misunderstand or ignore our human condition. We have or faults and our failings, but we can move on in the love of God. There is in the positive belief of what God’s grace can achieve. Those disciples who journey with integrity in the path of the gospel can live in the fulness of God’s love.
We live in a society where doubt seems to predominate. So many are fearful of committing to relationships, organisations, or events. Many find it hard to commit openly to what they believe. In our Christian community we are so often held back by doubts. In this difficulty we can find it hard to know the fulness of God’s love and grace.
The starting point for this growth is in the means of grace (Bible reading, prayer, worship, charity, etc.). In dedicating ourselves to Christian living then we open ourselves to God’s grace. In the writings of John Wesley those perfected in Christ ‘love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength’, and they love their neighbours as they love themselves’. It is then that we find Charles Wesley writes, ‘His glory our design,
We live our God to please;
And rise with filial fear divine,
To perfect holiness.’ (H&P 728)
‘Brother, sister, let me serve you let me be like Christ to you:
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.’
We celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour on Easter Sunday. Jesus conquered our suffering. Our healing lies in the resurrection power. Healing was central to the ministry of Jesus and so His spirit in us is the root of the love and care we give to humanity. Good things are already happening and there is a glimmer of hope. With the easing of restrictions, we can finally sit in the gardens in groups of not more than six from different households, or two different households. Oh, and Spring is here! Greater still, the rollout of the vaccine appears to be successful. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Jesus says, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Jesus also says, ‘I have come that you may have life, and may have it in all its fulness.’
We are continually being forgiven, being formed, and transformed into being like Christ. This invitation to Christ is fulfilled in our fellowship with one another because Christ lives in us and us in him. It is our calling to be the hands and feet, of Christ, that work to bring life and to bring it in all its fulness. I believe we have been like Christ to one another in humble gentleness throughout the difficult part of the pandemic bringing comfort, love, and hope. We turned to one another for prayer and support, and we did all we could to reach out.
It has been long since we been in contact with our surrounding community. The easing of lockdown restrictions has allowed our Deacon Brenda Hayes to invite a few friends from the Do Drop In Café to safely meet in her back garden for refreshments on Wednesdays. We do so legally within restrictions. At the first gathering we caught up on the community ‘Godly gossip,’ seeking to examine where each of us are physically and spiritually. Listening to one another over a cup of hot drink and a piece of cake allowed us to pamper one another and to pray for and with one another in this beautiful garden.
At the end of our first session, I remember feeling joyful and realising how much I deeply missed to be in the company of the people I love. I left home that morning thinking I was going to assist Sister Brenda to host, in the end I felt the guests had in turn ministered to me. We journeyed together in the hard times; we continue to support one another in the easing of the pandemic. We are called to humble, servant ministry and to be the people holding the bowl and water washing the feet of the other. However, we must not forget to allow others to be the servant to us and wash our feet too. It is easier to care for others and neglect our own needs.
Please read John 13:14-17 where Jesus instructs us that the washing of feet is given and received. The word of God reminds us that God loves us unconditionally and we are worthy. As we journey on, please remember to focus on your own health and well-being as well as that of others. Allow yourself to be loved by the other so that you can see the love of Jesus as given you through our fellowship in North Norfolk Circuit. As we journey on in this time of healing, allow yourself to heal others and be healed in Jesus’ name! Amen.
Brother, sister, let me love you, let me be like Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
(From Singing the Faith Hymns)
An Unfamiliar Landscape
I once travelled on a train from Letchworth Garden City to Cambridge. At one point on the journey a clear view opened. The train was travelling along the side of a low gently sloping hill. I was looking across a wide valley to distant low hills. There were woods and villages. I am guessing that there was an unseen river somewhere running parallel to the train. The location of the scene I can only place approximately; if I have travelled through that area in a car at some other time I am unsure. This view filled me with a longing to explore and find where we were. The villages we passed through did not particularly inspire but the distant places, not clearly seen, drew me to imagine what they would be like.
The book of Deuteronomy has an important place in scripture. It is Moses farewell address. Moses has led the people out of Egypt to the ‘Promised Land’. The generation that left Egypt has passed away; a new generation will enter the land. Moses himself will not enter the land, but he will see it from Mount Nebo on the eastern side of the Jordan. He will see the distant blue hills and plains, but the reality of the land will elude him. Would it have inspired him? Would it have disappointed him? He would never find out. His mission is over. His life’s work is complete. Moses imminent death hangs over the book of Deuteronomy and the people cannot move forward into the land until Moses leaves them. The generation that left Egypt was reluctant to progress, the new generation longs to move forward but is conflicted at the reality of letting go of the familiar and comfortable. There is an order and unity in the generation that will enter the land that was lacking in the generation that left Egypt.
I had a phone call while I was writing the first paragraph, from a member of a church I once had pastoral charge of. He had successfully candidated for ministry. This was the second time of trying. Those who know him agree that his call seems to be right, yet his first attempt was turned down when a difficult question was posed that he could not answer. It can sometimes be difficult for us to understand when God says not yet.
There was a man who felt that God called him to take the gospel to Korea. At that time Korea was an unfamiliar place. The man managed to learn the Korean language and after that translated the Gospels into Korean. He undertook the long sea voyage to Korea and after years of preparation finally walked down the gangway and on to Korean soil. Within minutes of landing he was attacked and killed. I understand that they still use his translation of the gospels today. Through his calling many people have come to faith.
God Bless Colin
Praying through the eyes of Jesus.
I saw a wonderful picture the other day; a cross shape had been cut out of a piece of cardboard and someone had used it as a window through which to see the world. I’ve since made my own and have been experimenting… (see below)
Looking at the world through the lens of the cross seems to me to say something about praying through the eyes of Jesus – looking at the world from the cross, as opposed to looking at the cross from the world. As we look at the world through the lens of the cross each picture tells us this is something Christ thought it worth dying for. Each picture is precious to God and therefore ought to be precious to us and treated accordingly. ‘Beauty for Brokenness’ was the original title for the pictures I saw.
This seemed to me a powerful way of praying for our world.
It could be taken out on your daily walk, or perhaps even just put on your window, as a reminder
Please do send me pictures of your own cardboard prayer windows as an encouragement to see the world through Jesus’ eyes as something so precious and beautiful.
Happy Resurrection Season!
We would like to bring you greetings as we approach Holy Week and to wish you a Happy Easter. This past year has probably been one of the most difficult years many of us can remember and we have all been affected by the Covid pandemic in different ways. We have all experienced the difficulties of lockdowns and restrictions and the losses that accompany those constraints on our everyday lives. We also recognize that some of you will have faced sickness and bereavement as well as concerns over finances, mental health issues and isolation and has in many ways been a wilderness experience for many.
During this Lent season we reflect on Jesus in the wilderness and the lead up to the first Easter and recall the dashed hopes and dreams of those early disciples as they watched Jesus die, and then celebrate their joy and wonder when their Lord appeared to them again, risen from the dead.
We have been walking a difficult path through this pandemic but just as the longer days, flowers blooming and birds singing remind us that the earth is reawakening after the darkness and gloom of winter, we are reminded that there are signs of hope around us. Those of us who know and love Jesus have found comfort in knowing that he has been walking alongside us even in these difficult circumstances and we are encouraged to lift our heads and fix our eyes on Jesus as we look forward in hope to the future.
We pray that whatever your reflections on this past year, you will know the hope, comfort and peace of the risen Jesus in your heart and life and that you will see those glimmers of light as the dawn breaks. We pray that you will indeed discover the joy of the Lord to be your strength moment by moment and know the truth that 'The best of all is, God is with us.'
With every blessing,
The Revd Richard Teal Mrs Carolyn Lawrence
President of the Methodist Vice-President of the Methodist
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian nationalist composer. In his Russian Easter Overture he captures beautifully a sense of wonder and awe in the celebrations. This piece of sonata form music gives us a picture of an Easter day, not just a religious setting but a landscape of nature in this spring time celebration. In 1722 a collection of Russian religious music called the Obichod was published. Rimsky-Korsakov blends tunes from that collection into his own composition to create a truly lovely piece of music. The hymns selected work musically but also have a motive which gives the Overture a theme.
The first hymn that we are introduced to is called ‘Let God Arise’. There are images of resurrection from the hymn, but as the violins remind us of birdsong, there are images of sunrise and new day. This piece of music reminds us that Easter is not only a religious festival but marks the start of spring. Religious festivals give us focus on the great events in salvation history and mark out the cycle of the year.
Rimsky-Korsakov introduces the tune of a second hymn called ‘An Angel Wailed’. This is played on the cello and is beautiful and lyrical. The music gives a sense if being in the church but also of outside the church; of ritual and of nature.
The first theme is introduced by the third hymn tune borrowed from the Obichod, ‘Let Them Also That Hate Him Flee Before Him’. This music is vigorous and dramatic, but the tune is similar to ‘Let God Arise’. A sense of action and things happening is anchored in the sense of awe and beauty.
The fourth hymn Rimsky-Korsakov uses forms part of the second theme. The hymn is ‘Christ is Arisen’. This tune is close to ‘An Angel Wailed’ but also has phrases that link it to the other two hymns. With ‘Christ is Arisen’ we hear the bells ringing and fanfares playing as the day and the celebration reaches its glorious fanfare.
Rimsky-Korsakov takes these four hymns and makes them melt into his own beautiful composition. The music takes us into the celebration and into the beautiful day. It is too easy to focus on what we are doing and miss the beauty of natu
re around us. It is also to allow one day to disappear into another and loose the sense of season and celebration.
Rev’d Colin Telfer
Picture: Resurrection by Fr. Andrey Davydov
Greetings to you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour. We are marching on with Christ on the journey to the Cross. As you receive this letter, we are entering Holy Week, the most solemn week which marks the final journey before death, resurrection, and ascension.
Sunday the 28th begins the week to victory, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On Holy Monday, our scripture teaches us of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, seeing the shameful attitude amongst the people of God in the temple and the cleansing of the temple. We all know that we too are the temples of God. As we enter Holy Week, how are things with us and God? How does this speak into your life?
The rest of the week unfolds with Jesus suffering through to his death. Death on a cross. We do not know what crucifixion is, because nobody is crucified these days. For us to understand the privilege we carry as disciples of Christ, we may need to educate ourselves on the process of crucifixion in those days. The very process that Jesus went through for you and me.
The pain and suffering that Jesus endured; to be rejected, humiliated, tormented, scourged, flogged, spat on, stripped of his clothes, dressed a crown of thorns, verbally abused, emotionally traumatised and eventually death on a Cross. He endured this pain for our sake. This is not just a ritual, but this speaks into the very life of every disciple of Christ. How does this speak into your life?
In the service for Holy Communion, we do chant these words;
Dying you destroyed our death.
Rising, you restored our life.
Lord Jesus come in glory.
As we journey on with Christ to the cross, we believe the suffering and death of Christ leads to resurrection. The suffering of Jesus speaks into our own suffering, turmoil, and confusion in our own lives. Jesus understands our pain, knows our pain and he journeys with us through our own pain. The spirit of Christ in us allows us to embrace pain and suffering believing that we too shall rise. The resurrection of Christ speaks into our own resurrection for like Jesus we have endured our own crosses. The last twelve months have been a blast! How does this speak into your life?
Please do join the rest of the circuit in the evening weekly circuit services throughout Holy Week as we together reflect on how the message of suffering, death and resurrection speaks into our own life journeys.
Deacon Lemia Nkwelah
Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District
Chair of the District - Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse
Some of you will recall that in my pastoral letter for February I suggested that the Season of Lent might be viewed as a season of the heart; a period set aside intentionally for the interior work of prayer, reflection, and spiritual discipline. The other day I found myself reminded of this descriptor when we shared in our District Day of Prayer and Reflection. Over the course of a day, more than a hundred people participated in a whole variety of different opportunities to pray: from meditation to poetry, from morning prayer to compline, from joining with the deaf church to prayer and praise. In addition to the people who joined us online, there was an equal number who participated in their own homes through printed material and creative suggestions for different points in the day. All in all, it was a great success and it reminded me of the centrality of this means of grace in the Christian life of faith.
The word ‘prayer’ itself has its root in the Latin word ‘precari’ (ask earnestly, beg, entreat) and it is not difficult to see the relationship to our English word precarious (to be dependent upon the entreaty or favour of another). To live life in a prayerful state of being is to live with a humble appreciation of the grace and goodness of God who reveals the nature of the divine through the coming of Christ. God who promises to be ‘with’ us and ‘for’ us in Christ crucified and risen; is the God we entreat with every breath of our body in the life of prayer. In this sense the whole of life is prayer – breathing in the presence of God in joy and sorrow, in sickness and in health, in tragedy and elation and finally in life and death! Prayer is the vital breath of the Christian soul, that carries it through the rich tapestry of our human experience.
There is little doubt that we are currently living in precarious times as we continue to struggle with the devastating consequences of a dreadful viral pandemic that has seriously disrupted - some might say irrevocably changed our whole way of life! It seems very likely that we will be living for decades with the economic, social, and political consequences of COVID-19. The Christian Church will not be immune from these aftershocks and a great deal of wisdom will be required to discern what it is we are called to be and do in a post-pandemic world. How will we navigate the competing demands of the digital Church and the Church gathered in presence? How will the Church best serve the needs of the poor and uphold the call for justice? How will we continue to resource the Church financially so that we are fit for purpose in the twenty first century? What importance will we attach to our buildings when we have spent so much time away from them over the last year? These are complex and searching questions that require wisdom, thought and prayer.
Over the next few weeks and months, it is likely that we will all begin to experience a greater degree of freedom as restrictions are relaxed and the vaccination programme continues to gather pace. As a Church we will need to make decisions about the wisdom of returning to our buildings and if we do so how we can ensure that we keep our congregations and our church officers safe. I hope and pray that during this time we will discover again the rich resource of prayer – both personal and corporate – that it will be the doorway to gratitude and praise and a deep silence in which we discern the still small voice of the living God.
With deep peace and blessing,