Our Ministers regularly write letters of encouragement and support.
President of the Conference the Revd Richard Teal ....>
Pastoral Letter from the Revd Colin Telfer - North Norfolk Superintendent
The Menin gate
Some years ago, I visited the Menin Gate in the Belgian town of Ypres. I did not know what to expect but I was taken aback by the emotion of the experience when entering the gate, to see the names of those who had fallen. It gave perspective to the large numbers who had died, and I became very emotional. The sight of so many names on the inside of this huge arch was overwhelming, but, just when I was coming to terms with so many names, I realised that the passageways leading to the outside from the middle also had names, as did part of the outside. This made my heart sink: Every name a life lost.
In the same way, the realisation of the huge numbers lost today in the covid pandemic can be difficult to grasp just by the sheer size of the numbers: Yet every number is a human life. I have heard of friends who have died in the last year. They have passed suddenly at ages too young to have gone. I do not know if they have been lost to this terrible disease.
I know from reading history books how terrible events can affect our society. The story we have of the First World War is a story in which we react to the terrible events of that time. We focus on the trenches and the barbed wire and the ‘lions led by donkeys. We forget that the quotation ‘lions led by donkeys’ was a critique by the German commander Ludendorff. We also forget that the ‘Spanish Flu’ was part of that war as was the ‘Irish War of Independence’. The reason we lose sight of these events being part of one terrible part of history is that people soon started to push it out of their minds after the events. They had experienced events that were too terrible and were repelled.
The disciples of Jesus also went through something terrible, yet, through the resurrection of Jesus they came to terms with what they had experienced, and they lived their lives in the memory of the crucifixion and realising the empowerment that they had obtained.
We do not know how the future will unfold and whether we will be a people who want to forget, or a people who want to live in the memory of what we have experienced and making changes in society to civilization.
Sunday 7th March 2021
From Deacon Lemmy Nkwelah
‘…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Lent - Forty Days of Gratitude!
Now we are in the forty days of spiritual reflection, penitence and preparation for the death and resurrection. This time signifies the forty days Jesus took immediately before his ministry began. Jesus was led into the wilderness fasting, praying and reflecting on the future of his life. We too take some time to be still and focus on this journey with Christ in the wilderness. In this lockdown Lent I would like to encourage us to also take this time to give God a lot of thanks and gratitude for everything including those things that we took for granted and we have now been forced to give up because of lockdown.
Folks, what do we have that we have not received from God? There is always something to thank God for. At the top of our list of thankfulness we give God thanks for the gift of life. We woke up this morning and have seen this day, thanks be to God. We give him glory for the lives of our loved ones who have departed this earth. In this pandemic, we have seen how human life is fragile and vulnerable. Some have seen death’s door and have recovered, others succumbed. In the loss, healing or birth of loved ones, we still give God thanks.
In our lockdown Lent we have not had the chance to choose what to give up. We have had to unwillingly give up a lot of our luxuries and comforts. Nowadays an ordinary ride on the bus must be essential otherwise stay at home. Who of us ever dreamt that a hug or peck on the cheek with someone not from your household would be considered wrong? Some of us have given up the hobby to frequent the shops. Families have given up the luxury to enjoy meals in a variety of restaurants or spending some time in the park with family and friends.
In all circumstances we are encouraged to give God thanks for his goodness and mercy. It is true that it is not only what we have that makes us thankful but it is also those things that we appreciate that make us grateful even if they may not be available to us. When lockdown is making us unhappy, think of the homeless person and the difficulties they faced to be housed when lockdown began. They had no home to be in while the pandemic was raging. Remember they say homelessness is just a pay-check away. Think of the man, woman or child subjected to domestic violence. We will see the goodness of being in lockdown in our safe homes and not take the provision of a safe home for granted.
It is getting lighter now, and even if we are forced to stay at home, we are beginning to give thanks to God for longer days, and the new life that will soon appear in the spring. Even if we cannot meet physically, we are thankful for technology. When we are lonely or sad and are a pain to others, we are thankful that we can turn to God who invites us to come as we are. The list of the things to thank God for is long. Above all, we are thankful for God who so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten son that those who believe shall not perish but have eternal life. For this we are eternally thankful.
Thanking God for his goodness and mercy makes us value every least person and every little thing that makes even the slightest difference in our lives. Please add more things for which you are grateful and keep naming these before God and before one another. Maybe take each day to name something you are grateful for especially in lockdown Lent. One lady has posted on social media how she is grateful for her cat that has given her quality company during the twelve months of lockdown. Glory, glory to God! We give him thanks and praise! Amen
Deacon Lemmy Nkwelah North Norfolk Circuit
Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District
Chair of the District - Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse
As I turn to write this letter for a new month; I am conscious that we are on the cusp of entering the season of Lent – a penitential season of prayerful preparation that leads to the momentous events of Holy Week and the glory of Easter. Janet Morley, in her wonderful publication ‘The Hearts Time’, suggests that the season of Lent is an apt time to engage in the work of the ‘heart’. We deliberately step aside from ordinary time and enter an intentional season in which to give focused attention to our journey with God. Through prayer, reflection, and spiritual discipline we invite focused thought upon what really matters in the life of faith and as we do so we are further challenged to relinquish the things of no import and indeed the things that encumber our progress in the life of faith. This seasonal turning aside; offering space for prayer, repentance, and new resolve; is not dissimilar to the turning aside of Moses in Exodus chapter 3 to give attention to the lit bush that is not consumed. It requires us to be surprised by the blessings of the present moment and in a moment of awe to find ourselves addressed, called, and redirected by the living God. Part of this calling for the prophet Moses is to become newly attentive to the pain and misery of an oppressed people – a people who are his own kith and kin – a community that he is wedded to through the covenant promises of God.
This year, we enter this season at a time of National Lock-down when the restrictions on our everyday life are still stringent and of course the season will also include the first anniversary of the beginning of the COVID crisis on March 23rd. In a spiritual season in which we are consciously encouraged to slow down and become more attentive to our own interior life; it is likely that the effects of the last 12 months will catch up on us. We may note the levels of weariness, frustration, and the painful ache of yearning for the familiar as we seek to pray. We may feel overwhelmed by the isolation as we long to worship with others in an embodied and physical presence. We may feel that our energy levels are depleted as we constantly find alternative ways in which to live and work. We may become painfully aware of how this crisis has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable members of our society and we may burn with anger at the injustices of our world. As God was attentive to the misery of the oppressed people of Israel; so, God is attentive to the misery and frustration of a people locked in a contemporary crisis. We hope, trust, and pray that we will emerge from this wilderness and we will do so carefully, wisely, and well and with a renewed concern for social justice. In the Season of Lent I invite you to entrust yourself and your loved ones to the care of the living God, to walk faithfully with Christ and to allow yourself to be addressed, called, and sent once more.
Finally, in this season of reflection, as we pause and take a breathe, I would encourage you to consider the following three questions:
In this season……………
What am I mourning?
What am I thankful for?
What am I hopeful about?
With deep peace and blessing,
Immanuel, God with us!
I greet you all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy spirit. We are still in total lockdown in the nation’s efforts to lower the spread of the virus. Physically we are distanced but as disciples of Jesus Christ, we one in spirit as we journey together in support of one another through prayer and worship. We are in this in-between time where we are waiting patiently. We are waiting on God. May we not be exhausted by the waiting so much that we forget the presence, the goodness and the mercy of our Lord that follows us all the days of our lives.
In one support group a sister raised how much at times one begins to ask where God is. Even if the Word assures us that God’s love endures forever, and it sure does, sometimes the struggles and the feelings of helplessness causes some to feel abandoned. I write today in the hope and prayer that we find comfort in knowing that it is at such messy times that God goes all the way with us no matter how lonely or difficult it feels. We are in our wilderness and this is the ideal place for God’s presence to be shown.
There are different ways in which each of us experience God’s presence, and maybe not. Whether or not we feel His presence, we believe that Immanuel, God is with us. He is with us. Please continue to nurture your relationship with Jesus Christ especially through feeding on the Word and praying without ceasing. The Word of God is our salvation, and it helps to lift the burdens that weigh us down. Prayer is powerful because it connects us with God. Prayer also connects us in spirit with all those friends, family members and communities we pray for.
The woman in the story, printed below, an old version of the Footsteps in the Sand, leans not on her own understanding of life but seeks answers from God. She talks to God. She was in her moment of need but had failed to feel God’s presence. When she reaches out to Him, God reassures her that throughout all the suffering he has always been present, carrying her in her most troubled times.
May the presence of God make sense to us at this time? Like the woman in this story, she thirsted for his presence and found it in the footsteps. God is with us! God displayed his presence with the children of Israel through the pillar of fire to give them light in the night and pillar of cloud to guide them by day. May God make us able to make sense of his presence currently. We are in unfamiliar and uncharted territory of lockdown and COVID-19 and many of us pray the virus be defeated.
In our own individual ways may we feel the presence of God? Immanuel, God with us. Personally, I am seeing God in the NHS and in all the frontline workers. God is present in the miracle work and sacrificial love they are demonstrating. God is present in the making and arrival of the vaccine. God is present in the distribution of the vaccine. God is present in all the rules and regulations of lockdown that are helping to lower the spread of the virus, lower the loss of lives and save the NHS. God is present with each one of us in our own homes as we pray and remain in contact with Him. He says He is with us always, till the end of time. Immanuel, God with us!
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 51v10-11
Deacon Lemmy Nkwelah
Sunday 7th February 2021
A young woman who was going through hard times began to pray to God for help.
Suddenly in her mind's eye she saw two sets of footprints side by side on a sandy pathway. Immediately her spirits lifted because she interpreted this to mean that God was with her and was walking beside her.
Then the picture changed. She now saw the footprints located in a vast desert wilderness, and instead of two sets of footprints, there was only one. Why was God no longer beside her?
As despair settled back over her, she began to cry. Then the inner voice of God softly spoke and said, "I have not left you. The one set of footprints is mine. You see, I am carrying you through the wilderness."
Prepare the Way for the Lord
To get to my grandfather's croft meant walking along the beaches as there is no road to the house. This was pleasant on a nice day but when it was stormy, and the tide was high, the house could be cut off. One night as we were crossing the beaches during stormy weather, we could hear people shouting several miles away, their voices being carried by the wind. We listened intently to hear if this was someone in difficulty. After a time, we were sure that it was not someone in trouble.
The Story of John the Baptist as a voice crying in the wilderness is suggested to me in this story of hearing voices in the distance. You hear a voice and listen to it to hear its message. John the Baptist is a voice which gives a particular message. The gospel of Mark tells us that John was preparing, and he was calling on people to repent.
To prepare can sometimes in our modern church be seen as something unnecessary, but in scripture we are told to prepare. There are people of faith who feel that we have a passive role and give over to the active God. It is our role, according to this thinking, that we can wait for God rather than plan to serve His will. This is not the picture we see of John the Baptist who is preparing the way for Christ. Nor is this how Jesus himself behaves; Jesus presents himself to John the Baptist to be baptised. This is in preparation for his ministry. The people who are presenting themselves to be baptised by John are stating their willingness to repent, to change direction and turn towards God.
Why did Jesus present himself to be baptised? Jesus is the son of God and therefore did not need John’s baptism. Jesus presents himself to John as part of his preparation for his ministry. He is committing himself to the work of God. If Jesus prepares for his ministry, then he sets an example for his disciples. We are called to follow in Jesus footsteps, we are a people who will prepare before we act. If God’s command says to do something, then we will act accordingly but we are usually a people who prepare for the mission we are called to.
Pastoral Letter for the East Anglia District from the
Chair of the District - Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I am writing this letter on the first day of the New Year and I suspect that for many of us our festive celebrations and our marking of the New Year will have been somewhat muted in character given the circumstances we find ourselves in. Just a week before Christmas we discovered that many of our domestic and personal plans for the holiday period had to be hastily reimagined in the light of the new restrictions and since then the whole area of the East Anglia District has been moved into the highest tier of restrictions (tier 4). From the perspective of public health, it is easy to see why these measures became necessary particularly given the existence of a new and virulent strain of COVID-19 and its obvious spread in the eastern region. Whilst recognising the necessity of these measures, we need to also recognise the sense of loss, frustration, and pain that this brings to many people particularly those who would normally be with extended family over this period.
It is perhaps a reminder to us all that we live with very real expectations about our life and experience; particularly at this time of the year when we gather to celebrate Christmas and mark the turning of the Year. The reason why the current restrictions are so difficult is because we all have our expectations about how we want to celebrate Christmas and New Year, who we want to celebrate it with and for how long! However, we are still living with great uncertainty and even now, with rising infection rates, a new variant of COVID and the massive logistical exercise of a mass vaccination programme; it is difficult to say exactly when things will return to normality in 2021. I think for these reasons I found myself feeling rather ambivalent about the turning of the Year – it is likely to be a difficult year as we struggle with the arduous task of recovering a familiar way of life whilst continuing to suppress the virus and hold out for our turn in the vaccine queue!
As people of faith there is another virtue that is profoundly important and relevant to us currently and that is ‘hope’ – and I want to suggest that this is a time to embrace and embody ‘hope’. In fact, to rediscover ‘hope’ might be the most effective alternative to the seduction of expectations – however well-meant or realistic they might be. The problem with expectations is that they are very often generated by us or the well-meaning people around us – and as we all discover at some point in our lives, they are not always fair or realistic. As a theological virtue ‘hope’ seems to belong to a different order of things – properly understood it grounds us in the promises of a Covenant God who is and remains committed to us in Creation and Salvation. In the face of human experience, we affirm our desire to entrust ourselves and our future into the hands of a generative and transformative God; the God whom we encounter in the grace and vulnerability of the Christ-child.
Donald Eadie makes this very point in one of his published works:
‘Hope liberates us from expectation. It is centred in the endlessly creative power of God to generate new things, to draw life out of death. To live in hope rather than expectation is to live wholly in the present moment. It is to look to the future as an unexpected gift.’
Perhaps 2021 is a year to revise some of our deeply held expectations and determine to entrust ourselves more fully to the hope-giving and hope-filled God of Jesus Christ,
Peace and Blessing, Julian
Pastoral Letter from Rev Sharon Thraves
As 2021 begins it seems we are to continue, for a time, being the church that has left the building. Instead, we are church over the phone, internet, in the streets and on the doorstep. There is something rather gritty and authentic about being church in this way.
Other than this, we are being encouraged / advised to stay indoors for a short time, for our own health and safety. However, for our mental, physical and spiritual health, we are also permitted a daily walk for exercise; what better opportunity to flex our prayer muscles!
When we are tired or sluggish, walking can be invigorating. When we are distressed, walking prayer may be more relaxing than sitting. It’s not about how far you walk, a turn around the garden will do just as well as the length of the Marriott’s Way.
As you set off, ask God to guide your steps and direct your prayers. As you walk, listen for God with your whole being; pay attention to your breathing, your body (aches and pains), your heart beating and the thoughts and pictures that enter your mind. As you breathe (deeply or out of breath), how does this inspire you to pray (for those who are suffering illness / those taking a first / last breath / for creation as God has breathed life into it)? As you notice the strain, aches or liberty of body movement, how does this inspire you to pray (for the Body of Christ – the Church and the related struggles and joys / for key workers / for those confined to the house)? As you feel your heartbeat increase through your efforts, how does this inspire you to pray (for the environment as the heartbeat of the planet / for those experiencing anxiety and stress)? As you observe your surroundings, what pictures in your mind are inspired by the images you see with your eyes (trees that clap their hands in praise to God / a winding path as a narrow way / streets of houses as a Father’s house with many rooms)? At the end of the prayer, give thanks to God for this experience.
I hope you find some comfort, challenge and inspiration
through being church that has left the building over the next month. I look
forward to hearing where God has led you.
Sunday 17th January 2021
Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots (1920)
Sir William Nicholson
Pastoral Letter from Deacon Lemmy Nkwelah
Your story has been told in every generation:
The Lord Jesus Christ lived among us,
Full of grace and truth,
Revealing your tender mercy,
He healed the sick,
Comforted the broken and lost.
In humility he washed the feet of his disciples,
Calling us to follow his example as one who serves.
(Part of MDO Prayer of adoration in the Prayer Handbook)
As we begin the new year, we are holding onto the promises that say God never leaves nor forsakes. This past year has been quite the year and as 2020 passes on, the nation is back in lockdown. Amid all the turmoil, we have developed ways in which we reach out to one another as a fellowship of believers and as human beings. As faithful servants we embrace the faith that God cares deeply for this world. We embrace the belief that we are made in the image of God, and God knows each of us by name. Your name is engraved in the palm of God’s hand. You are held very dear and very precious to God.
There may have been moments in the past year where we may have suffered deep sadness. Loved ones have been unwell. Some have sadly died. In isolation families have had to go through all these emotions with extraordinarily little human contact to lean on. Humanity has been left feeling challenged, grieving, isolated, lonely, abandoned, vulnerable and many other kinds of sad feelings.
During the same year of 2020 we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Saviour who has been born unto us. We have celebrated the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He lived among us full of grace and truth. We hold on to the promises that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples that He will not leave us orphaned. We have a promise that our Father in heaven will give us the Comforter. None of us is beyond His love and, in 2021, we endeavour to share this good news to many who may or may not know Christ. We endeavour to follow his example as those who serve.
The Spirit of God works in us to make us to be like Christ, who comforts, heals, embraces all. He enables us to reach out to one another in loving kindness. The scriptures teach us to look at the life of Jesus and learn what God expects of us. During the lockdown we have learnt to be a close and united family of God. We have learnt that we are a gift to one another, and we have gentle caring and compassion for one another. Communities have risen and come out in full support for those in need.
The washing of one another’s feet is a symbol of sacrificial love. We are called to offer ourselves to one another in humility. Our faith has taught us that our feet have already been washed by God through his outpouring love as shown through the sacrificial love of Christ. After Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he did instruct us to follow his example as one who serves. When we enact this tradition of foot washing, those whose feet have been washed in turn wash the feet of the other. We are being driven to make visible to one another this unconditional love of God. As we journey on into 2021, may we continue to find safe ways in which we can increasingly reach out to those in need. I share with you John 13 v 1 – 17. Please open your Bible and read this passage.
Part of the MDO Rule of life encourages that we be - ‘sensitive to the needs of those close to us, our families, dependents and friends; be aware of and relate to, the community in which we live.’
(MDO Daily Prayer Handbook)
Jesus is still commanding us to wash one another’s feet even in lockdown. Just the simple rule of washing our hands regularly, wearing a mask or keeping the recommended distance in public spaces will keep the others safe. Some of us are lending a hand by doing the neighbour’s shopping if they are in the vulnerable group or maybe they are not physically able. Just being able to be in isolation and still hold prayer meetings and acts of worship on Zoom are powerful acts of washing the feet of the other. The ordinary phone call, a small card through the door with encouraging Scripture, even a letter or a prayer for or with fellow members, are loving ways of reaching out.
It is comforting when someone reaches out to us with love. Someone rung me from my consultant’s office to cancel an appointment and ended up blessing me with some words from Numbers 6:24-26. This was such a lovely gesture and left me feeling warmed by the reminder that Jesus loves me. I was not expecting to receive such a blessing that morning and I am extending this blessing to you, North Norfolk Circuit.
The Methodist Worship Book in ‘the ordination of deacons’ reminds us that we ‘are called to support the weak, bind up the broken, gather in the outcast, welcome the stranger; let the concerns and sorrows of others be as our own. May nobody suffer neglect on our watch.’ (MWB, Ordination of deacons)
So, I pray:
North Norfolk Circuit may the Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you: The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace. Amen
Deacon Lemmy Nkwelah
Minister in North Norfolk Circuit
Please look at
Pastoral Letter from the Revd Colin Telfer - North Norfolk Superintendent
Two years ago, I realised a lifelong ambition. I saw the star Canopus. It was low in the sky to the south from my viewpoint on the island of Lanzarote. Canopus is so far south that you would see it directly overhead in the Falkland Islands. Even though it is the second brightest star (excluding the sun) I had to make an effort to see it, but I was richly rewarded for my efforts. I had to get up during the night and go to a dark area in the hotel grounds with a good view to the south.
In this time of the year where we celebrate the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany then my own sighting of a star brings my focus to the story of the Magi, who saw a star that brought them to Jesus. Whilst this story is celebrated at Epiphany, it is also important for Advent and Christmas. Whatever the Magi saw whether, astronomical or astrological, they knew its significance and dedicated themselves to see its realisation. They were foreigners who did not know the promises that God made to the Hebrew people, but they knew this was important not just to the Hebrews but to all the peoples of the world. We can compare their efforts with the leaders of the Hebrews, the people who know and await the fulfilment of God’s promises. They have missed the signs of the Messiah’s birth. They direct the Magi to where the birth will be but make no efforts themselves to see. They feel threatened and plot to kill the Messiah they have been directing the people to wait for.
Advent is a time when we focus on preparing for the Lords coming, both the birth 2000 years ago and the second coming. We focus on the people from Old and New Testaments who prepared themselves and others for the coming Lord. We have the example of their hardship and commitment. We also see characters in the Bible stories who do not commit themselves and fail to realise the fulness of God’s promise.
My journey to
see the star Canopus is a journey in time and space. It had been an intention
since the early 1970’s and I travelled far enough to be able to see it. I was
not here 2000 years ago to see the Lord; I may not be here for the second
coming; but my journey of faith means I know the risen Lord. God be praised.
God Bless Colin
Sunday 13th December 2020
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 aware that this is the last pastoral letter that I shall write in this calendar year of 2020 – a year that many of us will want to erase from our memory in view of the significant challenges we have all faced through the viral pandemic of COVID -19. As we approach the turning of the year there are hopeful prospects that vaccine development will begin to offer us a way out of the world-wide crisis and that by the time we reach the Spring of 2021 there may be some semblance of normality even if it is a new normality! All of this is to be welcomed particularly in the season of Advent when as people of faith our discipleship is expressed through hope-filled waiting. We are a people who, once more, are willing to entrust themselves to the hope-filled promises of the living God who chooses to abide with us in the coming of Christ. Christ comes to be God with us – the light and grace of God abiding in our hopes and fears, our pain and suffering, our joy and sorrow and ultimately our life and death.
Hope is such a profound and vital virtue that sustains our human experience and enables us to face the challenges of each new day. Hope enabled Terry Waite to endure the four long years of captivity as a hostage in Lebanon all those years ago. A vision of hope sustains the Old Testament Prophets in the harsh realities of their historical context as they await the coming of the day of the Lord. Hope is what spurred millions of American citizens to exercise their democratic right and vote in the Presidential elections of November 2020. Hope will sustain our post COVID existence as we emerge from this crisis and grapple with the economic, social, and political consequences of what we have passed through.
I do hope and pray that as you journey through Advent and prepare to celebrate the story of Christmas that you will find room in your hearts to embrace the gift of hope – a hope that is grounded in the gracious overtures of God’s love in the coming of the Christ child. This is the architect of the Universe, the great lover of Creation, immersing himself in flesh and blood and in doing so, transforming our lives for the gift of receiving eternity. This hope refutes the finality of suffering and death as we embrace the gift of sharing in the life of the Risen Christ and it offers us a future as we entrust ourselves to the providential care of a faithful God who will not let us go. Through our faithful observance of Advent and our joyful celebration of Christmas; we can relocate our life and existence in the story of God’s great love for humankind and all Creation.
Peace and Blessing, Julian