Langley's Piece

Weekly bulleting for w/e 170920 - Greetings all. I hope you are well.

  1. The first piece of news, if this has not reached you, is that it is with some sadness that we are now able to announce that Rev Shameela is leaving us – and travelling back to be with her family in Pakistan for an extended period. As you may well be aware, thus far, Shameela has been on compassionate leave following a family bereavement. We wish Rev Shameela all the best for the future. This news became official following our Circuit Meeting last night. Prior to this, Simon as our Lead Circuit Steward had been in contact with the stewards of Shameela’s churches, outlining the situation that we face. I would like to thank all of the Circuit Stewards for all of the practical support that they have provided (this remains ongoing), and to Rev Helen Cameron, our Chair of District who has journeyed with us and helped us think through our options. One of the things that has struck me during this period has been how, as ministers, we are connexionally rooted and stationed by the Conference into circuits – and of how this provides a network of support, a safety-net, should we suddenly find that we are struggling to retain our grip on ministry through family circumstance or ill-health.
  2. This move means that we will enter stationing immediately and so we focus our thoughts and prayers for both Shameela as she prepares for the move, and the ongoing needs of the churches. Some aspects of Rev Shameela’s ministry have been inspirational; her preaching, her drawing together the leaders from across the churches into one meeting, her insights from a different cultural perspective. Of course, the pandemic forced a shift in how we all went about our ministries, but seeing how Shameela’s churches and my own churches have responded has been deeply encouraging. The crucial question has been, ‘What do people need?’…in terms of spiritual and practical support, and ‘How do we enable this?’ Any talk of ‘We would usually do it this way’ has been forced into early retirement. Any new work that we have developed, any changes we have put in place, have all been in response to this question. There has never been any ‘change, for change’s sake’. And there has been a refreshing breeze of permissiveness in our churches where our lay leaders have felt affirmed to take the initiative in meeting that need. The relationship between local churches and the staff who have supported has always been one of ‘high-accountability, light touch’. Very often this enables others. The opposite, ‘low accountability, heavy footprint’ is sometimes required in emergency situations, but rarely empowers people.
  3. As I look back, my role as a superintendent has been one of encouraging leaders, giving some advice about how to structure our conversations about reopening, helping churches work efficiently in unprecedented times – when meeting together face-to-face as church councils, with two weeks notice, is impractical (and as the Charity Commission advise us to be pragmatic). Interestingly, I have never felt the inclination to suggest to a church what they should be doing. It has been more a case of saying, ‘These are the key questions we need to think about as we discern the way forward’. Meanwhile, my major focus has been on developing our livestream worship as part of a comprehensive package of support, which includes paper resources, across the circuit. My point is that as we need to move forward, we need to retain this, ‘Right thinking, right action’ approach, and we do not want to lose momentum. There can be a tendency to await the arrival of a new minister before making any new plans, or to delay planning for the future until things feel settled, but the danger is that we will never reach this point. All I can say is that as a presbyter I would far more prefer to work with a church that was developing its mission than one that had stood still waiting for me to bring inspiration. The relationship between ministers and churches is one of ministers providing leadership yes, but it is also one of mutuality.
  4. My tutor in college for a period, who was also our lecturer in Pastoral Studies provided me with some of the most practical advice I have ever received about what good oversight looks like, and how we ‘hold’ ourselves as ministers. I remember him saying that there are people we should talk to when we arrive in addition to the stewards; the pastoral secretary (‘How are folks – are there any urgent needs?’), the property secretary (‘Is the building falling down?’), and the treasurer, (‘Are we running out of money!’) That principle has served me well over the pandemic. Another comment was that the Church would always hear what a minister thinks, but that we should not expect them to agree with us all of the time. There is something interesting here about the mutual relationship that exists between ministers and their churches. However, whilst our presbyters have a clear identity as leaders, and a task in terms of overseeing what is happening and maintaining good order, we are a lay-led church. History has provided us with some legendary ministers yes, but in main, all the heroes in Methodism are folk heroes. People like you. People who take the initiative. So my plea to Shameela’s former churches, and to all of our churches as a whole is yes, please do consult with the minister (there is a need to meet together as a church council, to complete the paperwork, to have an exchange where we can understand what your needs are an how we can support you as a circuit), but don’t hold back on moving ahead with new initiatives – we need our polity to enable our practice, rather than allowing our desire to do something new be quenched by the thought of ‘We’ll wait for the next minister’, or ‘we will review things when the picture becomes clearer’. Our task in stationing is to find a minister who has that kind of enabling outlook. And of course, I am mindful that other staffing questions remain at Westgate New Church, and Whittlesey. We are still mindful that we also have a ministry to Welland. So, there is much work to do – but the most important thing is that we discern what the needs are now, rather than reverting back to what we did before.
  5. A word on Synod. Synod met virtually. Sue Keeney was able to attend, but other folks in Peterborough were stymied by a power cut that also interfered with access to the internet. Perhaps one of the most moving aspects of the synod was a conversation about EDI – Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity in the church, where we heard testimony about some of the ways in which racism and discrimination had surfaced in different contexts. Although the stories were deeply upsetting, I felt that if similar situations arose in our circuit, we would be able to identify them very quickly. This said, one of the tasks for us this year – required of all circuits - is to form a team to look at EDI within the circuit and how we encourage its themes. As a Circuit it has been good to have feedback in the past that we are indeed inclusive, but it will do us nothing but good to look at how we can try to reach the parts of the church, and our communities that we find difficult to reach, and encourage more people into discipleship and leadership at local church and circuit level. Please watch this space. In addition, work on the God in Love Unites us Report will resume next year – before the Coronavirus we had made good progress in helping our synod reps gauge the response of our local churches. Meanwhile, Rev Jill Marsh’s mission report highlighted the opportunities available at District level through the Create Facebook page, and a second round of Together Missions. Currently I have been liaising with Jill in terms of how the District, and the wider Church, is able to support the congregation at Westgate New Church, mindful that whatever the future holds his may be a base for ‘Church on the Margins’, or ‘New Places for New People’.

Finally, apologies for any typos in this version of the weekly bulletin. I rarely get complaints (presumably because of the reward being that folks give a £10 donation to a charity of the person’s choice for every typo spotted). Sue Moore is away on some well deserved leave - and as they say, whilst the cat is away, the mouse is too interested in managing the cheese supplies to look for a third time at the weekly bulletin and correct those errors which will stand out like a vein of mould on a piece of Stilton.


Every blessing to you all.



Weekly Bulletin from Langley (080920)

  1. Thanks to Dale and Grace for covering the Livestream Worship whilst I was on leave.
    For me, the break was successful - as a Staycation - with some time away visiting relatives, celebrating birthdays, and attending to those routine things that can become easily overlooked. Although, things ended up taking a lot of unexpected planning: Two cars off the road at the same time, a hire car, keeping a family commitment to visit Woburn Safari Park (yes, in the hire car.) I am not sure how righteous I am, but the sun kept shining and, most importantly, the combination of the hire care and the Safari Park was uneventful (I did not really think that through). Whilst the family were excited at the prospect of entering the monkey enclosure (and had shared with me horrific videos of how capable baboons are of destroying car trim), the most exciting thing we saw was a grey squirrel. The park were carrying out maintenance at the time, and we think that this scared them away.
    Other aspects of the safari were amazing though: The brown bears were cute, the lions and tigers were out, the rhino, which came within five feet of the car, munching the grass whilst a keeper tried to direct them off the road, was so graceful. The aim of the holiday was, of course, to try and come back rested for September. I think we made some progress although, as is the case for a great deal of people, life is still hectic, and a holiday is not so much a rest as it is a change of routine and focus.
  2. It is Synod this Saturday, and this will be held via Zoom. If you are a synod rep, Sue has doubled up on the District’s efforts, (you should have been approached independently anyway), and passed on the Zoom link. There is continued focus on how we all emerge from the lockdown, on how, as a Church, we continue with our EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusivity) work, not least in the wake of Black Lives Matter. The focus on MHA (Methodist Homes) continues, with insights from the United Methodist Church in America.
    I have put myself forward to represent the Synod at Conference 2021. I have also offered in previous years, but the ‘competition’ for this is considerable. It is good to have so many people who want to be a part of sharing in the future direction of the Church, not least because this year we will be returning back to the ‘God in Love Unites Us’ report, and discussions that promote ‘good relating’ and healthy relationships, irrespective of whatever view we hold. Incidentally, I was telephoned by a lady this week who was enquiring about whether the Methodist Church or, in fact, any church in Peterborough, could marry her and her female partner. I was able to share where we were as a Church, and to offer to meet them both, not least to encourage them pastorally. It is an interesting position to be in but, even though we continue to journey with this as individuals, and as a church, the least we can do is to show that we care about how people feel, and the struggles they face as they seek to find ways of being affirmed in themselves, and voice their commitment to a significant other in their lives.
  3. I would continue to ask everyone to pray for the Garden House, the Winter Night Shelter project, and Peterborough Foodbank as each of these projects try to discern the best way of operating and supporting ‘the poor’ in the future. Pray for all who grieve the loss of loved ones. I am also deeply concerned about the potential for an increase in poverty within individuals and families as the furlough scheme comes to and end. Mental health is also a serious concern given the shortage of resources within the NHS, the impact of Covid, and now the added facet of children and young people returning to schools having had such an extensive break from what existed before. Please pray for staff, support workers, pupils, and the families and networks of support that surround them. Our youngest started at Secondary school this week….
  4. Please pray for your CLT who, in the background, have been doing a sterling job, meeting monthly on Zoom and being involved in all kinds of planning that most of us won’t see. As we approach our next Circuit Meeting, please pray for our Property Team, and our Finance Team. Give thanks for all the successes we have seen in our local churches as leaders have made such great efforts to reach out to their membership, and their local communities, in all kinds of creative ways. Pray for our local church leaders as we discern how, and in what capacity, we emerge from the lockdown. Pray that we are attentive to what people need and are willing to start afresh as we plan worship services.
  5. Many thanks for people’s kind words and encouragement over the Plan. Deciding that it was wiser not to publish it in its entirely, and allowing space for flexibility as churches decide when they want to hold their services, and what resource they might need from us, was not easy. However, it is allowing us to incorporate requests as they surface. We are beginning to emerge from the lockdown in a socially distanced and sensible way. I have had one face to face church council at Crowland and a face to face trustees meeting is planned for Whittlesey. I visited a café worship service at Brookside before I went on leave. I had a socially distanced midweek service at Oundle today and, on Sunday, I am leading Communion for the first time. If you are thinking about how you may incorporate Communion in your own church, it may be worth chatting to the stewards at Brookside and Crowland who have found different ways of offering this.
  6. Livestream - we continue to broadcast Morning Prayers Monday to Thursday at 8.30am, which keeps me honest (but demands a completely different change in routine). Sunday livestream continues at 10.30am. Livestream worship is functioning as a new ‘Church’ on the Plan as we ask readers to record themselves, and preachers to deliver their message, and we have a community that listens in and shares with each other. Although I sense that a lot of churches are loyal to the livestream, and do not want to undermine it with 10.30 services, I would urge you to go ahead and arrange worship at times that work best for your congregations, and we will see how we can manage this across the Plan.

    Whist Dale and Grace have been able to release me to visit churches in the morning (and offer a different style and content), we need to look at involving more people who would feel confident to host an entire act of worship. Matt Forsyth, who does a great job with All We Can, has offered to assist us. If you are interested in doing this - in hosting weekday prayers, or Sunday worship - assistance will be given – do let us know. We would not necessarily start with all the bells and whistles – Morning Prayers, for example, can simply come via your mobile phone stood against a set of books in a well-lit room. What people want to see is not so much our polished professionalism, but our honesty and integrity. If you feel a calling to help us make Livestream Worship happen (and by implication, to help me and others be free to travel elsewhere in a morning across the Circuit), please let us know.
    I should also give a word of thanks to Simon Stewart who, during my worship, monitors how people are responding across the three sites - YouTube, the Circuit Facebook Page, and my own profile. Numbers attending worship or viewing later have remained healthy. Weekly Prayers are developing a significant following of anything from 18 to approaching 30 people viewing live.
  7.  When Dale and Grace lead morning worship they pre-record the service and listen in, having allowed space for prayers. They also welcome and encourage people in the ‘Comments’ section. When I lead worship, it is live – pre-recording might be possible but, at the moment, I am resistant to doing this because it could well take longer. (You should see the number of takes required to record a five minute promo!)Plus, it adds to the workload – record a service, then lead the same service live the next day. Technically it is possible to post a video to be broadcast at a specific time, but things can quickly become complex, and more costly. So, prayers please as we discern a way forward. The aim is to allow livestream worship to continue. It is a lifeline in shepherding some people who, for good reason, cannot make morning services, or any services for that matter. Meanwhile, we do of course want to encourage those who can to return to chapel. The beauty of livestream and social media is that it can be watched back.
  8. I could continue, but I think this is a good summary of where we are at present, and where my ‘headspace’ has been. Thank your for your continued support and prayers. It has been a joy and a delight to support churches across the Circuit, particularly over the conversations as we emerge from lockdown. Please do not forget that Rev Dale continues to be available to encourage people 1:1 (that may be you), especially if you are discerning where God is leading you, or you are in a group within the church who is looking to start something new, or expand what they are doing.)
    Remember to question what ‘hubs’ (i.e. support groups) and ‘habits’ you are offering people in your church. Also, we give thanks for Rev David Parkes, who continues to support me at Elton, and is often called upon as a source of encouragement in other churches as we seek to respond in a timely fashion to churches as they plan ahead.

To close - ‘So Will I (100 Billion X)’ Hillsong – extract. This hymn has been popular in Morning Prayers:

God of creation. There at the start. Before the beginning of time.
With no point of reference. You spoke to the dark. And fleshed out the wonder of light.
And as You speak. A hundred billion galaxies are born. In the vapour of Your breath the planets form. If the stars were made to worship, so will I.
I can see Your heart in everything You've made. Every burning star a signal fire of grace.
If creation sings Your praises, so will I.

God of Your promise. You don't speak in vain. No syllable empty or void.
For once You have spoken, all nature and science follow the sound of Your voice.
And as You speak a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath, evolving in pursuit of what You said.
If it all reveals Your nature so will I.
I can see Your heart in everything You say; every painted sky a canvas of Your grace.
If creation still obeys You, so will I.

If the stars were made to worship, so will I. If the mountains bow in reverence, so will I.
If the oceans roar Your greatness, so will I. For if everything exists to lift You high, so will I.
If the wind goes where You send it, so will I. If the rocks cry out in silence, so will I.
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy. Then we'll sing again a hundred billion times.

God of salvation, you chased down my heart, through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created the Light of the world, abandoned in darkness to die
And as You speak, a hundred billion failures disappear where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You, so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You've done
Every part designed in a work of art called love. If You gladly chose surrender, so will I.
I can see Your heart, a billion different ways. Every precious one, a child You died to save.
And if You gave Your life to love them so will I

Like You would again a hundred billion times.
But what measure could amount to Your desire?
You're the One who never leaves the one behind.