Langley's Piece

Weekly Bulletin 04/02/2021

There was no bulletin last week. Folks may well have realised that we had a circuit meeting on Thursday night last week (and, hidden from sight, Plan-making), and so much effort went into preparation for those. The Circuit Meeting went well. Certainly, we now put more effort in providing written reports so that we can focus more on what needs discussing. 

 

The Meeting received a report (which had been circulated previously to CLT and our LPWL meeting), detailing our approach in both investing in our Livestream Worship and resources, and balancing this with providing paper resources for local churches. 

A picture containing text, sign, outdoor

Description automatically generated

I would like to continue to draw your attention to our most recent series of online interviews – ‘Me, Jesus, and the Church’. 
This provides a means by which we can hear from people about their background and their coming to faith, but also how they have found it invaluable to be part of the Church. I sense that this link, especially when we are living in socially distanced times, is hugely important. 
There are always those who will explain that they are Christians, but they do not feel the need to go to church, or to be connected to church. The stories surfacing through ‘Me, Jesus, and the Church’ are deeply moving, and we are now at episode four in what will be an eight-episode series. 

This week we hear from Susan Halford who began her working life grading eggs, and has since worked with figures throughout her working life. In terms of Susan's faith, the first part of the interview focuses on how conversations with the owners of a local fruit and veg shop, initial involvement in Crowland Methodist Church, and her reading the Gospel came together to the point where she gave her life to Jesus. 

In the second half, Susan shares how she has always found that being part of a small group is vital in helping her remain faithful as a Christian. The advantage of these videos of course is that, if a church has projection facilities, they are easily accessible. As for who the future contributors might be, I am always open to volunteers; some folk have already offered, but you may find that I approach you to share.... Everyone has a story to tell. 

 

The Plan is a challenge, not least because of the number of preachers who are having to self-isolate and, of course, because we cannot predict the future. I was supported by Sue M, Rev Sarah, and Rev Dale on this occasion – the link with Dale has been useful because we need to look at how livestream appointments are integrated into the Plan. Our priorities in making the Plan are as follows:

 

  1. I have focused on having Easter Sunday as a point where we offer every church in the Circuit a preacher. This follows earlier news reports that some schools may be reopened partially two weeks before Easter but, of course, no one is sure of what is happening. Once again, it will be easier to publish the Plan in shorter periods, particularly since the number of appointments that we have will not stretch to much beyond mid-April!

 

  1. Sunday Livestream Worship. Up until Easter, the pattern of me covering two Sundays a month, with Matt and Dale covering other days (and me picking up a fifth Sunday) will remain. This releases me to visit those churches that can open. We need flexibility all round of course because, whilst I can reach three churches on, say, Easter Sunday for shorter Communion services, I cannot see everyone at the same time. Meanwhile, you will be pleased to hear that plans to welcome Rev Vivienne post Easter are progressing well. Please do pray for Viv and her family. 

 

  1. Preaching Appointments in Churches. We then plan, as usual, even if we suspect that churches will not be open.  If a preacher is planned and a church is not meeting, we would strongly encourage the preacher to liaise with the church, and to perhaps provide a written reflection for them. Whilst ‘The Vine’ is an excellent resource, I feel that it is vitally important for our churches to link with our local preachers; as I have said before, local preaching is more than preaching – preachers know congregations and, because of that, are able to be much more specific in the teaching that they offer the church. Also, preachers have a calling to use their gifts. 

 

  1. Video Reflections as ‘appointments on the Plan’. Separately, I have been heartened by the willingness of preachers to provide video reflections, especially those who cannot travel. We are now appointing those preachers who have offered, and are willing, on the Plan, just as we would plan them for any church appointment so, in effect, we have one other church – an ‘online church’, with a weekly preaching appointment. Of course, we used to approach people before, and Sue kept us in order but now, by placing this on the Plan, we are underlining its crucial importance, not least as our online worship is widely available. We will continue to invite worship leaders and others to record prayers and readings as usual. We will review how this is developing. 

 

Encouraging churches to develop their own livestream services

For the moment, we want to encourage local churches to develop their own livestream worship, whatever the platform used (Facebook, Zoom, YouTube). There are some fantastic examples of work that is being carried out already – small groups, worship services, fellowships. 
We would like to advertise what is available centrally but to do this justice - showing people what is on offer - reflecting the openness and tone of groups needs more than a sheet of A4 contacts. Watch this space… So far, much of this is managed by the local churches with input from their own local preachers’ and worship leaders. 
Given the option, we would far more want to see people involved in their local church livestream, rather than on the Circuit Livestream broadcasts, since the local connection is always likely to draw people closer to a congregation. However, our priority as a Circuit is to ensure that we offer an opportunity to engage in livestream for people who may well ‘fall through the gap’ so to speak. Also, we are well placed to produce resources that the local churches can include in their own livestreams. 

 

Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to appoint preachers for livestream services in individual churches. Our focus is on resourcing the Livestream worship centrally and drawing in as many contributors as possible to reflect the diversity within the Circuit. 
As for the future, and all the energy being directed in this way, as the Lockdown eases it is for the local church to discern how it supports people. However, this is one way of meeting the needs of those who are housebound, carers, those working shift-patterns, and those who might struggle (for whatever reason) with face-to-face church. 

 

There is some insight behind this that I think it is important to note. As we make the Plan, I have become increasingly aware of just how pressured and tiring contributing towards livestream can be. To be more precise, I do not think it is necessarily to do with the livestream per se, but with the amount of time and energy it takes to learn new things. For this reason, I am mindful not to ask too much of people - when we plan preachers, we ask them to state how many services that they can offer, and how many in one day! The same should go for livestream. It is easy to underrate the energy it takes. It does not feel right for me to ask of preachers, “Can you appear here and throw in a video?”
Sure, I could do it, but then I am a full-time geek minister. On another, more humorous note, it would be interesting to survey the worst case examples of how many times people had to re-record their reading or sermon efforts, let alone see the outtakes! 

Specific Focus – Lent/Easter
Having recently covered the Week of Prayer for Christian Unityresources across two weeks, over Morning Prayers, we will have an All We Can Lenten focus throughout the season, and during Holy Week. Meanwhile, Dale will offer a time of reflection during the evenings, based around George Lings’ book ‘Seven Sacred Spaces’. An update will follow but, for now, please e-mail Dale or Matt Forsyth if you would value more information on materials etc. 
 

 

EDI Policy
The Circuit accepted the EDI policy that I had developed in conjunction with the CLT. The policy stands alone, and the Circuit will look at how we support local churches as they seek to embrace Equality, Diversity and Inclusion but, the first brush with EDI begins with the Property Consultation that we are asking every church to complete. 
This might seem a bit odd but, if you think about it, a question such as “How are you using your buildings?” is much better focused when we begin to ask, “How does your building enable your mission?”, and then even, “How does your building provide sanctuary and a place of growth for people who would otherwise be overlooked in your local community?”


 

Money

As we constantly look to understand the impact of Covid-19 on our churches financially, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the invitations for church treasurers to liaise with the Finance Team as early as possible, so that we can understand the position of local churches, not least in relation to their ability to meet the Share. 

 

Missions and Ministry

It has been some time since the M&M Team met, but Circuit Meeting saw considerable value in this and, therefore, we are planning a one-off meeting via Zoom to revisit what tasks the team might be able to take up in the immediate future. As you may well know, the remit of the M&M Team was reviewed in 2019; this team is another useful means by which the Circuit can understand the needs of the churches, and how we support them, but can also be extremely helpful in looking at how we progress key projects and discussions, and how we identify and use resources within the Circuit. 

 

….Since I am covering a lot this week, I will update you more next week on safeguarding, on the need for a Circuit Safeguarding Officer, and on someone to help with property matters. As of yet, I have not had to give away my Caramac. Would someone please oblige? 

 

A verse for your encouragement – from our Christian Unity Prayers – I remind us all of Paul’s writings whilst under house arrest in Rome…

 

4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-5)

 

As we journey as a circuit, may we continue in this spirit of unity, and may we welcome Christians from any and all denominations as we seek to support people in their calling. 

 

With every blessing,

 

Langley

Weekly Bulletin (21/01/21)

Greetings All,

Once again, I include here a reflection produced for Whittlesey’s ‘Lockdown Magazine’ but helpful, I feel, to all of us across the Circuit. So, apologies if you are from Whittlesey – you may read this twice. It reflects on the Calling of the Disciples (and has been edited a little from the printed version). Oh, and I have added some illustrations.

“Come Follow Me!”

No, not me. Jesus. Let us get that sorted first. Although I joke about my new found form as a YouTube celebrity (note, now international YouTube celebrity, given my leading prayers for the Methodist Church in Great Britain online Covenant Service), I don’t want people to follow me. I would rather they followed Jesus.

Your Personal Computing Resource | Facebook emoticons, Emoticon, Happy face  iconThe online world raises interesting questions, especially when we think about how we can ‘like’ something at the tap of a button, or ‘follow’ someone, or ‘click on the bell’ to receive notification of when someone is speaking or has posted. 
I must confess that, in the early stages of leading livestream worship, I was always on the lookout for a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’. It gave me some sense of comfort to know that someone else was out there, especially when presenting oneself online makes one feel self-conscious, even vulnerable. This said, I have never read too much into the number of likes I receive – or the Circuit Facebook Page, or the Circuit YouTube Channel for that matter. I am more interested in what people write and how this demonstrates that they are engaging with what we offer – and feel part of a community in which they know that their thoughts, feelings, and comments are taken seriously.

Ultimately, alliances on social media can be fickle. I have 700 or so Facebook friends. Many identify more, of course, with my public role as a minister, and surface out of a desire to stay in contact and hear about the good things that are happening here. Nonetheless I value all of them. This said, Facebook’s use of the word ‘friends’ is interesting. It raises the question of whether this is a correct term for a relationship with a person or a group that can be somewhat distanced. 

The reality is that you cannot be friends with everyone. Or, if you are friends with everyone, you will find it difficult to maintain the same continuity of contact or depth of relationship with them all. Interestingly, the British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that the greatest number of relationships we can manage is 150. He then refines this by looking at the closeness of relationships between different circles of friends – and qualifies this. According to his theory, the tightest circle has just five people – loved ones. That is then followed by successive layers of 15 (good friends), 50 (friends), 150 (meaningful contacts), 500 (acquaintances) and 1500 (people you can recognise).

So what is the link between this and Jesus’ invitation “Come follow me” that has featured as part of our gospel readings for the past two weeks (with the calling of Nathaniel, Philip, Peter, James, and John)? Well, first, Jesus does indeed invite these early followers to ‘like’ him, to be-‘friend’ him. There is a link here when we look at how online communities operate. And whilst our first instinct may be that online relationships are somewhat superfluous, my experience is that for some, the offer of friendship and companionship is real. When I started online prayers, I overlooked how seriously people were willing to use the platform to offer genuine care, concern, listening and prayer in response to the needs of others. These are the kinds of meaningful relationships, online or physically face to face, that Jesus yearns for us to develop. 

Let us push this point further. Jesus encourages us to befriend each other, but He also calls us to befriend Him. I have a question for you then: ‘Where does Jesus stand in your circle of friends?’ Is He someone you recognise, perhaps even respect, but pay little attention to? Is He an acquaintance that you have been introduced to - as if there is a conversation that you once had with Him that needed further working though? Is He a meaningful contact in the sense that you will call Him when you are in need – but He is not really part of your immediate circle now? Is He a true friend, or better than that, in Dunbar’s scheme – a good friend? Jesus should be at the centre of our circle and, in a world where friendship can be fickle, it is worth remembering that He is so much more to us than some people would take the word to mean. 

Facebook Jesus | Vesa Peltonen | FoundmyselfThe image here – created by Vesa Peltonen, ‘Facebook Jesus’ has an element of profundity about it. At first you might see this as blasphemous – you might think it irreverent to impose an image of the crucified Jesus on a business icon. Alternatively, I would argue that countless people have been vilified and crucified by what is said by hateful and vengeful people on social media – and that Jesus is equally offering himself at the heart of this space – as healing for those who are hurt. Therefore, this is the very space that we should be occupying as Christians. Jesus offers Himself to us. He invites us to put Him at the centre of our lives and make Him our closest 'friend'. When we trust in Him, our lives are transformed. As Christians we are called to remind others of this generous offer, and to bear witness to the difference this makes. And, where Facebook is concerned, there should be no difference in our attitudes and behaviour online as compared to face-to-face. It is not that we are putting Jesus at the heart of Facebook and YouTube; it is more that Jesus is already mindful of those in need who surface on social media, and calls us to respond. 

Star Wars Ireland - May The Force Be With You - Pure SavageMy second observation is that, to friend Jesus is to drop everything and follow Him. Do not misunderstand me. Although Mark presents Jesus’ conversation with the fishermen in the same kind of light as a Jedi Knight who uses the force to drop their guard and everything else with it (please forgive the Star Wars reference), it is more than likely that they already know what Jesus is inviting them to be part of. (And besides, everyone knows that a jedi mind-trick only works on weak-minded individuals – and although the disciples had their flaws, I am not sure that all of them were so weak minded that they were prepared to follow Jesus on a whim). The point of these narratives is to emphasise that when Jesus calls, the disciples follow. And Jesus calls you. He calls you in the broader term, to make Him part of your circle of friends and to centre your life around Him. And He can also call you at a specific time, to carry out a specific purpose. We would be wise to watch out for the latter. As human beings we can become so preoccupied with what we think is important, or urgent, or even both of these at the same time, but Jesus has a tendency to help us refocus sharply and recognise what our blinkered vision is preventing us from seeing. Thus, the fishermen can leave their nets – and their livelihoods. 

I note that despite my offer of Caramac last week for anyone interested in helping with safeguarding training or helping as part of the safeguarding team, or helping Paul with the Circuit Property Team, I have had no offers. I will resist the opportunity to use Jedi (which, by the way, is a recognised religion) and I will trust in Jesus. But seriously, do take this opportunity to question what new work God might be calling you to do. Many thanks to you all for everything you do already.

And, some very brief points as I reflect on this week.

  1. Thanks to Rev Sarah, and to Linda and Ian Cornall for their assistance with last Sunday’s Livestream Worship. Just a reminder that the Methodist Church / All We Can Covenant Service remains available online via the Methodist Church YouTube Channel.
  2. Me, Jesus, and the Church - if you have not seen Nick Drury’s contribution – which is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time, please do. This week we will be hearing from Nicky Ward; a quite different story but, again, equally moving. Please do share these testimonies with family and friends etc. if you can view them. They are, I believe, a helpful tool for evangelism and a means of encouraging people to have faith in both Jesus, and the Church. Of course, people can make their connexion with a local church in a variety of ways. 
  3. We are making good progress with the form that we will use to (a) gather information for the Connexional Property Review, and (b) take some initial steps as we think about how EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) is enabled through our property. As I said last week, it is not possible to consider how effectively we are using our property if we are not aware of the scope of our local mission now, have not questioned how the needs of our community are changing, and within this, how we enable EDI locally. 
  4. Prayers please for those who continue to grieve the loss of loved ones, and who are having to adapt as they say goodbye to changes in what is possible at the crematorium, or for graveside services. This said, if anything, the pressures and constraints that the pandemic puts us under have given rise, if anything, to a deeper sense of pastoral care and concern. Give thanks also for the good news, of course, which is out there, of people who have recovered from Covid and other life-changing illnesses. 
  5. Give thanks for the vaccinations that are taking place. I am proud to say that I had to act very quickly this week to respond to a request from Church House, asking which of our churches might be able to act as vaccination training centres for the St. John’s Ambulance if required. The requirements were quite specific, and it would be for St. John’s to make the final decision, but it looked like two, if not three churches in the Circuit might be able to help with this. We will see what happens. It is great to have been asked and to be part of the options that St. John’s may have to hand. Thanks to the teams at Brookside and Dogsthorpe, who got back to me at warp speed. (Sorry - the sci-fi references seem to be coming thick and fast today).
  6. Please pray for Westgate New Church and the North Westgate Development. Even though the church has not been approached by the developer, we have now established a small group of key partners. (We should remember the host of other community groups that the church supports as well). We have reached the point where the partners are clear about their desire to work together and wish to lobby the developers via single negotiator. This has been a very important phase, all conducted during lockdown, during which we have met with the trustees/owners of three other significant partners – the Christian Bookshop, CROPS (Christian Outreach in Peterborough Schools), and PAB (Peterborough Association for the Blind). Together, it is true to say, we are as wise as serpents but as gentle as doves.
    I am also pleased to report a much closer working now with the URC, what with Rev Geoffrey Clarke, their Synod Moderator (who has previously served as an Authorised Methodist Minister), advocating for our position in wanting to let out the manse. I will be writing to our District with a further report on where we are so that we can start to draw together the expertise we need as we feed into this situation. 
  7. CLT have referred a paper that I had written following our last Circuit Meeting about how we progress our online provision. This was well received and has been shared with our and Local Preachers’ and Worship Leaders’ meeting for comment. The paper looks at how our online worship has developed, from a variety of angles, and concludes by considering the progress we have made, and the challenges that we face. I have received some very positive responses from the LPWL meeting, not least from those who struggle with IT, and do not feel that leading livestream worship or producing content is for them. In the main, folk seem reassured by the fact that we are realistic about the strengths of both online churches and local churches, and our desire to invest in both. 
    One comment, when we might think about how online church may not be the ‘real deal’, has been that we must not forget that St. Paul and St. John experienced periods where they were forcibly separated from the church, and yet retained their connection to local congregations through their letters. The words they wrote, without being able to speak face to face or embrace, transformed the early Church and are treasured by us today: Philippians, Colossians, Revelation. Meanwhile, as St. Paul would I am sure stress, when we do have the option of coming together as One Body, as a physical congregation, we should do this. We need, therefore, a twin-track approach that invests both in online provision for those who cannot make church, and the support of local congregations. Above all through, we need to encourage those who engage with us online to try and make a meaningful connection with a local congregation. And vice-versa; we are now at the point where local congregations may be approached to nurture someone who has reached us online. 
  8. Finally, it is the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity this week. I have therefore opted for the next two weeks (!) to incorporate the prayer material for this year, ‘Abide in my love’ within our 8.30am prayers. Again, everyone is welcome but I encourage local churches to avail themselves of the resources that are available on the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland website: https://ctbi.org.uk/

    Every blessing,

    Langley