Langley's Piece

Langleys Weekly Bulletin - w/c 21st June

 

 

 

Revd Dr Langley Mackrell-Hey
Superintendent Minister
76 Gunthorpe Road
Peterborough
PE4 7TP

e:revlmh@gmail.com
t:01773 573147

m:07525 762538

 

 11th June, 2020


 

To: All in the Circuit, including Church Stewards/Leadership Teams,

 

Re: Future Reopening of Churches in response to the easing of the Coronavirus Lockdown

 

Further to my note last Sunday, I thought it would be helpful to provide some further guidance as the Lockdown eases. As I intimated last week, whilst the Government has brought forward the date at which it would allow churches to open for personal prayer, the challenges which surround this are considerable. As of today, there is still no change to the Methodist Church’s position. However, given the speculation, the easing of the lockdown, and the need to plan ahead, crucially, this is not just a question of fulfilling the requirements in terms of property, social distancing, and cleanliness, or of who we have available as volunteers to reopen - it is a question about how we capitalise on the increased depth of relationships, the people we have reconnected with, and perhaps even those who we have connected with for the first time as a result of our increased pastoral care and outreach.

 

I thought it would be helpful to suggest a four-point plan by which local churches might prepare themselves for reopening when the time comes:

 

  1. Think Property

 

This is perhaps the most straightforward aspect of the reopening process. Property Stewards will already be familiar with the two proformas that should be completed as part of this - the ‘Coronavirus Risk Assessment Form’, and the ‘Reopening a Building Checklist’.
In respect of our Methodist/URC LEPs, the URC is encouraging churches to use these documents. They direct us to consider what measures need to put in place to ensure social distancing is adhered to. Some obvious challenges may well be how people enter and exit key buildings (if access is restrictive), and what the layout of chairs may look like if kept to 2m spacing. Of course, there is room to be creative in this. A Church could use a second room. One important step, therefore, is to question what form of gatherings your church might be able to support. The most obvious route ahead will be to focus on accommodating small groups. Presently the 2m spacing still applies (and 5 metres or more for singing (!) and some churches may even find that it is simply impracticable to reopen given their restricted access.

 

  1. Address your Vulnerability

 

Praise God that we are now at the point where grandparents can see their grandchildren! Even so, restrictions remain, and we are especially aware that a good number of those who would carry out the practical task of welcoming preachers and stewarding people, are either vulnerable themselves or care for others who are. I note that this is not merely a case of age; some of our younger members live with conditions that place them in the vulnerable category. Churches would, therefore, be wise to think about how they might reconfigure those teams by inviting others to assist. This may affect how often you are able to open the church. This consideration also applies to the wider circuit as we will look at what resources, in terms of preachers, we can make available to the churches.

 

  1. Go for growth – Prayer Partnership and Small Groups

 

Arguably, one of the most questionable things we could do would be to try and return to the patterns of worship and mission that were in place before the Lockdown. I say this, not to denigrate what was happening before, but to emphasise that we are now in a different place. During the Lockdown, we have seen an increase in the depth of pastoral care to members of our churches, and have broken new ground in terms of phone ministry and enabling people to worship at home. We have seen new support networks emerge through social media such as WhatsApp and Skype. Our livestream worship services have engaged with new people; some who were on our fringes and of whom we asked the questions: ‘Where are they? We never see them at worship?’ We are meeting the needs of shift workers, and our geographical reach has shifted.

 

During the Lockdown, the Pioneer Hub (which is open to anyone) has explored something called the Dragonfly Model to help us understand how we gather as Christians. The dragonfly has four wings, each of which can operate both independently and in unison. The link with Methodism is that traditionally we have gathered in four ways: Circuit, local congregation, class (or small group), and band (prayer triplet). Whilst we could use other terms, what the model is saying is clear. Significantly, a focus on small groups and helping people find prayer partners fulfils the next step in Reimagine, where (if you remember the model of the church as a tree), the consensus was that we needed to tend to our roots.  If anyone wishes to view a presentation on the Dragonfly model, you can do so, without having to be a member of Facebook, on https://www.facebook.com/peterboroughpioneer/
As you can see, we want to encourage discussion over this, although in my personal view the basic principles seem too obvious and immediate to ignore.

 

It is not for me to impose a model of being Church on any congregation but, as your Superintendent, and in the hope that some good can come out of this terrible pandemic, I would implore those of you who are church leaders to consider for yourselves:

 

  1. How you can continue to encourage prayer in the life of the Church, with an emphasis on helping people shift from praying alone to praying with one or two prayer partners? In some places this is happening already – but how could you develop this in church? 
  2. Churches already operate small groups and fellowship groups. As groups begin to think about reforming, now may be the time to invite newcomers.
  3. Alternatively, churches may consider this an opportunity to start new groups.
  4. One of the challenges in opening churches is that of regulating the number of those attending worship. One way of doing this, where opening is practicable, is to base acts of worship around small groups, where we can still invite newcomers.

 

‘The Vine’ material produced by Twelve Baskets has been a life-saver for many of us. However, in terms of what might help our prayer partnerships and small groups become more intentional and focused, we are beginning to look at the Bible Society’s Lyfe materials. More news on this as it comes.

 

  1. Let us know what you need from us

 

We will continue to produce a plan of where preachers are assigned on a Sunday, and this will no doubt develop as the Lockdown eases. However, before we approach this, we will, of course, need to know what your needs are and what acts of worship you wish to accommodate. As has ever been the case, we will look at the resources we have to offer in terms of the Local Preachers we have available.

 

It may be that Churches need to consider different groups meeting at different times; it may be that a congregation moves to a different day. There will most likely be a need for flexibility all round. I am especially mindful of our successes in livestream worship and the need to continue with this in some form, and in a way in which we do not lose new people as we come out of Lockdown.

 

With every blessing – and assuring you that I will forward any new practical information as things arise. Even through the relaxed Lockdown has not quite impacted us yet, it is better to be praying and reflecting well ahead of time.

 

 

Rev Langley

 

Weekly Bulletin 21/5/20

Greetings All,

1/  I hope you are well and surviving the lockdown. Even though things have eased slightly, I have to confess that I am not seeing much difference. It is now possible to travel more for exercise, and more people are being encouraged back to the workplace where possible but essentially, the concerns about Coronavirus seem heightened rather than reduced.
As we discern how we minimise risk, schools in particular are doing some sterling work into how they can do things differently. I think that there is more fear around Coronavirus at this point than there was before the regulations were relaxed. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. 

 

2/  We met as superintendents today and, as a Church, we are concerned for booking secretaries and church secretaries, particularly for those churches who run or accommodate pre-schools. Our fear is that, as a church does this, other community groups who use the premises, and even members of our churches who attend worship, may well ask the question, “Why them, and not us?”
To underline the present situation, our churches remain closed apart from those who are providing foodbanks or some kind of emergency shelter - and of course there are stringent measures in place to allow these exceptions.
The overarching message is to stay aware, and to save lives. I am sure that we are all able to see the logic; there is a benefit to opening schools but this has to be balanced with the risk. The challenge for churches is that they often comprise of different groups, each of whom comprises a different level of risk, mixing in a shared space. Thus, whilst we may be wary of the heartache of having to say 'No' to groups, and the financial benefits if this could happen, the Church has remained firm.

 

3/  When it does come to reopening our buildings (and this could be some way off still), it is the managing trustees who must agree this, even for a partial opening, Or, if the managing trustees are not available to confer, the stewards or leadership team within a church. 
There are two documents: A ‘Re-Opening a Building Checklist’ and a 'Covid-19 Risk Assessment Checklist’, which need to be completed - these have been published on the Methodist Church website: https://www.methodist.org.uk/for-churches/property/coronavirus-guidance-for-property/ 

 

4/  I would like to report that CLT was able to meet via Zoom earlier this week. Yes, we are all learning something new but needs must! This gave us an opportunity to review how things are progressing with your churches. Thanks once again to everyone who is doing such sterling work. We are beginning to think about what advice we want to give churches as and when conversations about reopening become more realistic but, for the moment, I would encourage everyone to continue investing in the relationships we have developed with people, especially with new people, or people on our fringes. Let's begin to think about how we can help more people become part of us, so we can capitalise as we move forward.
If anyone is interested, the Pioneer Hub is meeting at 4pm this Sunday to talk through 'And so what?' Two weeks ago we felt that the way forward was to do this very thing, and to look at developing our small groups. If anyone is interested in joining us, do let me know and I will send you an invite. Everyone is welcome. The hub is there for people who are wanting to encourage new things to happen in churches, and provides a space where people can rest in God's presence, and to talk about how we can encourage ourselves and others in this. The worship aspect is proving more difficult, but the discussion part at our last meeting was strong. We will see how easy this will be on Sunday as more numbers join us. 

 

5/  Thanks to everyone once again who, in their own ways, are helping people remain connected to God and their communities through worship - whether printed or online, or through pastoral phone calls....Our greatest concern is that anyone who wants it can receive our services and bulletins. Let us know if you have a need. We want to ensure that, whether folk are online or not, they still feel connected and part of us. 

 

Every blessing,

 

Langley

 

A prayer to end:

 

A Psalm of lament and praise in a time of Coronavirus

How shall we praise you, Lord, our God?
When we are locked down,
how shall we praise you?
When the doors to your house are barred,
and your people cannot assemble?
When those desperately in need of money and work
cannot even wait in the market-place?
When we have to circle round people in the street,
and to queue for shops maintaining safe distance?
When we can only communicate
by hearing on the phone,
or seeing on the screen;
or digitally messaging,
or even just waving through a window?
When we cannot meet our parents and children,
grandparents and grandchildren,
or other family members and friends?
When we cannot touch them in their flesh and blood,
to know they are really alive?
How shall we praise you?
How, like Thomas, shall we not see yet believe
that your Son is raised among us?
How shall we praise you?

How can I praise you, Lord?
Are you plaguing us with this virus
to punish us because we have all done wrong,
or thought wrongly,
or felt wrongly,
or just been wrong?
If so, why do only some die,
and those, apparently, the ones who are the least worst or most caring amongst us?
Or are you trying to teach us a lesson?
If so, why is it so hard to learn?
And how are we to find the answer
when we do not even know the question?
Or are you still the same loving God,
coming to us in our sufferings
and opening up the way to new life in Jesus?

Lord, I will try to praise you.
Through gritted teeth,
I will try to praise you.
I will try to remember that you have created all things,
and this virus is part of your creation.
I will try not to hate it
but seek to mitigate its harm.
I will try to keep myself and others safe.
I will work to pray for them
and seek to help in whatever way I can.

Lord, when I cannot pray or worship
help me be aware of all your people
and your saints and angels
hovering around me,
lifting me up.
When I feel alone,
let me feel you near me,
even if only for a moment that enables me to go on.
Let me hear you say
“Peace be with you”.

Lord, I will praise you.
Let all the peoples praise you.
(The Revd Kenneth Howcroft)

 


 

Rev. Dr. Langley Mackrell-Hey
Superintendent Minister to the Peterborough Circuit of Methodist Churches
Circuit website: www.peterboroughmethodistcircuit.org  
Peterborough Pioneer Hub: Facebook @peterboroughpioneer 
Research findings: www.fxoversight.online  
Blog: www.blog.fxoversight.online 

 

76 Gunthorpe Road, Peterborough, PE4 7TP

t: 01733 573147, m: 07525762538

E-mail responses: 9.30am daily.
Rest day, Friday. 
Circuit Administrator: Sue Moore, contactable on pborocircuitoffice@gmail.com 

 

 

Bulletin for w/e 24/04/20

I am pleased to report that CLT managed a meeting by Zoom. This, in addition to the Superintendents' Meeting that I attended this week, has generated some useful reflections...

 

1. Churches across the District continue to engage in highly creative ways to maintain fellowship and pastoral care. Across our own circuit we have live stream worship, online meetings and, of course, The Vine resource. All of these are widening and deepening the base for our outreach.
As a circuit, we will always be concerned about those who have no access to the Internet. We want to encourage churches to use their existing pastoral structures (pastoral carers, co-ordinators) to ensure that those who would value a weekly paper resource can receive it. The most recent advice has been that there is no issue in posting a copy of the service to someone on your list. We would encourage local churches to take the responsibility for this in the first instance, but if you need any more support, please let us know.

In addition, we want to highlight that, if a paper resource is not helpful, we can always signpost people to services on TV and radio (although these of course will not have any local input.) Sunday Worship (08.10) & The Daily Service (09.45) on Radio Four, Songs of Praise (13.15), BBC One - are all helpful options, and they are easy to signpost people to over the phone. The most recent edition of Songs of Praise features Anna Herriman - the first female deaf preacher to use British Sign Language in the Methodist Church, based in our own District. We have posted this link on the Circuit Facebook Page and on my own Page, but folk can still view this via iPlayer. It was broadcast originally on Sunday 19th April at 1.15pm on BBC 1.

2. We continue to pray for our churches given concerns over funding. There is a sense in which we want to encourage people to continue to give, particularly those who would give directly into the collection plate. At the same time, we have been deeply encouraged at the number of people who are engaging with us, particularly those who cannot get to church easily because of, say, family pressures or shift-work, but who are seeing how we care and feeling more connected. We sense that this will generate goodwill and generosity in our communities, such that when the time comes and churches need to appeal more directly, the response will be heart-warming. 

 

3. The live stream worship began as an extension of my own Facebook Profile - I have always been aware that there has never been such a thing as a personal profile, it has always been about my role as a minister and, within that, the work of the Circuit. However, I now have over 650 Facebook friends. Whilst this is great in terms of the kind of reach we have, we have decided to port my live stream worship to the Circuit Facebook Page.

(A 'profile' and a 'page' are different; a profile is individual, and a page is more corporate and can represent and include the leaders of an organisation such as our own. Originally Helen Crofts set this up as part of her Circuit Mission Enabler role. In time, we want to port this audience across to the Circuit Facebook Page. This will allow us to involve more people who can live stream worship and create content. However, please pray as we make this transition. People will still be able to view material on my own page. Incidentally, if you would be interested in helping with this, please do let me know. 

 

4. Prayers please, particularly for Shameela and myself as we conduct funeral services. There is much Good News around of course, but death is part of life, and one of our responsibilities is to help people remember their loved ones and mark their passing. We will always declare the Gospel and try to make services possible. However, things are particularly challenging of course because of the restrictions that are in place.

 

Our current practice is to offer people a memorial service, if families wish it, when the restrictions lift. We are, of course, still able to share our care and concern - it is simply a case of having to work differently; we cannot visit but we are able to phone families; we cannot shake hands on the day; services tend to be shorter. This said, there is a profound depth of mutual care that seems to be surfacing as we continue to support folk. 

 

5. Good News stories. We want to hear more of them, so we can help redress the balance when news of the pandemic seems to dominate. Why not send me good news to share? Perhaps you have a new member in your family? Perhaps someone has made a gesture that has made you feel valued or encouraged? Perhaps you know someone who was ill but is now well. Just drop me a line. 

 

Every blessing and stay safe everyone.

 

Langley

 

Easter Message from Rev Langley, based on John 14:1-21
I take as my text John 14:1-21. Whilst this is not a resurrection text per se, I think that the words of Jesus to his disciples at the point where they are grieving, that one day He will have to leave them, have even greater impact in light of the resurrection. 
A word about faith:
Discipleship is about following Jesus in faith. Accepting the change that is required to remain faithful is part of the deal. We are able to do this because, when we meet Jesus, we begin to understand what is truly important in life and what, ultimately, is superfluous. If there can be any positives from the Coronavirus Pandemic, it has reminded us that we are not invincible, that life is finite, and that we have been led to question what we value. 
Of course, one of the most significant questions in addition to what we might leave behind when we die, is what lies beyond the grave. Thankfully, as Christians, we have reassurance that, despite its trauma, death is not the end. Jesus tells us to believe in God the Father, and to believe in Him. He urges us not to live in fear but to follow in The Way. He insists that beyond this life we will inherit a heavenly home, and He offers us a peace both in this life and the next; a peace that the world promises often, but provides rarely. Many of us know the text from John’s gospel that I am referring to here; it appears frequently in our funeral services. The difference today, however, is that rather than bringing comfort to a family in mourning, its true meaning can be realised by everyone, because we all feel the threat of falling ill. 
A word about witness, and loving our neighbour:
What has happened as a result of the Coronavirus has been profound. Sometimes it is helpful to step back and take a look at ourselves and, without wishing to sound conceited, I feel that the Methodist people have done an astounding job. From the moment restrictions were put in place by the Government, local church leaders took the initiative in ensuring that our pastoral care would remain effective, and that people were resourced to worship in their own homes. Meanwhile, in addition to the written resources provided by the Connexion and locally, there has been an explosion in livestreaming of worship online via social media – prayers, reflections, complete services, with both those presenting and those receiving learning new skills and adapting quickly. 
Despite my own scepticism over what constitutes a meaningful connection and true friendship in these spaces, I was shown to be wrong because those who gather greet one another, share their concerns, and make themselves vulnerable in their openness. Ironically, the more socially distanced we have become, the stronger we have been connected in other ways. Moreover, as we have been confronted with the reality of death we have been more open about our faith, our hopes, and our fears. Whilst social media sites always run the risk of becoming an echo chamber for people who hold the same views, it is undoubtedly  the case that our faith has now become much more visible to those others, even if this is in a word of compassion or the offer of a prayer. More people who were once on our fringes will now feel more connected. One housebound person shared with me how she felt more isolated before the Coronavirus measures were put into place than afterwards. The question now is how we encourage those who are on our fringes to put their faith in Jesus and follow Him.
A word about the future:
When Jesus appeared to the women and his disciples, nothing could have ever been the same again. I think that this applies to how we will live now in the life of the Church. When the isolation ends and we return together, we will not quite be the same people and we will not quite be the same Church. We will be better people and we will be a better Church because our understanding of what is important has changed. Sadly, in the past, it has been too easy to be agnostic about the Church and to question, for example, its relevance to modern life and its ability to adapt. The faithless view is one of Christians as the odd kind of people who are caricatured as outdated and out of place within sketch shows. The faithless view is one of the Church as being more of a monument, resistant to change (which is far worse than being unable to change). However, today I would doubt that anyone would question the significance of the Christian faith in providing comfort and hope to people, and the contribution that Christians and Christians together (i.e. the Church) make towards social welfare. I am, therefore, convinced that, despite our vulnerabilities, local churches will find themselves occupying a different space in people’s perceptions. 
The renowned German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, much celebrated for his stance against Nazi Germany during the Second World War (and executed in its final days as a co-conspirator in the Resistance movement), longed in his final days in prison for a ‘religionless Christianity’. He spoke of their almost being two separate species; Homo Sapiens, and Homo Religious, with the latter being human but having a religiosity that promises much but delivers little. Crucially, despite the fact that the German Church (Catholic and Protestant) looked the part, it failed to speak out against the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism, almost carrying on merrily preaching sermons and singing hymns as the world dropped from beneath its feet. Bonhoeffer was one of the earliest people to identify how many people were struggling to find religion relevant; it was as if it had become so heavenly it was of no earthly use. His conclusion and passion was that people would express their faith in an authentic way, that they would work out what it means to live a ‘religionless Christianity’. 
I believe that we are now closer than ever to this point. The Coronavirus has led us to express our Christianity from the heart of our homes and we have not only seen the faith but the messy humanity (dare I say, that accompanies it). Over the past weeks I have witnessed poorly-lit ministers with half of their head in the frame, the remainder being artic ceiling tiles. Latterly, I have witnessed frantic attempts to produce the cleanest studio backgrounds with shelving being tidied and key objects being placed in specific areas. Yet no amount of window dressing or beauty lighting can camouflage the honesty and rawness of what comes across. Speaking personally, my own initial experiences of filming myself on a camera – when I listened back – was one of being shocked at the broken way in which I was speaking, in which the sentence construction was messy, and my speech was characterised by a ‘liturgy of umms’ - as one of my colleagues put it. And yet it is this rawness and this honesty, despite the clumsiness of it all, that has made church leaders so engaging. It does not come across as unprofessional. It comes across as honesty. As I put it to another leader as we were comparing notes about how self-conscious we are, how embarrassing it feels to see yourself played back, we do this because it needs to be done. The Word needs to be out there. I see parallels with John Wesley and his utter distaste for preaching in the outdoors – note that John perseveres because there is no other option. In the end, this openness about our faith will pay-off.
I do see a connection between what it must have been like on Easter Sunday for the two Marys to have seen the stone rolled away and encountered Jesus. I cannot imagine that in that heady mix of grief and joy, they communicated what they had seen with perfect articulation and sentence construction. I think that they too were raw. And yet they did what came naturally - they recounted what they had seen and, as they did so, Jesus revealed Himself to the other disciples. Today, I believe that the Church, especially here in Britain, will enter a new phase because its faith is more transparent, and its people are more open. 
So, as did the women who were the first witnesses to the resurrection, let us share the Good News. God will do the rest. His people will congregate. The Church will be reborn.