Pastoral Letters during lockdown

Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District

Chair of the District – Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse

20:05:2020

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The other day I found myself in the novel position of conducting a funeral – I say novel for I realised that I had not done one for 7 years since being a Chair of District. It was a privilege to conduct the funeral of the late Revd. G. Allan Stanton a retired minister in the Norwich Circuit – to mourn his loss, to give thanks for his ministry and to commend him into the hands of Almighty God. In the light of the viral pandemic and the restrictions of lockdown this was to be a socially-distanced funeral! Nothing quite prepared me for this eventuality – not only was there the obvious sense of loss and grief for close family but there was a deeper sense of grief that belonged to the wider social context. There was no consoling touch, no comforting arm or shoulder, no clasped grieving hands and no sharing of tissues amongst a congregation of 7 who were spaced 2 meters apart. The absence of these familiar gestures of human warmth and kindness moved me deeply for it seemed to mirror the deep sense of loss that we are all feeling in the present crisis. At a personal level, I long for the day when I can embrace my Mum as I always did and I long for the day when I can sit and share the crack with good friends – for a while these must be conjured memories!

As I pondered these things I was reminded of the voice of lament in the biblical tradition; those passages where honest, difficult and painful realities are expressed in the presence of God. I’m often struck by how pervasive this voice of lament is in the Psalmody; here for example we have the anguish of Psalm 13;

‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever!

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?’ 

Perhaps in this strange period of time it is healthy and therapeutic to express our collective sense of lament not because we lack faith or we particularly doubt God’s goodness but instead because ‘lament is the last refuge of the courage that hopes in God’. To articulate lament is good for the soul; for it is often an authentic, raw and real unveiling of self in the presence of the one who continues to enfold us in restorative and transforming love. Each time we lament we discover the rich plenitude of God’s grace and the divine patience that bears with us. Each time we lament we rediscover the endless hospitality of God’s love and the still presence that lies at the heart of all things. It is indeed the last refuge for those who have used up their own reserves only to discover the reserves of eternity.

I do hope and pray that as you journey through these difficult times you will acknowledge the lost things and find the voice of lament. I trust too that in your lamenting you will discover the rich and inexhaustible love of God that holds you fast and will not let you go! I leave you this week with the words of Bernadette Farrell;

O God, you search me and you know me.

All my thoughts lie open to your gaze.

When I walk or lie down you are before me:

Ever the maker and keeper of my days.

With Peace and Blessing,  Julian

Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District 13:05:2020

Chair of the District – Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

It continues to be a great blessing for me to communicate in this way and to remain connected to you the Methodist people across the East Anglia District. From the beginning of this great crisis I have felt compelled to exercise my care for you by addressing you with a word of encouragement each week.

This last week saw the crossing of a grim threshold when we learnt that the number of fatalities from COVID – 19 reached over 30,000. At the beginning of the pandemic the Chief Medical Officer intimated that a figure less than 20,000 would be a good result for the United Kingdom; so this is a truly awful point to reach. Over the next month or so this figure is likely to rise further and we face the sobering prospect of someone deciding what a ‘politically’ acceptable daily death toll will be as the conditions of lockdown are relaxed by degrees! Imagine my surprise when in the midst of this; another newspaper article reminded us that during the eight weeks of lockdown some 70,000 new babies were delivered in hospitals and homes across the UK. Just at a time when we are being reminded on a daily basis of our human mortality we are also reminded that we are living in the midst of the possibility and miracle of new life! Of course these are strange times in which to begin the journey of life – they are referred to as the COVID babies; the infants that have not been lovingly held by doting Grandparents but instead have been held in the grey frame of a Zoom Call in virtual space. They will not be visiting the local Parent and Baby group any time soon. However I was thankful to be reminded of the gift of life for it momentarily gave sharp relief in these troubling times and helped to rebalance my vision of the world.   

As people of faith we should be accustomed to this thought; that in the midst of death there is the possibility of life for at the heart of the Gospel is the good news of Christ crucified and risen. The Apostle Paul frequently uses the image of being in Christ as an analogy of Christian discipleship and that to share in fellowship with Christ is to share in the dying and rising of Christ. In the Gospel lectionary reading for last Sunday (John 14:1-14) Christ offers comfort and assurance to his disciples by reminding them that through fellowship with him they have a sharing in the spacious canopy of God’s eternal love. Christ is the way, the truth and the life for he has passed through death into the glory of God’s new life – he discloses the means by which we might be enfolded in the truth of God’s love and brought to the peace of his eternal rest. This is a message for the living and the dying; to keep company and abide in Christ is to be enfolded in the love of God both in life and death.

I want to close with some beautiful words from the English mystic Julian of Norwich: someone who was familiar with suffering but also someone who knew the profound reality of God’s presence;

I saw that for us God is everything that is good and comforting and helpful. He is our clothing, wrapping and enveloping us for love, embracing us and guiding us in all things, hanging about us in tender love, so that he can never leave us. And so in this vision, as I understand it, I saw truly that he is everything that is good for us.’

I pray that you might know the goodness of God today,

With Peace and Blessing,  Julian

Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District 06:05:2020

Chair of the District – Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

In the early weeks of the current crisis it was fashionable to suggest that Corona virus was a great leveller – after all if Prince Charles and Boris Johnson had contracted the virus who on earth could be exempt? So the argument ran that in the light of this present disease all sections of society find themselves equally exposed. With the passing of time this has been shown to be a dangerous fallacy and at worst a condescending platitude. This insidious myth was wonderfully squashed by Emily Maitlis on the 9th. April when she introduced Newsnight with this uncomfortable truth;

‘They say that Corona Virus is a great leveller – well it’s not! Its much, much harder if you’re poor!’

As the weeks unfold and lockdown continues it is becoming abundantly clear that the present pandemic crisis is exposing the deep social and economic inequalities of our society. A recent media report states very clearly that once the statistics are analysed it is evident that if you are living in poverty and deprivation you are twice as likely to both contract the virus and die from the dreadful effects of COVID-19. Social-distancing, though a necessary measure, is creating the greatest difficulties for the most vulnerable members of society; single mothers, the homeless, the unemployed, the urban poor in cramped housing and finally the victims of abuse trapped in oppressive relationships of harm. Ironically, it will be some of the least well-paid and undervalued members of society; working on the front line of public service, who will finally lift us out of this hole! This is not a level playing field – it is fatally skewed for the least, the lost and the lowly of our day.

As people of faith we cannot rest content or indeed passive in the face of such deep injustice; for the God we love and serve is the Hebrew God who yearns for justice and mercy to flow like rivers through Creation (Micah 6:8). This is the God who demands that his covenant people do not forget the needs of the most vulnerable – the widows, the poor, the unattached and the aliens in the land (Deut. 10:18). In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus suggests that it is compassionate action, motivated by a deep social conscience, that becomes the very criteria for entry into the Kingdom of God – the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the stranger is welcomed and the sick are healed. Here Christ will be found and Christ will be revealed. I know that across the District there is much good work taking place to alleviate the needs of the most vulnerable through practical action and care in the community. Many of our churches are key stakeholders for local food banks, either through personnel or provision of collection points. I want to encourage you in this work for it is more than likely that the need for this help will only increase exponentially as the crisis continues.

As people in the Methodist tradition we do well to remember John Wesley’s deep and abiding concern for the poor and marginalised and how he envisaged that the life of perfect love requires us to ever keep in view the well-being and happiness of our neighbour for only then might we embody the Christ-like love of God. In Sermon 98, On Visiting the Sick, Wesley takes great issue with those who cast aspersions upon the poor and dispossessed particularly when the people concerned have not taken the trouble to know them, spend time with them and understand their context! As Methodists we will want to know and face the uncomfortable truths of the world around us particularly if it gives us an insight into the plight of our neighbours – men and women made in the image of God who deserve our greatest love, prayers and compassion!

With peace and blessing, Julian

Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District

Chair of the District – Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse

29:04:2020

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

On Sunday afternoon I sat down in a quiet place with the express intention of reading the Gospel lectionary passage for the day (Luke 24:13-35) and was immediately reminded of the mysterious beauty of this Lukan narrative. As I revisited the Emmaus Road story I was pained, amused and hopeful in equal measure. It was painful because I was reminded of our corporate deprivation – in the light of the social contract that we are all bound to, it is not possible at the moment for us to gather as God’s people to share in the Eucharistic feast of bread and wine. According to Luke, it is the familiar Eucharistic actions of Christ that open the eyes of the two companions and enable them to experience the presence of the Risen Christ (v.30-31). As a minister of Word and Sacrament I yearn for the day when I can gather with ordinary Methodist folk to share in Holy Communion once more but in the meantime I bear the pain of living without this means of grace.

The Lukan story also amused me for the narrative revolves around the deeply human story of two travelling companions walking the same road together. Over the last four weeks of lockdown Jean and I have been assiduous in our taking of daily exercise – it is as though in a time of great social restriction we have not wanted to miss out on this one taste of freedom! Consequently we have taken many walks together – we have got to know our neighbourhood far better, we have noticed interesting architecture and houses, we have discovered new pathways and alleyways and often we have been struck by the silence or the plaintive sound of birdsong. Sometimes we have walked in silence and yet at other times our conversation has been animated with the affairs of the day; but always there has been the simple pleasure of being walking companions on the road.

Finally the Lukan story is a deeply hopeful narrative because it tells the story of two travelling companions who encounter the Risen Christ in the midst of deep personal pain and bewildering confusion. Here are two walking companions who share a common despair as they live with the memories of Holy Week in Jerusalem – it is as though their grief and despair is so oppressive that they are unable to perceive very much else. It is at this very moment when the Risen Christ accompanies them on the journey and walks alongside them. It is in the midst of this thick atmosphere of pain and grief that the incarnate Lord, the crucified and risen Christ, listens to their story, contains their pain and invites them to see things from a different perspective. This pilgrimage culminates in the shared experience of hosting the stranger; only to find themselves hosted by the Risen Christ who offers blessed and broken bread at the table. Such is the transformative nature of this encounter that the two disciples are compelled to retrace their steps and re-join the followers of Christ in Jerusalem so that they can share their Easter joy and faith.

Friends I do hope and pray that as you journey through these strange and disturbing times you will know the company of Christ crucified and risen. It may not be immediately obvious as to where, how and in whom Christ makes his presence known but be attentive; watch, wait, listen and pray. When we finally emerge from this national crisis and we enter the new normal (whatever that is); we will know that we have been on a long and arduous journey and we will all have our tales to share of COVID -19 and its effects upon us and the people we love. I hope that in the telling of those stories we come to recognise the great Shepherd who has not forsaken us and has held us fast in his love, 

With kind regards, Julian

Reflection from Rev Robert Roberts – 2020 Easter to Pentecost

Sequestered in a room
to
On-fire, telling all about their Lord

Isolated from it all
they were scared,
they waited 3 days
they went to the burial place
the body was not there, confusion
Jesus appears to some, fear & hope
Jesus appears to more, fear & hope
remembering & belief,
begins hope accompanies belief
some met Jesus, Wow
others, left-out, doubt, Woe
others, doubt to belief, WOW
then they waited, OK
and waited, and waited
where was faith and hope
where was fear and doubt
who had doubt and fear
who had hope and faith
here we go, again
waiting, waiting
would you have faith or fear?
what do you have, today?
50 days, then FIRE!!!
Today, we may have much in common with Jesus’ 1st century Disciples.
Our emotions can easily be on a daily rollercoaster.

What is on your mind, today?

Are you feeling the isolation of our social distancing?
Sometimes there is doubt, sometimes even fear.
Are you waiting and hoping?
Pentecost is coming! Alleluia!
Jesus’ words reach out to each of us.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:26 NRSV
Our methodicalness helps us, too.

Worship – aware of God’s presence, celebrating God’s love
Learning & Caring – growing through mutual support and care
Service – a good neighbour to people in need, challenging injustice Evangelism – making more followers of Jesus Christ

Today, we continue worshiping in spirt & truth, yet in many different ways in these COVID-19 times, some are familiar, some new for preacher, clergy & worshiper. Growing and stretching thru care & mutual support for each other & ‘the other,’ becoming good neighbours, planting seeds for new disciples.

May our faithful stewardship and commitments continue supporting the work of our churches with our telephone calls, emails, prayers, and giving. Your church treasurer can help with ways to give even when we’re not gathering. Let us all be ready for being together, again… Soon and very soon, we are going to praise our Lord!

Blessings, Rev Robert

Pastoral Letter – East Anglia District

Chair of the District – Revd. Julian M. Pursehouse

22:04:2020

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I’m sure that all of you will be aware of the amazing story of Captain Tom Moore; the 99-year old war veteran who has walked 100 laps of his garden to raise much needed funds for a beleaguered NHS. This seemingly small and unassuming gesture has become a world-wide phenomenon that has captured the collective imagination of thousands of people – we could say that Captain Tom has gone viral on social media! Much to his surprise and the surprise of his family, his dogged determination has raised a staggering total of over £20 million. Captain Tom is a reminder to us all that in the midst of great adversity it is the small acts of generosity and kindness that can make a tremendous contribution to the common good. It also reminds us of the very real commitment that is required for the proper funding of our NHS through the collective resolve of Government in particular and Society in general and this will need to be addressed both now and in the years to come.  

In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells the Parable of the Mustard Seed and like any good parable it takes an earthly image to shed light on the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Jesus explains that although the mustard seed ‘is the smallest of all seeds’, in the fullness of time it becomes ‘the greatest of shrubs’ offering shelter and habitat for the flourishing of many forms of life. Oftentimes, signs of the Kingdom of God are seemingly small and insignificant and yet in the fullness of time there is life and flourishing for many as a consequence. At Eastertide we are reminded in the Gospels that the universal Church begins life as a terrified and dishevelled group of 11 disciples who fear for their lives and are locked behind closed doors! Yet with the reassurance of the Easter Christ and the empowering of the Pentecost Spirit they become a public and joyful community of Christian witness!

The example of Captain Tom and the teaching of the Gospel Parable are perhaps instructive to us in this period of national crisis for they remind us that sometimes we have to focus upon the little things that we can all do well – the small acts of kindness, the generosity of our time, the sincere phone call, the scribbled note of gratitude, fetching the shopping and the watching over the vulnerable are but a few examples.  Although we cannot always see the far horizon and we do not always know the fruit of our actions; like Captain Tom; we can faithfully place one foot in front of the other and keep doing the things we do and do them well.

This week I want to finish with the words of the opening verse of John Henry Newman’s hymn;

‘Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home,

Lead thou me on.

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene; one step enough for me.’

With peace and hope at Eastertide,  Julian