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Below is a pastoral letter from The Revd Julian Pursehous, Chair of The East Anglia District
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I am writing to you as your Pastor but also as a fellow human being as I share your pain and bewilderment in these extraordinary times. I never imagined I would live to see such a time as this when public worship would be suspended and our way of life would be irrevocably changed in the light of a viral pandemic. We now find ourselves in uncharted territory as we face the uncertainty of what the next five months will bring. I know that many of you will be deeply troubled by the directive to cease public worship and I echo that feeling as someone who feels deeply called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The medical and scientific information seems to present us with the compelling evidence that only by significant ‘social-distancing’ can we hope to slow the viral spread, ease the pressure on the NHS and save some of the lives of our most elderly and vulnerable members of society. Difficult as it will be, I trust that all of us will find the resolve to work with these measures and adapt to this different way of life for a period of time.
Some years ago at Methodist Conference in Birmingham I had the privilege of listening to a pastoral address from Revd. Donald Eadie, former Chair of the Birmingham District, who in a deeply moving speech, shared his experience of increasing ill-health and the significant constraints on the living out of his humanity. I recall that at some stage he used these words;
‘I found myself in the foothills of a landscape I never expected to inhabit…..’
I humbly suggest that we are now in such a landscape and for a season this is where we are called to reside – it is strange, unfamiliar and deeply unsettling to the human spirit. Some of the more unsettling concepts of this landscape are of course ‘social-distancing’ and ‘social-isolation’ which are antithetical to what it means to be made in the image of God. From Creation through to the New Creation we are called to be deeply relational beings who find joy and fulfilment in the company of God and in the company of each other and of course in the Methodist tradition this finds a particular resonance in our focus upon being a connexional church. For a while we must navigate this landscape and work out what it means afresh to be Christ’s disciples in the world in which we now live.
I was speaking to a colleague the other day who suggested that for a while it will feel like sitting in the ashes of the church or indeed sitting in the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37); a little forlorn and lost. If this is anywhere near how you are feeling then take the time to wait, be still and centre upon God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This might be the very place where we hear the still small voice of God and feel the faint stirrings of the Spirit. At a time when we will struggle to know how to be the Church; curiously it might be the very time when we discover how to become the Church once more! So let us not waiver from our calling; preach the Gospel however you can, keep company with Christ Crucified and Risen and watch over each other in love. Have a particular care for the most vulnerable amongst you and ensure that they are not harmed by our neglect…
At some inevitable distance – I hold you all in my heart and in my prayers,
With thanks for your sharing in the Gospel,