PASTORAL LETTER FROM REV ARTHUR COWBURN 20th JANUARY 2021

Dear Friends

It’s been a very strange beginning to the year for Methodists who haven’t been able to take part in the Annual Covenant Service or, at least, not in the way they usually do it. I’m aware that some churches have used the covenant prayer in acts of worship provided by electronic means whilst others have incorporated online love feasts as part of the service. Most of us hope to be able to hold a physical covenant service later in the year, vaccines and other conditions permitting.

Back in March, I said that the covenant prayer we said a year ago probably hadn’t produced the outcome we wanted, and at the time, I certainly hadn’t envisaged being in a lockdown situation now. Yet I am convinced that God has been with us throughout the past ten months and will continue to be with us whatever the future might hold.

The preamble to the covenant prayer contains the line, “Christ has many services to be done,” and then goes on to talk about them being easy, difficult, honourable etc. I’ve mentioned before that we have come to value different roles within the Church during the pandemic and are certainly aware of people being key workers in our communities, some of them doing jobs that we wouldn’t immediately have put on the list a year ago.

I think in that there is a message for the Church. For too long we have valued certain positions at the expense of others and, in so doing, have left people feeling undervalued and unwanted. Two occasions immediately stand out for me. A newcomer to a church being introduced to a group of people. The lady doing the introductions was a wonderful Christian but defined us all by our jobs. I was the minister, most of the other people in the room were nurses or teachers but there was a sudden pause when she came to one man, a highly skilled engineer, who was eventually introduced as the church treasurer. The other occasion was a Local Preacher who was also a top computer scientist asking me why nobody ever prayed for him at work because without him many of the people we did pray for wouldn’t have been able to do their jobs.

We have had a hierarchy of positions both inside and outside the Church which I don’t believe is there in God’s eyes. We see some things as being vocations which people are called to whilst other are simply jobs that have to be done and yet, looking back, I see the 8 years I spent working in the transport industry as being as much a part of my ministerial formation and training as anything that has happened since.

Let’s recognise that whatever role we play in the Church or the community we are being called to do it by God. When we can do that it can transform our outlook on every task we do. Let’s make a commitment to valuing people for all the different things that are doing and to pray for them whether it be at 11 o’ clock on a Sunday or on a Monday. And let’s work together as we seek to serve God in the coming year recognising that, “the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us,”

With all good wishes for 2021

Arthur

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