PASTORAL LETTER FROM REV ARTHUR COWBURN 9th JUNE 2021

Dear friends

It looks like we are finally reaching the end of the Coronavirus crisis and that things are going to begin to return to something like normality. We await the announcement on 14th June to see whether restrictions will be lifted the following Monday but, even if they aren’t, we expect to see them being removed with only a short delay. Having said that, we don’t know exactly what will be possible on the first day of freedom and we need to ask questions as to how quickly we should open up again. Even with most people having had both doses of the vaccine the virus isn’t going to be a serious threat one day and none at all on the following one.

I don’t know how you’ve felt during the past 15 months, but I’ve really identified with the cries of the psalms that were written whilst the Israelites were in exile. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Via the internet many of us have found ways of doing it at home and yet it’s not the same. Last Sunday, I took my third service in recent weeks in a church setting that whilst socially distanced was as near to normal worship as we can currently manage. I was looking for hymns to go with my theme and came across the hymn, “God is love, his the care”. Great I thought until I read on and came to the chorus with its injunction to “Sing aloud, loud, loud.” Suddenly my thoughts changed to I can’t ask people to do that or even to not do it.

Apart from the issues of not being able to meet family and friends, the issue of singing has been the one I think I’ve struggled with most. I want to argue that it’s a greater problem for Methodists than any other denomination because we have always declared our theology through our singing. For many other churches, hymns and songs are there to bring praise to God or to provide convenient breaks at different points in their liturgy, but Methodism endows them with a greater weight. And somehow reading them or singing them on your own doesn’t work in quite the same way.

And whilst we might rejoice that we’re now coming out of this time of exile, I think we need to recognise that the way ahead may not be completely smooth. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem they despaired at the state of the walls and the temple and had to hear the words from the scroll of Deuteronomy to remind them of God’s love, the love that had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, the love that was still with them. I hope we’re not going to have too many walls to rebuild but there will be people who no longer feel comfortable doing what they did 15 months ago because of increasing age or the fact that they’ve had time to reassess their situation. Some things may not begin again, others may involve the internet in ways we hadn’t thought of before we were forced into doing so, some will return to something like what they were before.

The return will, in some ways, be far more difficult than it was shutting down. We need to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that we do and to remember that we serve a faithful God who has been with us throughout the last 15 months and who will be with us forever.

Best wishes

Arthur

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