From Rev. Anna Bishop
As you read this, the annual Methodist Conference is meeting –not in Telford as originally planned, but by the wonders of the internet! I imagine it will be rather a strange experience for delegates and I do not envy the poor person who will be organisingthe technology! But on the other hand, I am impressed and encouraged by the commitment, resilience and determination of our Connexion to find fresh ways of doing our age-old tasks.
Following the Conference,the church will issue further statements and guidance about re-opening our buildings for worship. I expect you will be aware that the government has been permitting places of worship to open for private prayer since 13th June. And yet we have not done so, nor been encouraged to do so by our Connexional Team.
Of course,the main reasons for this are those of hygiene and practicality. But there is also something important about our unspoken Methodist theology and spirituality: we don’t need special places to pray! Methodists met in one another’s homes or in open places for many, many years, and it was only when the numbers became too great to do so that chapels and meeting-houses had to be built. Our buildings are a convenience, not sacred shrines.
Of course, we may have deep emotional attachments to our buildings, especially if they have been the scene of precious family events. Of course,we may feel our souls touched by the beauty of some church buildings. Of course,some church buildingshave a certain ‘atmosphere’ derived from the accretion of prayers upon prayers said within its walls over many years. All of these things are beloved.But they are not essential.
What is essential is commitment to a discipline of private prayer and shared public worship. This is emphasized in the ‘Methodist Way of Life’ which I mentioned on Trinity Sunday. The commitments this entails can be found here.
The other aspect of the ‘Methodist Way of Life’ is that we do need each other both for encouragement and for accountability, and the questions that accompany the commitments are designed for us to use to help one another in small groups. So perhaps we –perhaps you! –could follow the example of the Conference, and meet together online or by phone, as a small group, a triplet or a pair, to support one another in our discipleship, using the Methodist Way of Life. Or perhaps we could take advantage of the lovely weather and the new permission to meet outdoors in groups of up to six, with 2m social distancing!
No online meeting can be an adequate substitute for meeting face to face, as we are all realising, and yet it is amazing what can be done with resourcefulness and imagination.
Nothing will be the same when the COVID-19 crisis is finally over, and as church we will need that same resourcefulness and imagination to lead the building of a ‘new normal’ that is just and compassionate.