We aim in Christian love to encourage one another in God's work and to support new developments in church, worship and the wider community.
A letter from our Superintendent Minister, Rev Michael Holland 15 May 2020
Dear brothers and sisters,
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
We find ourselves in unusual times. Just two months ago we found our lives suddenly transformed by the Covid-19 epidemic and our response to the threat it posed. I'm not sure if any of us were able to imagine then what the effects may be on our lives, at home, work or church. I do hope that you have been able to keep well physically, emotionally and spiritually.
While the "lockdown" has presented us with many challenges, we have also discovered some unexpected opportunities. I would like to say a big thank you to all who have played a part in finding new and exciting ways in rising to the challenges and seizing opportunities and adapting to the situation. We have seen some wonderful, imaginative and creative ways of being church and energy being refocussed on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
I would also offer my sincere thanks to all those who have continued to exercise their ministry and work, whether pastoral, discipling, administrative, leadership or in other ways to help us to continue to be a worshipping and caring church while we have been unable to meet together in the same physical space.
There is a lot of discussion about how we move out of this current stage of the pandemic. Understandably, people are asking when we will be able to meet again and resume the things that have had to be suspended. Sadly, I have to say that it may be many weeks, even months, before that happens in the UK, although we have seen our Government take a number of sometimes sudden and unexpected decisions in the last few weeks. With regard to resuming services and other activities, there are some points to be made.
First, it's clear that there will not suddenly be a Sunday when we shall open the doors and get back to what we used to be and do. When the lockdown is eased and we can use our buildings again, it is highly likely that some restrictions will still be in place. For example, the over 70s and those with underlying health conditions may not be allowed to return straight away. (This will include many of our preachers, stewards, musicians etc on whom our services depend.) Some who are allowed to gather might be wary of being with others and stay away. Those who can come may have to keep 2m apart. In Germany for example, while churches have returned, they are not permitted to sing. It is possible that many will only be able gather fully once there is a vaccine to ensure safety, and we're told that could be well into 2021.
Our resumption of Sunday services will therefore be gradual. Some churches might want to re-open at the earliest opportunity, but their congregations will initially be incomplete, only a fraction of their usual size. Other churches might re-open later. Perhaps some won't reopen at all. When churches re-open there will be great celebrations, of course, but there will also be reasons to lament. All of this will have to handled with tremendous sensitivity, especially because it will happen over an extended period of time and not just on one Sunday.
Second, there are some serious things to be considered about what it means to follow Jesus Christ. There have been many trials and much suffering during these last few weeks and we can't overlook or minimise that. Nevertheless, there have also been some tremendous opportunities. Our pastoral care, fellowship, worship and teaching have had to be completely re-worked. We are learning to do new things and finding new ways of doing some old things! Through technology and social media we have connected with people we previously didn't reach. The situation has made us talk with people we wouldn't normally have talked to (keeping social distance of course!) Sometimes we've discussed spiritual things with people who previously weren't interested. People are re-assessing the crazy, unhealthy way we have lived:the relentless desire for "stuff", the driving ambitions and the unsustainable destruction of our planet. Many have rediscovered love for God and love for our neighbours, and some who weren't open to God now are.
As we move into a "new normal" we have a chance to make a new start. That will be fabulously positive if we ask some serious questions. How we can put living with and for God at the centre, closely followed by living with and for others? How do we take into the future what is godly about the past and present? What fruitful things were encumbering us and what ungodly things were entangling us, and how do we leave them behind? What have we learnt during lockdown that we want to build into the "new normal"?
These are big questions and I don't pretend to know the answers, however one thing is absolutely clear:we must not go back to exactly what we had before the lockdown, for that would take us back to lots of foolishness and we would miss some amazing opportunities. Methodism has gone through some difficult times and if we are honest, we know that in the last few decades our mission has been largely ineffective and our numbers have declined. In too many places the only thing that has changed in many years is that we have grown older, more tired and fewer in number. Do we want to reinstate that? Or will we seize the opportunities to change and, (as presented in Deuteronomy 30: 19-20), choose life over death?
In these last few weeks many of us have done new things, reached new people and discovered new opportunities. God has recalled us to faithful discipleship and mission in a new situation. For some, this has been to realise that there is so much more to being a Christian (and to Church) than Sunday services. Some have found new riches in Bible study and prayer meetings. We will not turn our backs on what God is doing to return to what was failing, nor can we simply add these new opportunities to what we used to do. We must stop doing unfruitful things if we are able to be free to rise to the God-given opportunities that are before us.
As we look to the future as individuals, as churches and as a Circuit we must ask what godly things we should take into the furure and what unfruitful things we should leave in the past. If we do so we shall perhaps redeem some of the suffering of these last weeks and God's grace will turn the evil of Coronovirus to some good. Maybe God's grace will use this to help us to experience new life, life in all its abundance and to be a people who introduce others to life in the Kingdom of God and help people to live as followers of Jesus Christ.
The changes before us may be unsettling and even frightening. We shall leave behind some chapel things and some chapel activities which you or I may be deeply attached to. Yet God hasn't given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). So, as we approach Pentecost again, please join me in praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that we won't be timid about God's future. As we wait patiently for the lifting of restrictions let's expect God, the maker of heaven and earth, to do great things and to lead us into a new freedom and a new life.
May grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Rev'd Michael Holland
Circuit Superintendent Minister
O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and pow'r;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.
O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive and restore, for this we plead.
O Breathe of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart;
come, love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in every part.
Bessie Porter Head (1850-1936)
Singing the Faith 391
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE 19 March 2020
You will have been following the news with regard to the Coronavirus, in particular the advice to restrict all non-essential social contact. This obviously has significant implications for our members, churches and all the community groups who use our buildings. In line with government advice, The Methodist Church has advised that all worship services, meetings (including use by community groups) are suspended in Methodist Churches for the time being. Here in Sunderland we know that this may cause concern and inconvenience, however people's welfare is our top priority.
Ministers are working with pastoral volunteers to ensure a continuation of pastoral care and access to worship at home resources.
There will be an opportunity to join in live streamed worship at 10:30am on Sundays via Fulwell Methodist Church's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fulwellmethodistchurch/
Other live streamed services are available from Wesley's Chapel in London and Swan Bank Methodist Church in Burslem: information can be found here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/seasons-and-themes/worship-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/
For general guidance and resources for the coronavirus pandemic please see www.methodist.org.uk/coronavirus
We will continue to post updates as the situation progresses.
In the meantime please be patient and kind, and uphold one another in prayer as we make those tough decisions and respond as best we can to a rapidly changing situation.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.
God of all hope we call on you today.
We pray for those who are living in fear:
Fear of illness, fear for loved ones, fear of other’s reactions to them.
May your Spirit give us a sense of calmness and peace.
We pray for your church in this time of uncertainty.
For those people who are worried about attending worship.
For those needing to make decisions in order to care for other
For those who will feel more isolated by not being able to attend.
Grant us your wisdom.
Holy God, we remember that you have promised that
Nothing will separate us from your love – demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ.
Help us turn our eyes, hearts and minds to you.
Amen (Taken from the Methodist Church Website)
With grace and peace,
Rev Michael Holland