Pastoral Letter from Revd. Bryan Coates.

To:  The Members of the Churches of the Salisbury Circuit

Dear Colleagues ‘In Christ’ and His Church,

Following on from the letters that I have written over the past few months, at our meeting earlier this month the members of our Circuit Leadership Team suggested that I should write a further letter.  As I understand it, their idea was that it should be an upbeat, positive, constructive and encouraging letter. I found that I couldn’t write that sort of letter.   In the couple of weeks since that meeting I have pondered and puzzled over what I should write and having been reluctant I have now put pen to paper.

In honesty I am troubled and not a little daunted.  With some hesitancy, I believe it right to share with you some of my concerns.

It is true that following several months of the enforced closure of our churches because of the lockdown associated with the Covid 19 crisis, we have re-opened our churches and begun Services of Worship.

It is true that an enormous amount of time, energy, commitment and sheer hard work has gone into the process of preparing the premises to reopen with all the regulations that demand deep cleaning, Risk Assessment and a whole lot more.  As a Circuit we are hugely grateful to all those who have given and done so much.  I am glad to pay tribute to this and say Thank You.

It is true that during lockdown, although the premises were closed, church remained open for some of our ‘core business’.  Streamed Services and a variety of written material were produced to help people engage in Worship.  Pastoral care was offered and shared, and in some ways extended– we looked out for one another.  Again, a sincere Thank You to all those who continue to take part in that aspect of the ministry of the church.

Having said all that, there are some real negatives that prompt me to ask some questions – questions for me in my role, but also questions for you and for every member of our congregations.

Many of us must have thought that as lockdown was eased, we had come through the crisis and normality would soon be resumed.  However, we are now in a renewed period of uncertainty and the immediate prospect is quite dark.  Large swathes of our country have seen an alarming increase in the infection rate of the Coronavirus, a significant number of hospital admissions and of Covid related deaths.  Lockdown, with all its consequences, has returned for large parts of the whole the United Kingdom.  While we, in our part of the country, seem to have got off lightly, the danger and its threat have not gone away.  To me, it seems probable that we shall continue to be subject to all sorts of restrictions well into next year.

  • What effect is that going to have on the life of the Church?
  • How do we maintain our Worship, our Fellowship and, not least, our Finances?
  • How do we encompass and maintain our ministry to all the groups and organisations that find a home on our premises and who, at this time, share the experience of being locked out?

Worship is different.  As has been said many times ‘Methodism was born in song.’  We express something of both our faith and our spirituality through the singing of hymns.  That can’t happen now and we are impoverished.  Methodism is a movement of Fellowship.  In our greatly reduced congregations people now sit two metres apart.  I am hearing that being in Church under these conditions can be an isolating experience.  The very antithesis of all that we value in being together as the people of God.  As one charged with the leading of Worship, it is a whole different experience for me too at the front facing a masked scattered congregation.

  • How can we enhance and enrich the experience of Worship for those who are able to come on a Sunday morning?
  • What about those who cannot come or those apprehensive about coming?
  • How do we maintain the ‘rightness’ of God’s people gathering to offer to Him our worship and our devotion?
  • How do we maintain our fellowship? How can I encourage our people to gather in ‘permitted’ groups of six to share their faith and experience?
  • Would people welcome the opportunity of some written material – perhaps based on the Lectionary passages and/or on the last Sunday’s sermon(s) for serious discussion on at least some of the pertinent questions that our Biblical readings raise?

Then, for me, there is a personal question.  On January 8th I had a conversation with David, our Superintendent Minister, who had just been signed onto sick leave.  He anticipated and hoped that a two-week break would make all the difference.  After that first fortnight the sick leave was extended, and I offered – as before – to help out.  I was then, and remain, glad to do so.  In what has become a long-extended period, we remain very concerned for David – and for Helen – as they face the illness that has robbed him of his vitality and also an uncertain future.

As a Circuit, I believe that the current crisis will force change, perhaps unwelcome change, upon us.  We cannot stand still!

  • How can I, in this interim period, offer appropriate leadership and direction to the Salisbury Circuit?

And the big questions.

  • How do we maintain our conviction that ‘best of all, God is with us’ in these unique circumstances?
  • John Wesley said, ‘I look upon the world as my parish.’  Understandably, inevitably, we have focussed much of the last seven months on how the Coronavirus crisis has affected us – individually and as the Church.  How do we exercise our God-given responsibility and passion for those outside our immediate situation and those most in need on the local and on the world scene?

I shall be grateful to receive your reflections and suggestions: sandyandbryan@tiscali.co.uk

Sincerely,

Bryan

Bryan Coates

October 2020