To all of the people of the Churches of the Salisbury Circuit. June 2020
As we approach July 4th, I am aware that there has been a great deal of conversation and not a little speculation about the re-opening of Churches. Unlike some of our sister denominations, predominately our churches themselves are used for congregational worship rather than having open doors for private prayer. A small number of Methodist Churches have made the decision to open for private prayer (in addition to those that have remained open throughout because they provide a base for essential social action), but, as far as I and the other members of the ministerial staff team are aware, none of the Churches of the Salisbury Circuit have even moved towards taking that step.
The official Methodist Church advice is that our churches and their premises remain closed. The next official statement by our Church will not be made until after the end of the Methodist Conference in early July. The Government position remains that churches will not be able to be open for public worship until after July 4th. There may be ‘official’ updates that change this!
As has been made clear, before an individual church can open there has to be a very rigorous and lengthy procedure of Risk Assessment, cleaning etc. If individual churches in our Circuit decide that they want to open for Worship after July 4th then it must be at the agreement of the Managing Trustees (Church Council). If all the regulations, including social distancing, the long check-list of requirements and particularly Safeguarding considerations, are strictly adhered to, then I would support that decision. As well as the normal courtesy that Stewards offer to preachers in terms of contact before the Service, there will need to be clear explanation of the arrangements and precautions that have been made and the expectations of the Service itself.
There is no pressure from the Circuit Leadership Team for churches to open immediately. Indeed, as far as I and our Leadership team are thinking, it may be that we do not resume anything like a normal pattern of Worship until September at the earliest, and perhaps well beyond that. We made the Preaching Plan for the summer quarter in good faith, but always conscious of the fluidity of the situation forced upon us by the coronavirus. Similarly, as late as is practical in July, we shall make a provisional Plan for the autumn quarter – with all the ifs and buts entailed.
Realistically now the Plan for July is suspended, the appointed preachers are stood down unless there is a dramatic change. Thank you to our team of preachers for their understanding in these difficult times. In due course we shall have to take the decisions about August.
During lockdown we have continued to be the Church with extensive pastoral care and outreach, with prayer and with a whole variety of Worship opportunities through technology. Thank you again to all those who have been involved in this essential work right round the Circuit and beyond.
I believe we have the opportunity of a serious and perhaps hard discussion about the future and about what is being called ‘a new normal’. I believe that we need to initiate that discussion now.
Can we ever go back to the way it was? What pattern of Worship and fellowship activity will we be able both to offer and sustain? The evidence is that the different forms of Worship that have been provided through technology have attracted more people than would have been in church. How do we draw these people into the ongoing life of faith? How do we capitalise on the new spiritual awareness that is evident in all sorts of ways and places? What does discipleship and commitment mean in the 21st Century? Amid significant social change forced on us by Covid, and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, how do we live out ‘Kingdom values’ in today’s world?
How do we respond to our God – the one who says again “Look, I am making all things new.”?
Acting Superintendent Minister
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