Coronavius: A Letter from Rev Stephen Levett to the Churches

A letter
to the Churches of the Bromsgrove & Redditch Circuit of the Methodist Church
From Rev Stephen Levett, Superintendent Minister
Saturday 21st March 2020

Dear friends

I’m writing to you during this almost unprecedented time of disruption and restriction made necessary in responding to the present threat of Coronavirus. I want to reassure you of my love and care, and that my prayers are with you.

I’m taking it for granted that we as individuals are seeking to heed the Government’s strong guidance on the part we all need to play in keeping ourselves safe, in terms of social distancing and self-isolating, in helping to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Likewise the church as a whole has needed to make a corporate response. The impact on the life of our churches has been far reaching, with our buildings virtually closed and all church-based activities and gatherings – be they services, meetings for fellowship and business, or social and outreach activities – nearly all ceasing for the foreseeable future. I’m thankful for all those who have enabled us to take the steps needed.

Though our church buildings may be closed and gathering in groups not possible at present, this does not mean the life of faith nor indeed church itself needs to cease. We do of course need to consider how we can do church differently. At various levels in the Methodist Church structure and in numerous conversations we have effectively been exploring the question:

How can we still be and do church in these uncertain and restricted times?

The Methodist Church at national level is providing valuable advice and guidance which is updated regularly. It can be found here:
https://www.methodist.org.uk/coronavirus/

What follows is an outlining of what we will do or hope to develop in the weeks and possibly months ahead. It is divided into various organisational levels of the church, and broad areas of ministry. Apologies if it is a bit long, but there is a lot happening!

Birmingham District level
Worship

The District is seeking to provide a weekly Sunday morning act of worship accessible online. The first service will be on Sunday 22nd March commencing at 10.30am and can be joined: On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Birminghammethodistdistrict/
On the District Website at http://www.birminghammethodist.org.uk/

Being mindful that not everyone has access to the internet the printed order of service is available so those who wish can at least join in spirit.

Bromsgrove and Redditch Circuit level
Worship

By next Sunday 29th March we aim to have a live or pre-recorded act of worship available for each Sunday. It may be that we offer this service at 6pm, whilst continuing to encourage engagement with the District service in the morning. Services will be prepared and led by Ministers and Local Preachers.

There is some consideration going on as to how we might engage younger people. More details will follow on this at a later date.

Prayer
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NOTE: National Call to Prayer
Presidents of Churches Together in England have issued a call to prayer in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic. This is for all churches and people of prayer to join on Sunday 22nd March, Mothering Sunday.

They write….
This Mothering Sunday, 22nd March, we are calling all churches to a National Day of Prayer and Action. At such a time as this, when so many are fearful and there is great uncertainty, we are reminded of our dependence on our loving Heavenly Father and the future that he holds.

At 7pm this Sunday, light a candle in the windows of your homes as a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, our source and hope in prayer.
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There is a value in prayer, in having pattern in prayer, and in praying together.
From Monday 23rd March there will be opportunity to join with others at four times of the day to listen to and join in prayer, as follows:
* 8am Rev Stephen Levett ( generally following the Methodist Prayer manual complimented by varied approaches)
* 9.30am Deacon Gwynn Bamford (Methodist Worship Book morning prayer)
* 5.30pm Rev Ruth Wilson (Evening Prayer)
* 9.20pm Mthr Victoria Barlow (Compline (Night Prayer) from varying traditions.)

Currently you will be able to join these times of prayer by going to the named individual’s Facebook pages. Recognising not everyone has Facebook we are exploring if we can get it on to the Circuit Facebook page (BromsgroveRedditch Methodists) and/or the soon to arrive new Circuit YouTube channel.

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What about those not on the internet?
We recognise it will be harder for people not online to engage.
We are exploring how these people may be supported through printed materials, such as sending the Sunday order of service with prayers and sermon outline in advance so they can join in in spirit.
Additionally we encourage people to be given access to the Methodist Worship Book and Prayer Manual (neither available in digital format). Local churches are asked to consider how to get printed material to people.
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Local Congregation level
Pastoral Care.

Pastoral Care is the responsibility of the local church. Most pastoral care and conversations will need to be offered via telephone. Only in extremis should physical visits be offered, and generally not at all to those self-isolating, observing social distancing and keeping the actual visit short.
Practical care might also be offered in terms of safely obtaining and delivering groceries etc.

Fellowship
Even if we can’t meet together physically it is good to try to explore ways of staying connected.
Those with access to the internet via a smart phone, tablet computer or lap top computer are encouraged to download an app named Zoom. It is a video conferencing tool which allows groups of people to all see and hear each other. It is free for online gatherings of up to forty minutes. Using this facility there is no reason why people couldn’t ‘meet’ for Bible study, discussion and fellowship.

Prayer
Ditto the above for an online prayer meeting?

We may yet consider Circuit level fellowship and prayer gatherings on Zoom but want to wait and see what local congregations do first.

Outreach
There are so many in our communities who are going to be isolated or in other practical need. Local churches are encouraged to consider how they might help support people through this difficult time, possibly in partnership with community organised effort.

Note: If you are going to consider being involved in food shopping and the like there are guidelines on the national Methodist Church website on how to do this in a safe way. See the Covid-19 guidance.

Churches are also asked to consider and if, how and when their buildings might open for people who wish to attend for quiet and personal prayer (see guidelines on Methodist Church statements on Covid-19)
If churches have found ways to engage in outreach it would be good to hear about them. Please email me with your Good News stories and we will try to share them around the Circuit.

It is hoped that through these means we might find ways to remain connected, in community, and being church. This is just the beginning of both this time of crisis, and how we might respond. We will try to keep folk up to date on developments by email and printed material. However you are encouraged as individuals and congregations to be proactive by such means as:

• Visiting the Circuit Website www.brmethodists.co.uk
• Follow the Circuit Facebook page. Search BromsgroveRedditch Circuit. You need a Facebook account yourself to be able to do this – they are free and easy to set up.
• Visit the new Circuit YouTube Channel. This is still being created but will be up and running soon. Anyone who is on the internet can watch this. You can subscribe if you like to be able to receive alerts about new video uploads.
Thanks for your patience in ploughing through all this! A lot of it has been concerned with church. This is related to but not quite the same as concerns about faith. Covid-19 and the crisis surrounding it might throw up various questions for us concerning faith such as:
• How do you sustain and draw on faith at such a time as this? What practices or means of grace will help us and what attitudes of heart, mind and spirit?
• What does it mean to have faith in this context?
• What does it look like to be faithful?
• What is the Gospel we can offer in this time of disease, strain, economic woe, uncertainty?
Let’s find ways to support and help each other in answering these and other questions.
As God’s people let us, as a part of our worship and service, continuously hold before our God all who are impacted by the Coronavirus.

Every Blessing
Rev Stephen Levett
Superintendent minister of the Bromsgrove & Redditch Circuit.

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