Pastoral Message – Sunday 24th May

Dear friends

During this period of lockdown, many of us will perhaps have read or watched “heartwarming” stories of individuals like Colonel Tom Moore who have gone to great lengths to raise money for the NHS or other charities or of key workers whose courage has meant the difference between life and death for others.  These acts make a difference to the lives of many and perhaps the individuals themselves are changed by what they do or how others respond.

Almost three hundred years ago now on 24th May 1738, John Wesley went reluctantly to a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London and whilst there he experienced his heart being “strangely warmed” and as a result his life was transformed as he lived with a new assurance of his faith.  Within the Methodist Church we mark this day each year as being a significant moment in his life.

However, there has been a debate within some circles about whether we should also mark 1st April 1739 as that was the day on which John Wesley was persuaded by his friend George Whitefield to preach the gospel in the open air to the miners at Kingswood in Bristol.  Up until that point, Wesley had regarded preaching outside of a church building as a sin, but from that day on he “submitted to be more vile” by taking the gospel outside the doors of the church!

Given that in our current circumstances we are being forced to take the gospel outside of the doors of the church, I began to wonder how we might consent, like Wesley, to “be more vile”, to move outside of our comfort zones as we explore new and different ways of making the gospel known.

There is no doubt that the territory that we are now being called to navigate looks very different from all that we have known before and we really have no idea what the world will look and feel like when we emerge from the lockdown.  One thing is fairly clear – life is unlikely to ever look and feel the same again and many things will change as a result of our experience during this pandemic.

In Numbers 13 we read the account of Moses sending representatives of the Israelite tribes into the land God had promised to them.  The reports that came back spoke of a land of abundance and opportunity but also a land in which there were giants to overcome.

The territory that lies ahead of us is unknown, and we are not at liberty to fully explore it at the moment.  But, we are perhaps getting a little flavour of what it might look and feel like, albeit it from a distance.  There are undoubtedly giants and problems for us to overcome as we learn how to sustain our relationships and how to be church in a different future.  But it’s not the giants that are necessarily the problem.  It’s how we respond to them that really matters because there are also rich opportunities to be explored as we find ourselves connecting with people in different ways because we are forced beyond the walls of the church.

So, will we retreat into our corners and return to our old ways as soon as we possibly can because that’s a comfortable place to be?  Or will we, like Wesley, recognise that there is more for us to explore, learn and experience when we move outside of our comfort zones and “consent to be more vile!”

What might God be asking us to let go of, or to learn, or to change in order that we might move out of our comfort zone?   The only safe place for us to ever be in life is where God is, and whilst God is with us always, I also believe that he is also always going ahead of us and longing for us to follow as he leads us out of our comfort zones into new lands, with new heart-warming experiences and new horizons.

I pray that in these lockdown days, you will take the time to consider, like Wesley, what God might be asking of you next and that you might then willingly move out of your comfort zone, remembering that “you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”

Every blessing,

Gill Newton, District Chair