Pastoral Message – Sunday 28th June

Dear friends

If it were not for the Covid-19 pandemic, I should have spent today in Telford, joining with countless other Methodists from across the country and overseas in the Conference Worship.  Amongst other things we would have sung our hearts out, listened to the President or Vice President preach and rejoiced with all the ordinands as they were Received into Full Connexion with the Methodist Church.

I have spent the last few days and will spend the next few days engaging with the Methodist Conference, but all from the comfort of my own study at home!  There has been no travelling to another place, no meeting up with friends and colleagues, no catch up conversations over coffee or at mealtimes, no Conference worship, no lanyard to wear and no free bag from Methodist Insurance in which to carry all my conference books and stationery!

The planned meetings with colleagues or old friends and the chance encounters with folk that we’ve never met before can’t happen.  That means that a huge part of the Conference experience is missing.  The opportunity to hear each other’s stories and the sense of learning from each other’s experiences or journeying with each other in the challenges is just not there.

That’s all quite disappointing, but as I’ve reflected on the recent weeks, I’ve realised just how many people I’ve encountered through technology and social media that I might never have otherwise met or certainly not have met so frequently.  I’ve shared in countless acts of worship via YouTube, Zoom or Facebook with people that I’ve never worshipped with before, I’ve joined in many conversations via comments on a Facebook post, I’ve made new “friends” as a result of those comments and I’ve sought to make contact with and offer support to all of you through these weekly messages and the weekly prayer.

Sometimes our encounters with one another are intentional.  We make arrangements to speak to each other on the telephone, to engage in a zoom conference call or to meet face to face, socially distanced at the moment, of course.  On other occasions our encounters take us by surprise and at first they may even feel like an interruption to our careful plans for our day.

The Bible is full of stories of people who encountered Jesus in unexpected places and ways.  The woman of Samaria did not expect to find a Jewish man at the well in the heat of the day, Zaccheus did not expect to be noticed as he climbed the tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus wasn’t able to see Jesus but heard him and his cries resulted in a meeting with Jesus.

All of these unexpected encounters in which Jesus noticed people in ways that they would not have expected, brought transformation into their lives.  They discovered just how loved and how precious they were and in turn they were able to share that good news with others through their words, their actions and their changed lives.

I’m guessing that many of you, like me, are missing the encounters that you are used to having with people.  Some of these will be encounters that you expect to have as you follow your daily and weekly routines, but others will be the unexpected encounters that take us by surprise and bring us both challenge and joy.

Some of us may have settled into new routines and patterns during this lockdown period and have become strangely content with how things are, but for many people these days are a struggle, especially those who have lost their jobs or been furloughed.  They struggle to find purpose in each day and they have lost their sense of worth and value.

And many of those in our churches who have been used to serving in a range of ways in the past, are suddenly disempowered because those roles don’t exist in the same way at the moment.  Maybe that’s true for some of you who are engaging with this now?  Others of you may still have a role but you’ve had to adapt to new ways of working and you’re not quite sure who you are anymore or whether what you are doing is valuable.

I pray that all of us will have our eyes opened so that we don’t miss meeting Jesus in the encounters we have each day.  May we find him in the expected and in the unexpected places and through those encounters, may we discover with increasing clarity our own worth and value.  And in the encounters we have with others, may they see Jesus in us and grow in their understanding of how loved and valued they are too.

Every blessing,

Gill Newton, District Chair