It is a tradition that our Minister writes a letter every month which is printed in our magazine, "The Messenger". The magazine was paused at the start of the pandemic, but we have distributed a copy for November-January which contains a lot of Lockdown news from around our church family.
Revd Stephen and Deacon Marilyn contributed a joint letter, and here it is.
We greet you in Jesus’ Name as this extraordinary year comes to a close. These have been long months, and there has been much pain.
CHRISTMAS AND EASTER
While we wonder out loud what kind of Christmas this will be this year, we can recall at least that though it was very different, nothing could stop the joys of Easter being shared within and without our church. Easter, that most important of all festivals in the whole Christian Church year, could not be silenced, even by a worldwide pandemic. People found inventive ways of sharing their Alleluia! with each other.
As Christmas approaches, let us similarly look out for new ways to proclaim Christ the New Born King, God incarnate in Jesus.
We have quickly learned to embrace Zoom Meetings (and many have quickly learned to despise them!) and we have taken to social media like never before. We have been murmuring excitedly about the movement of God's Spirit that is building Church Without Walls, and we are calling it Hybrid Church. Around Connexion there have been stories of greatly increased congregations for churches and Circuits that have embraced digital media. We too in the Sutton Park Circuit have enjoyed more people "attending" our streamed services than ever we would get in the pews.
It IS worth the effort. The Gospel is being proclaimed in new ways, and more people are being reached. (Incidentally, if you want to find out more about Hybrid Church, I can warmly recommend a Grove Booklet of that title by my former Tutor Revd Dr Pete Phillips.)
Despite the lock-down, we have pressed ahead with online versions of Conference and Synod. While the Marriage and Sexuality report "God In Love Unites Us" has been delayed by a year, other reports have been accepted by Conference. Most notable is the Report "God For All: The Connexional Strategy for Evangelism and Growth" which has been led by Jude Levermore and 'our own' Trey Hall, formerly of Birmingham District. The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee advised Conference that Connexion had a long way to go towards full inclusion and the eradication of all forms of discrimination within Church structures, and so Conference has instructed the EDI Committee to undertake major work to drive this forwards. We have been reflecting on this at Synod, and it must remain and ongoing theme in all Church and Circuit meetings.
The third major strand of Connexional work has been around issues of ecology and ethics. ALL Churches are being urged to apply for Eco-Church status ("Because why not?" as one person asked), and through the work of JACEI and JPIT, the Methodist church's track record in ethical and ecologically sound investments has shown significant progress.
Here at Four Oaks we must never lose sight of our place within the greater picture of the Methodist Connexion, and so it behoves us to wrestle with these same issues at local level too.
HOPE IN A WORLD OF LAMENT
At this year end we are faced with three theological tasks: to lament, to praise and to trust.
First of all, we must acknowledge all the pain we have endured, and cry out our lament from the depths of our sorrow. WHY, GOD, WHY? This is as biblical as it is appropriate.
When we acknowledge the reality of the pain, we can become more aware of the reality of God's peace, and even joy that underscores it. We lament the past, the pain, the losses.
Moving onwards from lament into praise does not diminish the lament. Rather it grounds it and validates it. We can praise BECAUSE we have lamented, not instead of it.
In the praise, we may even find notes of thankfulness within the lament, like the surprising tones of bright fruits in a dark wine.
We praise because we are thankful that we have come this far, and we praise because God is faithful.
This then leads us on into trust. We do not know where the future is going to take us, but we diminish it by worrying. We simply acknowledge before God any uncertainties we might have, and hand them over. From the trust springs hope, the eternal wellsprings of our joy, as Brother Roger of Taizé describes it.
This Christmas, as at Easter, and into the New Year, may the Joy of Christ be yours.
Deacon Marilyn Slowe and Reverend Stephen Froggatt