The Shaw & Royton Circuit is in partnership with the Oldham & Saddleworth Circuit.
06 January 2021
Putting our hand into the hand of God
A reflection by the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Methodist Conference, following the announcements of further lockdowns
Those who joined the President and Vice-President on Facebook Live this week would have heard Carolyn reflect on the poem by Minnie Haskins , often used at the beginning of the year and made famous in the 1939 Christmas Broadcast by HM King George VI: 'I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year'. As Carolyn encouraged us to do, we put our 'hand into the hand of God'.
It was only when I came to Harrow and began commuting to the office that I really noticed how dark the mornings are in January. It's a feature of the year that as the days get longer following the solstice it is in the evening that the effect first becomes noticeable. Although the sun does rise a little earlier each morning, it can feel as if it is actually getting darker. For many, going back into lockdown in England and the similar restrictions in Wales and Scotland will have a similar effect. We know that Spring is on its way, but our hope and joy have been tempered by the steep rise in the number of coronavirus infections and the warnings about the transmissibility of the new variant. We need to put our hand into the hand of God.
The calling of the Church is not simply to take God's hand but to enable all who would to take God's hand in times of darkness. It is that which makes the current situation so difficult. Decisions about whether churches should be open for collective worship and/or private prayer remain with the Managing Trustees; HM Government has not prohibited public worship in England though in Scotland, Wales and the islands different restrictions may apply. Church Councils therefore need to decide what they do for the best.
There are two considerations to be balanced. One is how we try to keep people safe or to put as few people as possible at risk of harm. That consideration applies both to those who would attend church and to those who facilitate that happening — the preacher or worship leader, the stewards, the caretaker, those who operate equipment or play the organ. The other is the missional imperative — how does the church best serve its members and the community in which it is set at this time?
Over the last nine months, we have developed skills that we did not know that we had and there is now a range of resources available for worship that does not require attendance in a building. There is much that we have missed when we have not been able to be together in one place, but there is much that we have gained through the reach of such platforms as Zoom, You Tube, and Facebook, as well as printed services hand-delivered and telephone gatherings. The Connexional Team continues to build up the resources and to share examples of good practice.
So Church Councils have hard choices before them. I expect that in many places the decision will be made not to remain open for worship and for them, sad though it is, that will be the right decision. There might be some activities that are offered in the community (eg, a foodbank) which remain open even whilst the chapel is shut for worship and, again, odd though it might seem, that might well be the right decision. The Connexional Team has advice for the safe continuation of those services. In some places, the decision will be made to explore new avenues of service and ministers and others will be talking to the local community about whether and how the church can help people in these difficult days. I suspect also that some places will choose to continue to be open for worship, but only after rigorous risk assessments and safety checks and with the assurance that no-one should feel obliged to enable services or to attend if they do not feel it an appropriate risk to take.
The day before the second lockdown began I stood at a graveside and read Psalm 23. 'Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, because you are with me.' The good news remains the good news — God is with us. Many have been through the dark valley of grief or have been close to death and that will be the experience of many more in this lockdown; many have been through the dark valley of uncertainty about their employment, their finances, or their future educational opportunities, and that will be the experience of many more in this lockdown. Our calling is to enable those people to know that God is with them; it will be hard, but paradoxically the better way to do that could be without being able to meet in church. We continue to do things differently alongside those who need to be helped to know God who is there in the darkness and longs to take their hand.
So, please pray for all who have difficult decisions to make this week and for all who in any way will minister to others through this pandemic, because their ministry will put hands into the hand of God.
The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Methodist Conference.
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New Year's Eve 2020
As we come to the end of 2020 we are undoubtedly glad to see the back of a year that has, for many people, been a difficult one. Yet we enter the New Year in seemingly no better a situation. I write this as a vast swathe of the country enters Tier 4, virtual lockdown, for the next few weeks. The good news is, though, that the vaccine is being rolled out and I know that many of our more vulnerable and older friends have begun the process of being inoculated against Covid-19. We move forward in hope, knowing that we are closer to the end of this difficult time than we are to its beginning.
You will know that I had begun to make plans for our churches to begin to reopen in the New Year and we were all looking forward to that. You will not be surprised to read my suggestion that we need to again hold back on that particular plan and keep on doing what we have been doing since March. I am as frustrated to have to write that sentence as you are in reading it. It is especially frustrating as we were, for a couple of weeks, moving in the right direction. The emergence of a more-easily transmitted variant of the virus does make it particularly more dangerous for us to continue with our plans to get back together.
So, please recognise that the provisional preaching plan published just before Christmas is now suspended and we shall keep on with online worship for the time being.
As soon as it is safe to do so, we shall begin to open our churches and, provided the equipment has been installed, we shall be able to offer the option of watching livestreamed worship alongside the option of being physically present.
I would suggest that the trigger for us to next consider making the transition from online-only worship into this mixed economy should be the time when we enter Tier 2. Until then, let is keep on keeping on in the manner that we have been doing.
The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, The Secretary of the Conference, offers us this prayer for the moment:
Loving God, in our fear, in our grief, in our disappointment, may we know that you are with us,
And as we heed the call to remain in our homes, help us there to serve you faithfully,
That others might know of Immanuel, God with us. Amen.
And here is a video-prayer for the New Year from the Revd Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Conference.
Keep the faith, stay safe and know that blessings abound.
The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon
Shaw & Royton Circuit of the Methodist Church
Christmas Eve 2020
Remember that our worship for Christmas Day is now a recording as is available in the usual place on the Worship page of the Circuit Website. Likewise for worship for Sunday 27 December.
Wednesday 23 December 2020
We stand within sight of the manger and the light of the star becomes brighter and begins to settle over the place where the Christ-child lies. We look around in wonder. We look around and wonder. We wonder at the sight, for we find that the stable and manger are not in some distant place, we don't even need to go to church to find them, for they are in our midst, with us in the very place in which we find ourselves. No matter in what place we find ourselves, God is with us, Immanuel, in our midst holding us and shielding us. No matter what the journey has been that brings us here, no matter what lied ahead on our continued journey, Immanuel — God is with us.
God is with you, me , us. So thanks be to God this Christmastide.
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We are a small Circuit of the Manchester and Stockport District of the Methodist Church. Located at the northern tip of the district, part of Oldham Borough, we are six churches spread across two former mill towns in the foothills of the Pennines. Methodism in this area was established over 200 years ago and we have some historic buildings which are still used in worship.
The Shaw and Royton Circuit is looking forward to a time of growth and development. We are seeking ways to engage more fully with our neighbourhoods and to engage in God's mission in this place. The worship in our churches is, generally, traditional but we are looking forward to exploring new ways and finding new expressions for our traditions.
The Shaw & Royton Circuit is in partnership with the neighbouring Oldham & Saddleworth Circuit and the Superintendent Minister covers both Circuits. We are working together to create a new Circuit, covering the whole of the Oldham Metropolitan Borough area, from September 2021.
We acknowledge the calling of the Methodist Church in Britain as our local calling and so seek to respond to the gospel of God's love in Christ and to live out our discipleship in worship and mission.
See HERE for a daily prayer from the Methodist Church in Britain.
Also ... HERE is a prayer by the President of the Methodist Conference)
Team Oldham Helpline — 0161 770 7007 is coordinating emergency food and other essential personal and household basic items to people in need. This is for people who are unable to leave the house and don't have a trusted friend, neighbour or family member to help them. The helpline is open from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and 11am to 2pm on weekends. The support is for those who are genuinely in emergency need.
There is a Government website which will link you to other resources and support. If you are in isolation and have a medical condition which makes you extremely vulnerable then you can register here and make your needs know to those who can help and support you.
If you are self-isolating and wish the Church to be aware of it, support you and pray for you, then please email the Superintendent Minister at email@example.com