Most of our Circuit Churches will re-open and hold their first service this year on Easter Sunday 4th April.
For further information please contact the church.
Most of our Circuit Churches will re-open and hold their first service this year on Easter Sunday 4th April.
For further information please contact the church.
Stoke North Methodist Circuit
Superintendents Letter 7 – 31st July 2020
A careful reading of the Bible will reveal that there is something significant about the number ‘7’. There are places where 7 is about perfection or completion. Well, this happens to be the seventh letter that I have written during the pandemic, and it will be the last one I write before Jenny takes over as superintendent. I can’t make any claims for perfection or completion, and the peculiar situation in which we live will continue. In the light of that there will be no farewell event at this time, but we hope that perhaps in the spring of 2021 we will do something to mark a formal ending.
The other thing that has happened in recent weeks is that we have had to make Nomee, our children’s worker, redundant. While this was not totally unexpected it is obviously difficult for them as a family so please keep them in your prayers Nomee has worked for the circuit for 11 years, and has led and developed a number of groups for children and young people. Her ability to relate to children and young people alike has been much valued. Nomee will officially finish on 31st October, when the furlough period ends. Hopefully an event next year can also serve as a farewell for her.
As I begin this letter, I want to put on record my thanks to the people who have worked with me, both my ordained colleagues over the years and all the people who have held office both in the circuit and local churches. It goes without saying that without them, and the life and work of the local congregations, there would be nothing to ‘superintend’! We want to say ‘thank you’ too for your support of us as a family over the past eight years. We arrived as a family of four, having had the added pressure of finding the right school and college for the girls, and now those girls are making their own independent lives. Carrie is happily settled in Birmingham with her partner Dan, teaching geography and involved in school leadership. Rachel is hoping to study dance at Chester university in the autumn, and of course is now waiting for A level results – of exams she did not take! Both of them have been instrumental in helping to lead X-cite club at Norton, at different times, and Carrie was one of the driving forces when night shelter was launched, so they have each played their part in the circuit and the city!
We have had some challenges to face in recent years and it has been reassuring to me to know that good colleagues shared the challenges and that when I had got it wrong, forgotten about something, or set off in the wrong direction, they were ready to ask the question or remind me. The circuit has benefitted much from their readiness to do so.
Inevitably at this point our memories return to the things that went well, the things that went badly and the things we had to do which we would have preferred not to do. For each of us there will be that collection of emotions that arise from that remembering. But while we give thanks for the shared time and experience together, and we share a faith rooted in history, we are a people of the future and it is to that future that we look. That is not simply a vague hope of heaven, but a hope in a God who leads us now, even in the midst of the pandemic.
Hope is always a balance of short- term focus and long- term big picture. The long- term big picture is of a future with God in all its fullness which transcends human time and experience. The short- term focus is about what God is doing now and how that is working out. It seems to become clearer that God is in some way reshaping the church, and discerning how that reshaping is working may well be the big challenge of the coming months. It brings us back to what will we keep and what will we put down.
There is much conversation and concern at the moment about how the future will work out. On the one hand we would like to ‘go back to normal’, on the other to embrace a new and exciting future full of possibilities as yet unseen. Perhaps, we all have a mix of both of those feelings.
I venture to suggest that, in terms of worship, we will not return fully to what we would have considered ‘normal’ in February, but that having explored various technological solutions we will return to a face to face form of church in the future, albeit in a different way to the past. What is clear is that while the technology is useful it is also a limited substitute. The church nationally labelled its order of worship to be used when we returned to using our buildings a ‘Return from exile’. Exile is not simply about physical absence. We may feel like exiles in many ways and for many reasons. One of the things the Bible teaches repeatedly is that God reaches out to exiles and brings them home.
As a circuit we have worked much with other exiles in the city in recent years, and we want to express our thanks for the support of the night shelter project. Jackie will continue to work with this after we have moved though exactly what can happen this coming winter, and what form that work can take is unclear at the moment in the light of the changing restrictions. Over the period of the lock-down the project played a role in the city- wide food strategy for homeless people led by the city council. At the last estimate we had provided over 1400 meals on Wednesday and Saturday nights, and thanks are due to lots of people who cooked, delivered and contributed in all kinds of ways.
For the moment we continue on the journey in different places confident that God will continue to lead us. So we take this opportunity to wish you well, to thank you for all that you have shared, and to assure you of our prayers for the future.
Chris, Jackie, Carrie and Rachel
Superintendents Letter 6 (July 2020)
Conference has now met and issued its guidance on worship as lock down restrictions ease, along with revisions of government guidance and we now feel able to give some more detail on how worship might look.
The seating would all be set out 2 metres apart. Masks are still a matter of debate to be clarified. Upon arriving you would be required to wash or sanitise your hands. You would then be taken to a seat by a steward and the building filled from the front to the back. Once the building has reached capacity no-one else would be allowed in, and the steward would have to enforce that.
During the service there would be no singing, although music could be played. Any spoken responses or shared prayers have to be said quietly not spoken out loudly. The service should last between 30 and 45 minutes maximum.
Assuming the building is operating a one-way system, at the end of the service you would be asked to leave via a different door. If it is not feasible to do that, people would be asked to leave from the back first. We would not serve refreshments and people would be expected to vacate the building straightaway. The building would then have to be cleaned completely. Should anyone use a toilet that would have to be sanitised before and after, and cleaned.
The name and contact details of everyone attending along with a note of where they were seated would be kept for 21 days for track and trace purposes. Anyone declining to provide this information would not be allowed access.
Behind all of that must be a full cleaning and sanitising regime which is more than usual church cleaning. That is complicated further when other users and groups begin to use the building, and we have to manage and ‘police’ that usage.
As you will see from the above, this is a different world, all of which is legally enforceable, and behind all this there is a full risk assessment and an action plan for the use of the whole building, which must be put in place first. All of this must be managed by the Covid Responsible person, supported by the church council as legal managing trustees. The church has so far issued 3 versions of its guidelines and 6 versions of the risk assessment. More are expected as the details of requirements change.
As you read the above, I hope you get a sense of why it is taking time to put in place.
As an interim measure we have been looking at services on Zoom or Whypay. Zoom is an online service which you can also dial into from a telephone. Whypay is a telephone service. We planned to try these things out last week, then the sound failed on my computer which was the one hosting the meeting, and everything therefore stopped. In the light of that we are getting some expert advice about how to run it so we can avoid the problem caused then. More on that when we are clear about the best way to proceed.
While all of the above feels very technical and legal it is only part of the story. There is an ongoing life of discipleship for all of us in different ways during this time. It can be uncomfortable and enlightening to reflect on and learn from things that are happening around us.
What have you particularly missed in the last few months, and if you have been able to address that in new ways what have you done? Perhaps the more dangerous question is what have you not missed? What seemed crucial in March, but won’t be high on the agenda going forward? What changes have you made that you will keep even as things settle down and lockdown ends? I was wondering what the answer to those questions might be for me, and realised that I have no sensible answer to offer. In four weeks time we will move into a new setting where we know almost no-one and know nothing about how that circuit works. Before that sounds too dramatic, it is what ministers in Methodism have always done; the difference now is that the way you would find your way into a new circuit is closed or very limited. Jenny will be in the same situation here. It feels a bit like Genesis 12 where God says to Abraham ‘go to a land I will show you’. It is all new and unknown, but this year that is true not just for ministers moving but all of us. You may know that in Chinese and Japanese writing the symbol for ‘opportunity’ also means ‘crisis’, or alternatively the symbol for ‘crisis’ also means ‘opportunity’. It may all be a matter of how we see it.
Every blessing as we embrace the opportunity.
Superintendents Letter 5 (June 2020)
How are you getting on with the social distancing? We went to see our daughter at her new house in Birmingham last Saturday. Properly distanced. They sat in the kitchen and we sat under the scaffolding and the umbrella in the rain. We are getting used to some of these things aren’t we? Including the fact that inconvenience is part of the picture at the moment. Things that we would have objected to in February are now accepted, at least for the moment.
You may know that the government indicated recently that churches would be allowed to open for ‘individual private prayer’ from 15th June. The Methodist Church nationally has indicated it will not change its blanket closure instruction until after the end of conference on 2nd July, at the earliest.
It is clear that whatever may be agreed by conference it will not be back to normal as we knew it. There will be a lot of restrictions and instructions about what can happen, how many people, social distancing and cleaning regimes that need to be in place, even for people to use a building for private prayer. We may see this as inconvenience, preventing us getting on with what we want to do, but perhaps there is something else to see here. One of my colleague Superintendents was talking the other week about us ‘learning the lessons God had for us through this’. I think they meant how the church might change rather than any sense of God punishing or anything like that. Loving your neighbour can often be ‘inconvenient’ in the sense that our sense of just getting on as we wish is challenged. Are there lessons you have learned, or things you have discovered that you will keep when the present difficulties are over?
As we begin to prepare for this ‘new normal’, we have written to all our preachers asking who will be available, and feel comfortable to
lead some kind of gathering as we move forward? The same questions need to be asked of church stewards, are people able and comfortable with opening up, and making sure that new regulations are adhered to. Some circuits have already decided not to re-enter their buildings until September, and we are getting a lot of feedback about not rushing into things from people. The decision about when to reopen is a decision for the church council as managing trustees of that building, but the church council as managing trustees can also be held liable under both civil and criminal law for anything that goes wrong or is not done properly. In normal circumstances how we fulfil that role is very clear, in this new situation we need to take great care not to do the wrong things for right reasons.
Another piece of preparation will need to be working out how many people we could accommodate in each building with the appropriate social distancing. You will perhaps have seen elsewhere that those numbers tend to be a lot smaller than we expect -5 people on a single decker bus for example. As the practical challenges around opening up are addressed, the other challenge is to make sure we keep in touch with people and that no-one gets left out. If you think you know of someone we should be catching up with or who needs some help please let us know.
We continue to pray at 11am. There are many different acts of worship on TV and on-line which different people are using. You may also be interested in what is being done by Market Drayton Methodist Church whose service is recorded rather than done by zoom and can be found at:
Superintendents Letter 4 – Coronavirus
Following on the Prime Ministers announcement on Sunday there is now sense of how things might progress.
For many people early July now is target that can’t come soon enough, for others it has a strong sense of anxiety attached to it. I have talked with people who are ready to go as soon as the opportunity comes and others who say they will watch what happens for a few weeks and then decide.
It seems probable that social distancing and shielding will continue beyond early July with government advice still being that older people or people with underlying health conditions might be careful to limit what they do. The church will produce its advice next week and is following the cautious note set by the government.
There are various things to be considered:
You will get the idea. In every conversation I have different questions are asked as people think about their own setting. That leads me to think that we will need a tailor-made option for each congregation that will have to be devised by the local church that fits them and all the requirements placed on us by government and others.
We will begin these conversations in the coming weeks to decide what can work where. It is important that we do not put anyone at risk, nor pressure someone into doing something they do not feel safe doing. So this will need to be prayerful and careful.
The other thing I have been asked about is our departure and Jenny’s arrival. The church says that moves will happen in ‘the normal way’ but acknowledges that some time frames may need to be flexible. I think it is clear that there will
not be a circuit farewell service of the kind intended on 19th July. Someone suggested to me we would have to come back to do some kind of farewell, that may be a possibility but it would be hard to fix a time for that now. The URC published their plans this week and they are assuming social distancing will be in place until mid-2021, they may be unduly cautious but time will tell. There is a welcome service for Jenny pencilled in for 1st September but obviously that too may need rethinking.
In the meantime please think about what you personally think is right for you. If you hold office in a congregation are you happy to fulfil that role in the current situation, bearing in mind it is ok to say no? What questions strike you as you think about your own congregation and how it will restart?
On a more immediate note is there anything we might do now, while still under lockdown, that we have not thought of, please let us know.
We continue to pray at 11am and keep in touch with each other in various ways. Please let us know if you have concerns for yourself or someone else, so we can respond to them.
27th April, 2020
Superintendents 3rd letter
Many years ago I bought a book written by Rowan Williams (long before he became Archbishop of Canterbury). I read it, didn’t understand it and so sent it to the second hand bookshop. It was called ‘Resurrection’. A few months ago I came across it again, second hand and thought I would try again. I understand more of it now.
Williams begins by making the point that the first experience of the disciples on Easter day is one of absence. The women go to the tomb and are met with the words ‘He is not here. He has risen.’ They probably only heard the first half of that, whereas we are more likely only to hear the second. Part of the reason for that is that in our culture absence, like silence is seen as wrong in some way, and part is that we tend to rush to the end of the story because we know the outcome.
Then the pandemic arrived and I realised for many people absence will be the hallmark of this Easter. Absence of the person close to them who has died, or absence of the people they would wish to share time with or a whole host of other absences which will be felt and cannot be overcome by technology no matter how much we try. Most, if not all of us will know how that feels.
Our initial experience of absence is that it is about something missing, it causes us to look back. But when we have looked back, and in a sense come to terms with that, then absence becomes a way of looking forward, indeed becomes essential to our finding a new future. The women leaving the tomb encounter the risen Christ and are prohibited from touching him and holding onto him. To hold on is part of the looking back, but their calling, and ours, as part of the church is to look forward and live forward, into the new life Christ brings.
Resurrection changes absolutely everything, not just what happens when we die. Too often we rush to the end of the story and so miss all that God intends to do here and now for us, and through us for others.
If I look back over my experience as a follower of Jesus there are times when it seems God is absent. Sometimes that is inconvenient, sometimes it feels like the end of the world. But as I am able to reflect upon it as experience, I realise that it does not mean God has gone, but that the absence invites me to take a step, to move into something new. Absence creates the space for growth. If you can picture a toddler learning to walk, you see them taking faltering, nervous steps towards the parent who is in front of them. Look carefully and you see the parent stepping back, requiring the toddler to walk further, to grow in confidence.
As we live through the pandemic and its effects, we will find in the midst of it all opportunities for growth and as Church a challenge to rethink the way we work.
Whatever our experience of this absence, let us be clear we are not abandoned. God is bigger than this situation and will use it in ways we can’t imagine. If Good Friday shows us how God comes into the very sharpness of our experience, then Resurrection is inviting us into all the fullness of God’s eternity.
Faith may feel like faltering steps at the moment, but it is still faith in the God who comes to us in Jesus.
We continue to pray at 11am each day, and would ask that you keep in touch with people and let us know if anyone needs help or support.
6th April, 2020
I am hoping this will arrive before or close to Easter. It will be a very unusual Easter with none of the shared events that we associate with celebration. However, God remains God and the message of Easter remains the message even if the forms we use to celebrate are not available to us.
We continue to pray ‘together’ in time if not in space, and as we do so we seek to praise God in all circumstances. Praise may be an act of the will, a decision to do something we do not feel like doing, but which it is right to do nonetheless. Our prayer will be for people in need, for people in both frontline and essential but hidden roles in making life possible at the moment, and for ourselves and people we know personally who have particular needs at the moment. I have found myself praying for mercy for us and the world, and you may have found your prayers focussed by the Holy Spirit in directions you did not choose. But prayer is about the Spirit leading that prayer and so we accept and follow that lead.
As church we are playing a role in the life of the nation now in various ways. Do you recall the phrase in our covenant service about being ‘laid aside’? For many of us being ‘laid aside’ is our part in this and that can feel difficult when we are used to being up and doing. However, at present doing nothing, or being limited is not passive acceptance, but rather a deliberate act of help and solidarity. In a practical active sense the church is still serving through Foodbank and the provision of care for people who are isolating while observing all the social distancing rules that apply.
As the focus of Easter is about Resurrection and new life perhaps it is appropriate for us to look not just to the big picture of that in the Kingdom of God, but also to the more immediate new life that will come when the pandemic restrictions are lifted. It is clear that when this is over the normal life that resumes will be different from the normal life we were used to. Exactly how remains to be seen, but is known to God and part of our prayer can be for us, and for people in authority that we are able to respond to the new situations.
You may know the story that in 1941 at the lowest point of World War 2 for this country, Churchill set up a new cabinet committee. It was called the ‘Committee for the reconstruction of Germany’. To set up such a body was either hubris or hope, but it pointed to a positive outcome and to a need to rebuild for all. I am not proposing another committee but the intention to be thinking, and among us praying about that new future. I am sure it was right then and is right now.
If that is the big picture for us now, there is also a more immediate picture of supporting each other. That may be phone calls or clever things over the internet, if you are able to do that please do so we keep in touch. If as you pray you find a concern for someone who you cannot contact please pass that concern to the minister of the church so we can follow that up. Sometimes that sense is right for reasons we do not know.
I wish you a blessed if unusual Easter.
Websites: Methodist.org.uk will take you to Methodist resources
Swanbank.org.uk will take you to Swanbank and they have online worship each week
23rd March 2020
Obviously, this is a rapidly changing situation with new guidance coming from government and the national church frequently. As a staff we wondered how to respond now, and we will be updating and changing this as necessary.
At the moment (5pm 19th March 2020) we are not able to meet for worship, Fellowship or any other activity so our buildings are effectively out of use. There is no indication of how long this situation will continue.
So, we offer these suggestions.
We may not be able to pray in the same building, but we can pray at the same time. So, I invite you to join us in prayer at 11am for 15 minutes (longer if you wish) each day, and to pray knowing that others round the circuit are doing the same thing.
On Sundays the staff will pray alone in a church building, working their way round the buildings week by week. This will keep the prayer in those spaces and mean we have a further check on the fabric.
I am sure you will know who and where to focus your prayers, but could I ask that you add our new super Jenny Dyer to your list as she is presently stuck in India trying to find a flight home.
You may already have a pattern of prayer and bible reading that you follow, but if you need an extra focus you could try reading a gospel right through. If so, try starting with Mark. Other things to read could be a Psalm or a hymn from the hymn book. There are various worship resources available on the internet and new things are being created which we may send out as they become available.
Caring for each other
This is more difficult as our natural inclination is to come together and we cannot do that. As a staff we will be keeping in touch with people by phone and there is no reason that we cannot do that for each other so that we keep our links and have people to share with as we deal with this strange time.
If you find yourself, or know of someone else in particular need please speak to your own minister and we will try to help in every way we can. Could you also try and identify people on the edge of your congregation or people with no family locally who might need some support?
In the wider setting Foodbank is intending to keep providing its service while being mindful of the demands of social distancing.
The circuit office is continuing to function for its usual hours at present. Please phone or email don’t visit.
Finance – at present we are ok financially and have reserves we can use across the circuit while no-one has any income because things are closed. I would ask that you put your weekly offering to one side so when things resume and we are able to share worship again we can catch up financially.
We are taking steps to look after the property sensibly through this time.
As things change we will try to update what we are doing and how it will work.
For the moment the key thing is we support and care for each other in the ways that we can.
Thank you for all that you have and are doing.
Remember we are still the people of God and God in Jesus works through us.
Chris, Joyce, Kim and Paul
Due to the current Coronavirus situation as from 3.00pm yesterday The Methodist Church has suspended all services, meetings and planned events until further notice.
Should you need assistance or advice please contact your church minister in the first instance.
The Circuit Office will continue to function as far as possible during normal office hours.
Wednesday 18th March 2020:
TUNSTALL METHODIST CHURCH – until further notice the following regular meetings have been cancelled:
TOMS together on Mondays, 2.00 pm.
Goldenfriendship, Wednesdays 10 – 2.00 pm.
Oatcakes & Coffee – every first Tuesday of the month.
WERRINGTON METHODIST CHURCH – Have cancelled:
“Dougie Mac” Choir – 28th March.
Quiz Night with Pea & Pie Supper – 4th April.
Palm Sunday Evening Service.
Monday 16th March 2020:
MHA GROUPS – Cancelled – for 2 weeks, this week and next, update next week or soon as available.
CIRCUIT QUIET DAY – Sat. 21st March @ Milton – Cancelled