**The below reflection is published by kind permission of Methodist Minister Rev'd. Dr. Julie Lunn. It was first published on Monday in Theology Everywhere. All are welcome to subscribe.**
Coronavirus leaves me feeling conflicted.
On the one hand I am deeply sad about the number of those who have died and continue to die from the virus and those who have contracted it. I feel for the families who have lost loved ones, and whose loss and grief is compounded by not being able to say goodbye in person, or to attend funerals. I feel for those who are our front-line NHS workers; who risk their lives daily through their deep faithfulness to their work, and commitment to bring healing, to preserve life, and to help others whatever the cost. I am so thankful for them and I wish they did not have to go through it.
I also feel frustrated that in the UK we did not act more quickly to deal with this virus. I watch the daily update on the BBC news app – tracking the very gradual decline of infections and deaths, and, although I know it’s going to be slow, I long for the numbers to plummet, for the decline to be rapid, for the virus to be gone.
And on the other hand I am conflicted because I love the streets being quieter, I love the air being cleaner, I love the more frequent visit of birds – and an increasing variety of species – to our garden (probably because we now have time to feed them each day). I like the quietness, I like being at home, and not driving to work each day, navigating traffic queues, breathing petrol fumes. And I am very glad about the decrease in global carbon emissions – that’s a chink of light in the dark place of this pandemic.
So what are we to do with all that? As Christians where is God’s call to us? God’s movement is always towards redemption. It seems to me that we are called to work in tandem with God to redeem the loss, grief, suffering, danger, death, and pain, and to make those chinks of light a permanent outcome for the whole of God’s creation.
The Carbon Brief website states:
Pre-crisis estimates of GDP growth suggested CO2 output might rise by around 1% … in 2020. But even if this previously expected growth is deducted from the estimated coronavirus impact, the … effect is so large that it would still result in the largest annual fall in CO2 emissions ever recorded, in records going back to the 18th century.[i]
A recent Guardian editorial put it like this:
It’s too soon to say with any confidence what impact coronavirus will have on the climate emergency. The brakes placed on economic activities of many kinds, worldwide, have led to carbon emission cuts that would previously have been unthinkable: 18% in China between February and March; between 40% and 60% over recent weeks in Europe. Habits and behaviours once regarded as sacrosanct have been turned on their heads: road traffic in the UK has fallen by 70%. Global air traffic has halved.[ii]
That’s a chink of light. I am convinced that God’s redemption is for the whole world and not just human beings. ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…’ (John 3:16). Is this drastic reduction in carbon emissions a tiny rebalancing of the relationship of humanity with the environment? A hint of Jubilee?
But it isn’t all sweetness and light. It comes with a warning. The trend has to continue. Unless carbon emissions continue to decrease, any gain will be lost. Each year we need a similar drop in emissions until, says Glen Peters from Cicero, ‘net-zero emissions are reached around 2050’.[iii]
There are a number of theological themes which emerge from this danger and possibility. There are chimes here with the prophetic warnings of the Old Testament. Jeremiah (9:10-14) connects the destruction of the land with the faithlessness of God’s people. ‘Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the Lord says” “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, or walked in accordance with it…”’. Northcott comments on such prophetic warnings, ‘The devastation of the land is not only seen as the judgement of a vengeful God. It is also interpreted as the consequence of the human rebellion against the created order and wisdom of nature.’[iv] There is a disconnect between humanity and the rest of the created world, which should not be, which is not God’s intention.
Theological themes emerge from the New Testament too. The Guardian editorial cited earlier continues, asking, ‘Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them?[v] As Christians we know about vulnerability. It is at the heart of our understanding of the Incarnation and Atonement. We’re not afraid of it, but respectfully embrace it, because God has been there.
So how do we catch up with those who are going before us, and help lead the way in facing the perils of climate chaos? This is arguably the biggest challenge and witness the church faces in this generation. How do we pray, work, act for governments, institutions and individuals to decrease carbon emissions, turn to green energy, reduce consumption and change our lifestyles? What will we do? What will you do? What can your church do to decrease carbon emissions? Can we use our video-conferencing that we have become suddenly familiar with, more? Can we use less car travel? Less air travel? Produce less waste? Do more working from home?
I’m going to make my own oat milk (Google it) and get on my bike.
Rev'd. Dr. Julie Lunn
Lecturer in Practical and Social Theology, Nazarene Theological College
[iv]Michael S. Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics. (Cambridge: CUP, 1996), 171.
This Thursday, 21st May, is Ascention, the rising of Jesus’ body into heaven forty days after his Resurrection. After the very first Ascension Day, the disciples gathered with Mary, constantly devoting themselves to prayer while they waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Like them, our reliance on the gift of the Holy Spirit is total – on our own we can do nothing.
Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement that invites Christians around the world to pray from Ascension to Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus. This year it will start this Thursday, 21st, and run to Sunday 31st May.
During these 11 days of Thy Kingdom Come, it is hoped that everyone who takes part will:
1) Deepen their own relationship with Jesus Christ
2) Pray for 5 friends or family to come to faith in Jesus
3) Pray for the empowerment of the Spirit that we would be effective in our witness
Whether you have joined in Thy Kingdom Come before or not (like me), we are all invited to take part this year – along with churches from over 65 different denominations in 178 countries around the world.
The best ways to take part are to (by Thursday!) download a prayer journal & encourage others by joining the global prayer wave – it would be really cool to know others are taking part! An app is also available for download in the App Store & Google Play
**The below reflection is published by kind permission of Professor Clive Marsh, Vice President of the Methodist Conference 2019-20. It was first published yesterday in Theology Everywhere, where a reflection on an issue or topic is posted each Monday. All are welcome to subscribe.**
We are using a whole new language. (‘Are you on mute?’, ‘Send me a link’, ‘Are you the host?’) Digital natives (those who’ve lived with computers since birth) are simply saying ‘welcome to our world!’ (the new real world?). Those not au fait, or even wanting to be au fait, with such technology are saying ‘but I’m now not part of the “we”’ you’ve just referred to. So when this is all over, I won’t be within what you’re calling “the new normal”.’ And I won’t even mention the question of ‘Zoom Communion’. I’ll just say it’s at times like this I’m glad I’m not a presbyter. No one can buttonhole me (even virtually) and ask why on earth we can’t ‘do Communion’ across the WWW and expect me to be able to do anything about it.
‘Zoom Communion’ is, though, just the tip of a very large iceberg of issues raised by the digital world for the ways in which the church conducts itself, undertakes its mission, and in which theology takes shape. I can quite see why those who actively explore ‘digital theology’ become exasperated with a church which seems to go at a snail’s pace when, from their perspective, ‘things have to change (and quickly)’. I can also sense (and sometimes share) the alarm of what might happen if too many changes happened too rapidly, and too substantially.
There can be little doubt that when our lockdown ends, or as its strictures are gradually relaxed, when social distancing is eased, and when we take stock of what has been happening in recent weeks, digital theology will have more allies, or sympathizers: ‘you know, that Zoom thing really is good. It’s got me thinking about the different ways our theology of conferring could happen.’ ‘Pastoral care could be thought of differently, you know, than we’ve been doing it for years.’ ‘More people might be willing to join in with meetings, so we could have a more diverse group.’ ‘Class meetings could make a comeback.’
That’s only the positive stuff, of course. There are counter-arguments too. Lots of people I know are ‘Zoomed out’ already through all meetings and one-to-ones going online. Plenty are missing seeing others (really seeing), not to mention the extroverts who need their hugs. I’ve been wondering myself whether I’ll get things wrong ‘after lockdown’ – or at least behave awkwardly – by hugging people I’ve never hugged in my life before (and can’t honestly remember whether I have) simply because I’ll be so pleased to see them. It will take a while to adjust after the initial re-assessment of social relations (actual and virtual). But we will, I hope, start to ask harder questions, and in fresh ways, such as: when do we need to meet in person? What is best done online, not just for money-saving reasons, but also for the sake of resisting climate change, and to save time? And these practical questions are caught up within a bigger range of issues of direct theological import, not least about creation, Sabbath, and what ‘church’ is anyway.
Behind those hidden, theological framework kinds of questions other, even more basic, stuff is buzzing around too. What is ‘really real’ anyway? The terms ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ have become fuzzy, but have helpfully pressed us to say what is ‘real’. ‘Fake’ has also intervened as an overused, but still important, term. ‘Virtual’ is not the same as ‘fake’. But the realm of the ‘fictional’, the ‘made-up’ is tangled up in there too. This has always been the case in the worlds of faith, belief and theology. We do make things up (even some of our God stories) but that’s only because it’s sometimes hard to get at what’s true and real (really real), as what’s real and true has never simply been about ‘what happens’ or what we can prove (scientifically).
I recall that one of the first pieces I ever wrote which had to do with the Internet (20 years ago? I can’t even remember) was prompted by claims that it would give us a whole new understanding of the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen some of the thoughts I put on paper back then re-emerging in articles and blogposts which have appeared in recent weeks. The Holy Spirit is really real, even whilst not visible, and yet seems very active as people connect ‘virtually’.
A new insight brought to my attention in the lockdown is how inclusive some new more informal forms of church are proving for those on the autism spectrum. People can be involved (e.g. doing a craft or art activity at home amongst family members) in a ‘bigger congregation’ without necessarily having to look at the camera, and without the stress (for them or for other family-members) of ‘going to church’.
All I hope, in the post-lockdown phase of the church’s life, is that we don’t get polarized, and that we do really reflect carefully and appropriately critically on the experiences that we’ve been having. For some, it will be about ‘getting back to normal’ (for which read ‘proper worship’). But what if the online worship has sometimes felt more ‘real’ than some of our past Sunday activity? What if we find that online life has added a new depth to what we go back to experiencing on Sunday (or Monday, or Wednesday, or whenever our face-to-face worship happens)? There will, in other words, need to be fresh considerations about what is real, and what helps us connect with the Really Real (I’m sure someone must have used that term for God before) in all our post-lockdown theological debate – whether or not the word ‘theology’ itself is used.
Professor Clive Marsh
Vice President of the Methodist Conference 2019-20
As I write this, we are reaching the end of the first week of the twelve or more of these 'social distancing' special measures to counter COVID-19 that the UK is currently experiencing.
Many of us continue to be separated from loved ones and friends and cannot go about the bustle of our lives as normal. And for many, there will be fears and worries about jobs, about those we know, about the survival of businesses, charities, churches and other organisations. And of course there are some who are suffering right now, who are afflicted and who are worried, either by the current crisis or other things in their lives.
This, more than ever, is an opportunity for us to take time to stop, to take stock and to reflect on our own lives.
Yesterday, Wesley's Chapel in London was the host of Radio 4's Sunday Worship (it can be found here for the next 28 days). The Methodist Church, located in central London, also broadcast a wonderful act of reflection yesterday evening filmed in Cornwall and led by Katherine Baxter (see the YouTube video below).
As we focus on the world around us, on the birds in the trees and the waves crashing on the beach in the Youtube video, it can be reminder to us to take inspiration from the world around us, to breath in the seeming calmness and peace. An opportunity to focus for a few moments not on our lives now and the uncertainty of the current virus situation, but we are invited instead to focus on the wonderful presence of God and to think about the future, how can we come out on the other side of this national crisis positively.
Take the opportunity in this short act of worship of just 18 minutes to reflect and to think.
God bless and all the best to all on this slightly overcast Monday morning.
During this time, the Methodist Church in Britain is providing a number of resources online for Methodists to continue to worship.
Online Worship Resources
The best place to find these online resources is by following this link:
A number of Methodist Churches around the country are also conducted acts of worship online. These include the following:
Wesley's Chapel in London who will live-stream from the chapel (the Minister lives on the premises):
Swan Bank Methodist Church in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, this worship will be studio based – with strict distancing rules being followed:
www.youtube.com/user/SwanBank and www.facebook.com/swanbank/
Methodist Central Hall Westminster:
The Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Mrs. Jill Baker, will be visiting the Chester and Stoke-on-Trent District from 8th to 11th February. A programme of the events is displayed in the Church Hall, together with contact details to book a place at the events.
The Cheshire Churches Together Service for 2017 will take place in Frodsham. It will be celebrated at St. Laurence Parish Church on Sunday 22nd January at 3 pm.
We are privelaged that the preacher will be Rev’d. Dr. Roger Walton, President of the Methodist Conference. The focus will be on reconciliation between our different Churches and promises to be a rewarding time. Dr. Walton is former Director of the Wesley Study Centre in Durham and the author of a number of books and articles.
You are all most welcome and encouraged to come and share this time together.
Welcome to our first craft fair!
There will be plenty of stalls selling and demonstrating all kinds of crafts, with plenty of ideas for presents. Special demonstrations in the craft room and children’s activities.
The garden will be decorated and you can sit and relax in the ‘knit and natter’ area.
Why not come for lunch or afternoon tea with home-made soup, freshly made sandwiches and a variety of cakes on sale.
For more information, do e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please put 30th June at 4pm in your diaries now - this will be the Circuit evening service where Mr. Alan Carter will be admitted as a Local Preacher, and it will be followed by refreshments. We are very pleased to be able to host special event and all are welcome to attend.
Check out our Calendar for a listing of all events.
Frodsham Methodist Church on YouTube here.
North Cheshire Circuit on YouTube here.
The reflections are written by members of our congregation.